Steve Wilson – Soprano Sax
Warren Wolf – Vibraphone
Danny Gottlieb – Drums
Per Danielsson – Piano
Jack Wilkins – Tenor Sax
Clay Jenkins – Trumpet
Corey Christiansen – Guitar
Mark Neuenschwander – Bass
Sara Caswell – Violin
LaRue Nickelson – Guitar
Tami Danielsson – Alto Sax
Jerald Shynett – Trombone
Matt Vance – Bari. Sax
Tom Brantley – Trombone
Rex Wertz – Tenor Sax
25th Anniversary – a pretty significant landmark in the life of a contemporary jazz big band!! So, while seeking to celebrate that milestone with this project (their seventh), Owen thought it might be intriguing to explore the nature and significance of milestones in general as the central concept of the CD.
Owen spent time reflecting on the landmark moments of his own life, any number of unforgettable and pivotal events in the 25-year run of the Jazz Surge, and what he perceived as critical junctures in the life of society today. As a result, one piece on the album celebrates family milestones via the notion of ancestry and a prominent Native American cultural/archeological region. Another takes a somewhat Noir-ish view of the landmark Trump Presidency (and related political issues). While yet another looks at the environment and its impact on all of us through the lens of a devastated oyster bay. Uniting these somewhat disparate individual themes was the notion that milestones – of all types – are important measures of who we are and what we value.
Owen was so committed to this thesis, that he even made an early decision to do a mash-up of the Miles Davis work, “Milestones” along with the 1st piece he ever wrote expressly for the band (appropriately titled “Surge”). And, in spite of the iconic stature of the great Miles album, he even intended to title the album “Milestones”. However, in composing the final piece, “Within Us”, Owen’s focus (and title) unexpectedly shifted a bit. And just a few days later as the band came together in mid-May (2021) following 15 months of pandemic-induced isolation, fear, and economic trials in tandem with considerable social/political upheaval; the joy of collaborating . . . of renewing friendships . . . of creating something beautiful . . . was completely and absolutely transforming!
They Sound Better than Ever!
“…a joy and an inspiration, hands-down one of the top ten jazz albums of the year. One of the best large jazz ensembles in the country.”
– delarue, Lucid Culture, NY Music Daily
“Pick a track, any track, and you will hear excellent writing, splendid musicianship, and memorable solos. “Within Us” is a gem, well worth examining numerous times so that you can see its myriad facets.”
– Richard Kamins, Step Tempest
“It kills—brimming with a vivid array of colors (including violin and dobro) and shifting dynamics. . . . . at once challenging and eminently listenable, . . . .a seamless stream of grabby melodies and solos.”
– Eric Snider, Creative Loafing
“Nothing, not even a pandemic that silenced and stupefied most artists into submission, could tamp down Owen and his ensemble’s cinematic majesty. If you listen closely, you can hear Chuck Owen’s heart and soul, the cascading influences of his formative youth, the people and places that moved him most.”
– Carol Banks Weber, Festival Peak
“A very sensitive, original, and high concept release, that is reflective of the identity that this aggregation has developed over its first 25 years.”
– Pierre Giroux, All About Jazz
“If you love big bands then this is for you. If you don’t love big bands then this is even more so for you.”
– Lance, Be-bop Spoken Here
“…the Jazz Surge is as mesmerizing as a memoir and stylish as tomorrow…the happiness and camaraderie are palpable.”
– Jack Bowers, All About Jazz, Jazz Blues News
“…what a stellar band it is.”
If you love big band music the way I do, you will sink your teeth into this wonderful celebration of twenty-five years of THE JAZZ SURGE playing great music and bringing us delightful musical moments. This is a contemporary jazz big band that interprets the compositions of bandleader Chuck Owens, along with the music of the legendary Miles Davis and the late, great Chick Corea. On this recording, they open with the Chick Corea composition, “Chelsea Shuffle,” featuring a solo by Steve Wilson on soprano saxophone and Warren Wolf with a spirited solo on vibraphone. The big band horns accent the piece and build the energy. Then Mark Nuenschwander comes walking in on his big bad bass to soak up the spotlight. Danny Gottlieb is powerful on drums. Composer, Chick Corea was supposed to be a featured artist on this project. Sadly, the legendary pianist made an unexpected transition from this life after a terminal illness. This band has earned seven Grammy nominations in the past and I have little doubt this album will become another. “Trail of the Ancients” is Track #2 and this Chuck Owen composition celebrates our country’s American Indian culture. It was written to honor those who have come before us and features a sweet violin excursion by Sara Caswell.
This 19-piece, tight-knit ensemble includes some members who have been with the big band since it’s self-titled 1996 debut. The Jazz Surge was founded as an extension of Chuck Owen’s professorship at the University of South Florida. Owen will retire from his position at the University this summer after teaching there forty years.
“I’m incredibly grateful to be commemorating 25-years with this band. It really changed the trajectory of my career and gave me a newfound focus for my writing. I now had specific people that I was writing for and through them, I discovered so many things. Ultimately, it’s allowed me to take more artistic risks based on the fact that I have wonderful musicians that are willing to go on the ride with me,” Chuck Owen shared.
Every composition on this masterful album is well-played. You will enjoy each one. To solidify my opinion, the Chuck Owens original material was recognized by a Guggenheim Fellowship Award. Over the years, this capable and artistic big band has hosted special guests and icons including Chick Corea, Joe Lovano, Randy Brecker, Bob Brookmeyer, John Clayton, Dave Douglas and Gerald Wilson.
Celebrating a quarter century of swinging, big band leader Chuck Owen plays to his strengths with a 5 woodwind, 4 trumpet, 4 ‘bone, rhythm and string section as well as some guests on this flavorful mix of originals and jazz covers. Of the latter, Mark Neuenschwander’s bass leads the way for a Gil Evans-ish “Milestones” (old version) featuring the beefy tenor sax of Jack Wilkins and hip trumpet of Clay Jenkins, while Chick Corea’s “Chelsea Shuffle” is filled with bold colors and Warren Wolf’s guest on drums along with Steve Wilson’s slithering soprano sax. Violinist Sara Caswell and guitarist LaRue Nickelson add to the pastoral atmosphere of “Trail of the Ancients” and Tami Danielsson’s alto floats over the misty “American Noir”. Swing is never far away, with Wolf and Jenkins in fine form on “The Better Claim” and the sections show their fortitude on the magisterial “Within Us”. The gold standard for the silver anniversary.
-George Harris for Jazz Weekly