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Ellen Rowe Quartet
PKO Records 054
Wishing Well is another outstanding creative victory from one of America's foremost jazz-women, pianist, composer and jazz educator Ellen Rowe. With this CD, Ellen Rowe and her quartet have created a beautiful album of original music that at once pleases, stirs, and challenges the listener.
Wishing Well showcases Ellen's intelligent and thoughtful compositions which are filled with moving, and often poignant emotional content. Ellen's brilliant piano improvisations play an important role throughout this excellent recording but her strengths as an composer, organizer, writer and band leader shine just as brightly. Every tune on Wishing Well stands out as a lovely, interesting and substantive sound poem; however, it's the accompanying stories of inspiration that give each piece it's deeper meaning. Ellen's personally written liner notes for the CD are a joy to read. She waxes eloquently (and sometimes philosophically) about the creation of the individual pieces and about the musicians who helped bring this fascinating music to life. Ellen's CD liner notes are an extra added bonus that enhance one's pleasure and understanding of this incredible program of original music.
Here are a few comments from Ellen Rowe about Wishing Well that are written specifically for this webpage and not found in the CD liner notes:
For That Which Was Living, Lost was inspired by my love of the outdoors and my concern for the speed with which species of plants and animals are becoming extinct. Ingrid Jensen’s playing on this is really moving and I love the interaction in the rhythm section behind her solo. She and I both share a love for the music of trumpeter Kenny Wheeler; the bridge or middle section of the melody of this piece is definitely influenced by an album he made with the late great saxophonist Michael Brecker, Double, Double You.
Lewisburg Bluesy-oo is, as the title suggests, a blues. I wanted to write a kind of quirky head that would be interesting rhythmically and fun to hear with just drum accompaniment the first time around. The tune also celebrates the wonderful people of Lewisburg, PA, where the quartet has played some great summer concerts over the years.
Night Sounds was written in memory of my late brother Tim, a brilliant musician. He started his own orchestra in Virginia, created a concert series, played church organ, lectured at the Smithsonian and devoted large amounts of time trying to bring music to inner city children in Baltimore and Washington D.C. One of the repeating musical figures in the melody is a perfect fifth, one of the most important and basic of harmonic movements. For me, that is “Tim’s motive” and I think of him every time I play this piece.
Tick Tock also revolves around a rhythmic device, but more importantly is written in a style reminiscent of some of the hard-bop Blue Note recordings of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers. I love the fact that the quartet can so easily switch gears from the looser, more lyrical style of the majority of my originals to hard driving, straight ahead jazz.
Longing was written up at the Banff Centre for the Arts in the mid 90's when I was on the faculty of the Summer Jazz Workshop. It was written with trumpeter/composer Kenny Wheeler in mind but as Ingrid Jensen plays so beautifully in that style I waited to record it until she was available. She definitely delivers the poignancy that I was looking for!
Sanity Clause is very atypical of my usual compositional style but it was fun to get out of character and write something in more of a funky rock and roll style. Andrew and Pete have a wonderful saxophone/drum duo in the middle and a good time is had by all.
I also wrote Wishing Well up at the Banff Centre during a residency seven years ago. Being in your own studio in the middle of the Canadian Rockies is very inspiring and I have gotten a lot of composing and arranging done there, though it requires a fair amount of discipline not to just forego the work and go hiking or skiing outside!
Although I do not usually write bebop-style tunes, I love to play that genre. Seven Steps To My Yard allowed me to feature Pete on the drums, with some drum breaks reminiscent of "Seven Steps To Heaven" but also gave the band a chance to improvise over the chord changes to Yardbird Suite, one of the classic Charlie Parker tunes.
For Donald pays tribute to my friend and colleague, the late Donald Walden. It felt great to have both Andrew Bishop and Andy Haefner on this as both of them studied with Donald and Andrew Bishop has inherited his position as the teacher of jazz saxophone at the University of Michigan. One of Detroit's finest vocalists, Naima Shambourger, has written some great lyrics for this and I hope to get to record that version in the future.
The Arthur Schwartz and Howard Deitz standard Alone Together provides great harmonic changes to play over and has a slightly different form as the "A" sections are 14 measures instead of a more typical eight or 16. I wrote an arrangement for it that adds some extra bars just to pay homage to the concept of unusual phrase lengths
String bassist Kurt Krahnke, drummer Pete Siers and tenor saxophonist Andrew Bishop contribute mightily to the overall beauty and power of this splendid recording. Special guest, the magnificent trumpeter Ingrid Jensen plays on two tracks: For That Which Was Living, Lost and Longing. Ellen's former University of Michigan jazz student, saxophonist Andrew Haefner plays on Ellen's tune For Donald.
Wishing Well is an artistic achievement of the highest order that also delivers musical thrills, subtle humor, meditative reflection, peace and happiness.