Jazz Hot, Jan. 2005

Sea Breeze Records is a small independent label featuring no less than 180 titles in its catalog. Since 1987, the “store” has been run by Danny Beher, an eccentric mostly known for putting out any record related to jazz activity on American campuses. He specializes in big bands and jazz ensembles, preferably with prestigious guests. Ever wondered who was responsible for releasing Lee Konitz or Phil Woods’ albums with some random Ohio college? He was. Year after year, his dedication has given way to superb little volumes which sometimes cross our borders to testify, much to our surprise, of jazz vitality in the U.S. Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge’s third album is one of them. An original, eclectic pianist, arranger and composer, Chuck Owen is one of these “obscure” artists who, through their unrelenting commitment, keep the flame burning brightly to illuminate jazz. Among other things, he has been head of the jazz department at the University of South Florida for 22 years, 10 of which he has led “The Jazz Surge”, a college big band he always finds the best ingredients for. Trumpet player Ingrid Jensen, violinist Rob Thomas and organist Gary Versace all contribute to a remarkably smooth swing machine. Besides the piece de resistance, a succulent tribute to Louis Armstrong (listen to the two cues borrowed from the famous trumpeter which Owen deconstructed and reconstructed, and try finding just one bar which the late Louis could have claimed as his), the rest of this original repertoire is a mix of groovy ballads and blues with a zest of modern music. Saxophone player Jack Wilkins, a professor at the same university, delivers an outstanding version of “My Foolish Heart”, the only standard on the album. Creative and definitely not for yuppies. What more could we ask for? If only this could happen on French campuses…!

-Jean Jacques Taib