Charles Owens

Eternal Balance

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The Charles Owens Quartet is one of a few bands around New York that hangs at Smalls and plays a set or two each week there, while also gigging at various other nightspots around the city and in Jersey. This date, recorded in 1999, marked the sixth anniversary that the band -- Owens on tenor, Jason Lindner on piano, Omer Avital on bass, and Daniel Freedman on drums -- had been playing together. And here they sound like it. Six years is a long time to play together in the jazz world these days. This cats know each other's strengths well, and they play to them. Unlike a lot of records that come out on the Fresh Sounds label, this one has all the goods in the right place. Owens is a wonderful tenor player. He has his own tone, and is a stylist. He's certainly heard Paul Gonsalves and Coltrane, but he's also listened to plenty of Dexter Gordon's Blue Note period as well as Sonny Rollins' Impulse! years. There isn't a weak track on the set, but one of the best is "No Resolution," an Owens original with the rhythm section motivating him in 3/4, tracing it out and stretching into other figures as Owens makes his tenor sing with the melody and solo throughout the minor blues form. There's a keen version here of the chestnut "Yesterdays," on which the rhythm section moves to 5/4 in a straight eighth groove, putting a funky backspin on it and stretching it to the breaking point. Owens responds with a series of arpeggio maneuvers that are not only soulful, they are deft, knotty, wide-ranging, and spot-on with the weird changes. Another winner is Owens' "Virginia," a wonderfully complex tune that offers a kind of rocking head that segues into an elegant swing for the solos. Eternal Balance separates this band from the faceless hundreds of groups that roam the New York streets looking for work and recognition with only half the trick bag full. For these cats, it's bursting at the seams.

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