Ralph Bowen: Power Play

Ralph Bowen is an assured saxophonist and versatile composer who clearly enjoys spontaneous conversation with his mates. Hear such chatter on “The Good Shepherd,” as Bowen and bassist Kenny Davis race one another, Bowen elongating the melody as Davis furiously fills beneath. Texture is important to the febrile Bowen and his empathetic band, which includes Donald Edwards on drums and Orrin Evans on piano.

A spell of originals broken only by a sinuous, leisurely cover of “My One and Only Love,” Power Play at first sounds conservative, but there’s a distinctive, modernist tension to it; pinning down that tension, which makes this album rich and dynamic, is tough. It’s in the bop tradition, it’s more pictorial than heraldic, and Bowen’s compositions stress contrast more than unity. Each player gets his head and, while no one showboats, there’s plenty of abundant, wiry power. Several tunes refer to actual places, like the exciting “Drumheller Valley,” which namechecks an archeologically fertile area in the badlands of Alberta, Canada (Bowen’s from Ontario), and “Bella Firenze,” a hard-swung, joyous paean to that Italian city and a fine opportunity for Bowen to express his tenor talents.

There’s no theme to this CD; it’s simply a collection of interesting tunes played by an empathetic quartet. The disc spans the rigorously mathematical “Two-Line Pass”; “Jessica,” a sweet tune featuring Bowen’s most expansive soprano; and the suspenseful “Walleye Jigging,” an entertaining musical portrayal of specialty fishing technique. In short, Power Play is an unpretentious delight.