While Ellen Rowe's brand of modern jazz comes from delicately woven and colorful fabric, there's no lack of guile, inventiveness, or substance in it as well. This effort has Rowe playing piano with her worthy constituents from Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she is head of jazz studies at U-M. The world-class rhythm team of drummer Peter Siers and bassist Kurt Krahnke join Rowe, as does saxophonist Andrew Bishop, who can play anything in-between traditional or progressive dialects. Rowe's compositions are steeped in the hard bop tradition brought into contemporary terms, melodic, easy on the ears, and consistently enjoyable. She loves a play on words as the titles indicate, but also enjoys combining the evergreens "Seven Steps to Heaven" and "Yardbird Suite," cleverly offering up snippets of their melodies with Bishop on soprano and fill-ins for Siers during "Seven Steps to My Yard." "Sanity Clause" is also a smart set of funky starts and stops, a heavier tune atypical of Rowe. Spirit songs, ballads, a tribute to her colleague the late Donald Walden, and her brother, Tim, who also passed away, are included, while Ingrid Jensen plays flügelhorn on two tracks, and former Walden/Rowe student Andy Haefner makes a cameo appearance. The pianist herself is growing with knowledge and confidence in finding her personal voice, quite noticeable in the off-minor treatment of "Alone Together," and in the way she works with Bishop on "Lewisburg Bluesy-Oo," reflecting both Duke Ellington and someone like Junior Mance. This is a fine record from start to finish, easily enjoyable upon repeat listenings, and comes recommended to anyone who enjoys straight-ahead mainstream jazz.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos