Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge, "Whispers on the Wind" with Randy Brecker and Gregoire Maret (Mama) and Christian McBride, "Bringin' It" (Mack Avenue).
You couldn't ask for more diametrically opposite approaches to jazz orchestras than the opening tracks of these two discs- -- Chuck Owen's incorporation of roots elements and heartland aura in the 14-minute "Warped Cowboy" and the Christian McBride's Basie Meets Isaac Hayes funk piece ""Gettin' to It."
One tradition is creative, poetic and liable to do all manner of unexpected things in service to American vision; the other is urban, brash, celebratory and embroiled in hit-making and disciplined showing off.
There's nothing wrong with McBride's record, especially not when you look at who's on it and playing their tails off: Ron Blake, Steve Wilson, Brandon Lee, Rodney Jones and bassist McBride himself. But Owens' record is from another tradition altogether--where Gil Evans could add the poetry of Claude Thornhill's dance band to Duke Ellington's highly personal sonic laboratory and come up with wildly personal and unusual syntheses of jazz and pop sound no one had thought of.
McBride's is a very good record with great playing on it. Owen's is an adventure communing with a different and far more primal and mysterious America--an America where there's nothing out of place in the bent notes of guitarist Corey Christensen, the fiddling of Sara Caswell, the harmonica playing of Gregoire Maret and some guest trumpet by Randy Brecker. Owen quotes, two at a time, from three writers to introduce each selection on the disc --Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry. Here is a sample: Owen introducing a piece written for the Air Force band with quotes from King and McCarthy. From King "It was possibility of darkness that made the day seem so bright." From Cormac McCarthy in "The Road": "You have to carry the fire," "I don't know how to." "Yes, you do. Inside you...I can see it."
3 1/2 stars (out of four) for Owen
3 stars (out of four) for McBride