PICK: The Charles Owens Trio – “Ten Years” (LA Reserve Records)

It’s been six months since Charles Owens“Ten Years” came out, during the brief summer lull of the pandemic. That’s a long time to wait for a review, but long enough to test what seems like one of the best recordings of the year and see how it holds up across a multitude of listenings. It does.

Owens had a weekly residency at New York City’s venerable Small Jazz Club for a dozen years, playing with a who’s who of famous players. But since relocating to Charlottesville, then Richmond, his core trio has included bassist Andrew Randazzo and drummer and multi-instrumentalist Devonne Harris. Both are gaining national renown as two thirds of the rhythmic section of Butcher Brown, but both were starting out when Owens discovered them. Their decade together has forged them into a phenomenally tight, imaginatively agile band.

Recorded locally at Montrose Recording, the album kicks off with the Afrobeat of “Cameron the Wise,” featuring an ultra-cool bottom line originated by Spacebomb bassist Cameron Ralston, then begins a wildly eclectic set of covers. Jazz standards such as John Coltrane’s “Central Park West” rub shoulders with Led Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop” groove and spacey psychedelia during the freewheeling sax improvisation of “If 6 Was 9,” the Jimi Hendrix Experience classic.

There are some nice production touches, a bit of studio banter, but nothing distracts from the organic integrity of the instruments. Owens’ tenor is warm and clear. Now best known for playing keyboards for Butcher Brown, Harris is also a phenomenal percussionist. Randazzo’s bass always finds a graceful path through the harmonies and shines in the solos, notably on Jaco Pastorius’ “Continuum.” Finally, Sesame Street’s classic “The Rainbow Connection” (originally written by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher) would present an irresistible invitation to irony for a less confident group. The Owens Trio lets its lilting, swooning melody waltz the recording out to a luminous close.

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