Pianist and educator Ellen Rowe strolls into “Ain’t I a Woman,” the first track on her new record Momentum: Portraits of Women in Motion, with a rolling Pentecostal piano line. It’s like hearing the first puffs of a steam engine beginning to roar, the wheels slowly shaking off their torpor. Soon Rowe and her express-train octet are hurtling through the music at full speed, burning through the record’s eight compositions.
What spurs the group is deeply held conviction. With Momentum, Rowe seeks to honor great, undersung women of the last 50 years. With her bandmates—many of them in-the-trenches veterans like saxophonist Tia Fuller, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, and drummer Allison Miller—Rowe paints full, rich musical portraits of her subjects, from athletes like tennis icon Billie Jean King and runner Gunhild Swanson to champions of civil rights like Fannie Lou Hamer and First Lady Michelle Obama, honored with “The First Lady (No, Not You Melania).”