Thursday, February 1, 2007

Brian Owen: Unmei

OA2 Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 2.1.07
Buy CD: Unmei

And yet another young lion enters the jazz arena. 

Trumpeter, composer and arranger Brian Owen, born and raised in Everett, Wash., is in his early 20s ... and always has been in a hurry. 

He took advantage of the Running Start program and finished high school and community college simultaneously. While attending Central Washington University, he became immersed in music, playing in symphony orchestras, big bands and small club groups. Because of the limited opportunities available in jazz, he worked on a cruise ship, beginning as a sideman on one of the luxury liners and progressing to become musical director of all the bands employed by the Carnival line. 

During layovers in Seattle, the home port, Owen (trumpet/flugelhorn) formed the quintet that is the core of the group featured on this CD; he's joined by John Hansen (piano), Jon Hamar (bass), Phil Parisot (drums) and Jay Thomas (tenor sax). Steve Treseler (alto sax) and Nathan Vetter (trombone) were added for the title track. 

This is Owen's debut CD, and he composed and arranged all the songs. Some reviewers consider that a "negative" factor for an unknown band, since such collections feature no familiar or "standard" tunes that the listener can compare to arrangements by other artists. Be that as it may, Owen is as interested in exposing us to his composer/arranger skills, as he is to his band. 

Like many new groups today, Owen's form of jazz is super-arranged. Most of the ensemble passages are not played in single-note unison, but as harmonic progressions. In addition, the meter usually isn't the standard 4/4, and it often changes as the tune progresses. That's certainly more interesting, but such a technique increases the need to listen more carefully, to appreciate what's going on. 

And such music usually is presented in concert format, rather than in a lounge or club environment. 

"Perkoosha 3" is typical; the meter varies from 5/4 to 6/4, and the tune is written in what musicians describe as an AABAC format: The intro (A) is played and then repeated, followed by a different chorus (B) and then back (A), before concluding with an "outro" (C). 

"Last Mountain" also is performed in an unusual manner, with a nine-bar phrase that keeps the musicians — and listeners — on their toes. The title track utilizes unusual progressions; "Train Chase" plays with harmonic progressions. 

"The Take House" is almost straight-ahead jazz, done in a 4/4 meter and with tasty solos by each member of the quintet. "Mitsuda's Walk" and "Waltz for Aska" have an Asian feel; the latter was done for Owens' wife. 

This is an impressive first release for a very promising group. Unmei is the Japanese word for "destiny," and it'll be a pleasure to hear these guys develop.

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