Cadence, Nov. 2004

Chuck Owen, an educator and director of Jazz Ensemble I at the University of South Florida in Tampa, arranged all of the songs on (this CD) and composed all but two: Dave Liebman’s graceful “Off Flow” and the memorable standard “My Foolish Heart” the last a showcase for the superb tenor saxophonist Jack Wilkins, director of Jazz Studies at USF. As an arranger, Owen reminds me most of Bob Brookmeyer with such other influences as Gil Evans, John Lewis, and William Russo surfacing at various times, while his compositions are thoroughly contemporary but by no means inaccessible. Most of them swing¸ with the ruminative “Duets” (featuring guitarist LaRue Nickelson, violinist Rob Thomas, and alto saxophonist Valerie Gillespie) finding its groove after a rather tentative few moments. Owen’s masterful Jazz Surge is complemented by the presence of a number of accomplished guests, perhaps the best-known of whom is Canadian luminary Ingrid Jensen who solos on trumpet (“E Ticket”) and flugel (“Off Flow”). In addition to “Duets”, Thomas sits in on “E Ticket” and (with organist Gary Versace) on “Glib” while cellist Lowell Adams lends a hand on “Duets”, guitarists Barry Greene and Lex Macar on Owen’s evocative two-part salute to Louis Armstrong, “Red Beans and Ricely Yours”, which uses a four-member Dixieland group to help carry out the composer’s plan. Mention should be made of the ensemble’s supple rhythm section anchored by drummer Danny Gottlieb and embodying guitarist Nickelson, pianist Per Danielsson, and bassist Mark Neuenschwander, and the solid work of lead trumpeter Brian Scanlon. A well-drawn session for the modernists who appreciate music that engages the mind as well as the heart.

-Jack Bowers