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Ralph Bowen: Total Eclipse

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Ralph Bowen plays a pure strain of postmodern tenor saxophone. He is hugely proficient technically and consistently spills his guts. Take “Into the City.” Its quick, jagged, asymmetrical head is like a call to arms. Bowen builds from a few repeated adjacent tones to long convoluted lines that sound like onslaughts until you hear that they are actually sets of subtle variations (if in-your-face tenor can be subtle).

It follows that he makes good records. His three most recent, Power Play , Due Reverence and Dedicated , all on Posi-Tone, were aesthetic undertakings as tenor saxophone clinics. Total Eclipse might be his best yet. It has Bowen’s hottest band ever.

The guys are relatively new. Jared Gold is an organist who maximizes the resources of his instrument. When he and Bowen combine for maximum unison power, as on “Exosphere,” this quartet hits like a big band. When Gold unleashes the full force of the B3 on a wild, roaring piece like “Hip Check,” he does not so much comp as slam and bash behind Bowen, catapulting him forward. Yet Gold also takes solos of glittering detail and piquant discord, as on “In My Dreams.” Mike Moreno is a free thinker on guitar. He complements the ensemble sound with off-center pinpoints of light, and takes intriguing, ambiguous solos. Rudy Royston, who plays free drums in the tenor trio of JD Allen, operates in a more defined, organized role with Bowen. But he still sounds dangerously volatile.

There are eight strong tracks and one tour de force. Bowen’s dash through the head of “Hip Check” is impossibly fast and exact, then he improvises at the same rapid data rate. Royston rockets; Moreno ululates; Gold shrieks. Bowen rivets the theme into place at the end. Another day at the office.

Originally Published