Title: Soul Conversations
Artist: Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band
Label: Outside in Music
Format: CD, Digital
Release date: May 7, 2021
Drummer and composer Ulysses Owens Jr. is a name to remember in the world of music. Renown for his work with artists such as Christian McBride, Wynton Marsalis, Gregory Porter and Kurt Elling, Owens has also had the opportunity to engage in academic roles, teaching jazz at Juilliard and during residences at other institutions such as the Park Avenue Armory Conservancy and the world-renowned Abyssinian Baptist Church. His new release, Soul Conversations, is the recording debut of his new 19-piece UOJ Big Band, a multigenerational, multi-gender and multi-ethnic ensemble that continues Owens’ tradition of mastery in jazz as culture.
The album includes a mixture of original compositions and arrangements of jazz standards that seem to tell a story about issues in Black male life, such as Neil Hefti’s “Girl Talk” featuring Bahamian jazz trumpeter Giveton Gelin, Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” featuring vibraphonist Stefon Harris, and John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” Owens’ original tunes include “Red Chair” featuring trombonist Eric Miller and pianist Takeshi Ohbayashi, and the title track “Soul Conversations,” while other members of the ensemble such as Benny Benack III also contribute tracks.
Soul Conversations is full of exhilarating and breathtaking tunes that will have you on your feet dancing at some moments and thinking critically about the state of the world in others. Owens said, “I finally feel like I have a record that is emanating a sound that I can confidently create forever.” Let’s hope he continues to release similar projects featuring his exuberant, soulful brand of big band jazz.
Reviewed by Bobby E. Davis Jr.