Charles Owens Trio
Here It Is
Here It Is follows up 2021’s 10 Years from the Charles Owens Trio, a jazz-funk unit from Richmond, VA, the same town in which Butcher Brown resides and, in fact, claims the other two members of saxophonist Owens’ trio. They are drummer DJ Harrison, a master of funk, hip-hop, and jazz and bassist Andrew Randazzo, who has, like Charlie Hunter, (Hunter and Harrison are part of Kurt Elling’s SuperBlue along with Butcher Brown drummer Corey Fonville) switched to the hybrid guitar, producing sounds of the e electric bass and guitar allowing him to play two roles at once. These two lay down the grooves for the fierce and when necessary, smoother attack from Owens’ tenor saxophone. The program takes us through originals, contemporary jazz mixed with soul and fusion jazz of pervious eras, R&B hits, and even standards from the Great American Songbook.
The album begins with an Owens original “The Problem with the Golden Rule,” which commences with a lengthy solo intro from the leader that establishes the theme before Harrison and Randazzo lock into a steady groove over which Owens improvises with a series of clusters that encompass the entire range of his horn. He digs in deeply. Owens is a tour-de force in their inventive and lengthy take on Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” blowing convincingly throughout, interspersing his runs only a couple of time with dialogues with Harrison and a funky close with all three trio members bringing heat. “And We Go Gentle” proves a feature for Randazzo, who clearly displays both sides of his hybrid while maintaining a funky rhythm in tandem with Harrison.
“Best Part” shows that these cats can deliver the kind of soul-jazz, bordering on smooth jazz that we associated with Grover Washington, Jr. while making it sound rawer and purer in the process, a testament in part to Harrison’s knack for the hip-hop beats. The drummer applies a Latin rhythm to Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” as Owens delivers searingly convincing melodic lines to a steady bass line from Randazzo. “After the Love is Gone” and “Heartbreaks + Setbacks” have Owens improvising late-night bluesy lines over, with phat greasy propulsive rhythms, Harrison especially shining on the latter, propelling Owens to reach higher, and dig deeply in successive choruses. Even a bland pop tune such as “People Make the World go ‘Round” becomes a funky strut with these three.
Owens’ original “Sunshine/Moonshine” is a standout in terms of lyricism, a mediation on the shift of light from day to night, an invitation to take a pause. Yet, don’t expect Owens to hold back, he brings plenty of his signature fierce blowing here as well. The trio masterfully meshes hip-hop beats with swing in their treatment of Vernon Duke’s “Autumn in New York” while turning truly elegiac in Owens’ “The Sunday After,” written for the victims of the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in 2016 and penned just hours after the tragedy occurred. The album closes with another original, “Crazy to Lose You,” a slow blues driven by yet another phat groove from the Butcher Brown tandem, as Owens emits torrents of deep soul from his ever-emotive horn.
The indefatigable Owens is on fire throughout. Forget about smooth. He and his trio have merged the best of fervid, improvisational spiritual tenor playing with gutty, hard-edged blues and soul, ripping off any of those smooth edges that defined the latter kind of music in the ‘70s, bringing it to these modern times with a hefty dose of funk and a touch of hip-hop.
- Jim Hynes
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