Ulysses Owens Jr. and Generation Y
A New Beat
Cellar Music Group
GRAMMY-Award winning drummer and composer Ulysses Owens Jr. has risen quickly from “young lion” to seasoned mentor. In jazz’s time-honored tradition of recruiting younger musicians to keep pushing the music forward (i.e. Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet, as just two examples and in more recent terms the late Mulgrew Miller and Roy Hargrove), Owens tapped a coterie of rising talent for effectively two separate quintets, a select group of students from Juilliard where Owens is the Small Ensemble Director. Dubbed Generation Y, they have been touring and performing for four years now, realizing the time was right to record their animated approach. These new players should not all be new names to you however, especially pianist Luther Allison (5 tracks), who has appeared on a few Posi-Tone releases and supported Samara Joy on tour. Trumpeter Benny Benack III (4 tracks) released a fine album last year, Third Time’s the Charm, fellow trumpeter Anthony Hervey (4 tracks) trumpeter issued his Owens produced, critically acclaimed debut Words From My Horn (Outside in Music, 2023),and bassist Philip Norris (7 tracks) has been an anchor in Emmet Cohen’s trio for the past year as well as appearing on Isaih Thomas Jr.’s stirring The Power of the Spirit. The other emerging musicians are alto saxophonists Sarah Hanahan (7 tracks) Erena Terakubo (1 track) and pianist Tyler Bullock (2 tracks), bassist Ryoma Takanega (1 track), and vocalist Milton Suggs (1 track). There are nine compositions with Owens the mainstay on drums and leader with a mix of elder composer such as Cannonball Adderly, Louis Armstrong, Geroge Cable, and Ray Bryant alongside contributions from Benack III, Harvey, and Allison.
Owens harnesses this abundance of youthful energy and enthusiasm in the soul-jazz opener, “Sticks,” a Cannonball Adderley/Nat Adderley composition that displays the swinging power of the charismatic Benack III, Hanrahan, Allison, who step forward authoritatively, as well as the robust bass work of Norris who emulates the bassist featured in the original recording. Owens Jr. caps the explosive piece with a flurry on the kit. “Better Days,” a composition by trumpeter Anthony Hervey features the blistering lines from the composer and terrific comping from Bullock in the first of two appearances. Not to be outdone, Benny Benack III contributes the mid-tempo ballad with some intricate Latin rhythm flair in the latter section, “London Town,” a tune so dear to Owens that he’s recorded it with his New Century Jazz Quintet, his Big Band, and now Generation Y with the same quintet as in the opener. The third original contribution, “Until I See You,” owes to pianist Luther Allison. With a marked change in tempo, the harmonies are sourced from The Black Church, reflective of Allison’s spiritual background. Harvey is especially lyrical in his gorgeous trumpet lines and Allison dazzles in a free ranging liquid solo.
Owens Jr. then honors two iconic trumpeters, Roy Hargrove in “Soulful” which begins with a robust bass intro from Norris and again features strong turns from Hervey, Allison, and Hanrahan; and the Louis Armstong co-write “Heart Full of Rhythm” that dates to the ‘30s and ‘40s and rendered with the stirring vocals of Milton Suggs in his only appearance with riveting soul-drenched solos from Benack III and Hanrahan.
Owens Jr. leads the quintet into the bop tune “Bird Lives,” penned by Jackie McLean and rather obviously a vehicle for altoist Sarah Hanrahan who does McLean (and Bird) proud with her fierce blowing. The high flying Benack III is no slouch in the bebop idiom either, evoking a modern-day Clifford Brown. Owens Jr. is a powerhouse of course, with stunning use of the ride cymbal and a tornado-like solo that leads to an explosive climax. The Generation Y group, featuring Bullock, Hervey, Terakubo, and Takanega deliver expressive, bouncy soul -jazz in “Helen’s Song,” (listed as a bonus track) from George Cables who wrote it for his wife. The soul-jazz vein continues with the closer “Chicken An’ Dumplings,” composed by pianist Ray Bryant. The tune was a staple piece of the Art Blakey songbook and has been a staple part of Owens Jr.’s own sets since the days of his New Century Jazz Quintet. The feel-good blues with a twisting bridge fits nicely with soulful nature of this repertoire.
Owens Jr. has imparted his lessons to these emerging musicians effectively. They have taken up the mantle to deliver as forceful a straight-ahead offering as one can possibly ask for.
- Jim Hynes
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