CD review: Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge – Within Us • Celebrating 25 Years of the Jazz Surge 2021: Video, CD cover

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Any big band celebrating its 25th anniversary has earned a triumph surpassing most others. To mark the occasion with an album as admirable as this one is icing on the celebratory cake. The fact is, composer Chuck Owen’s Florida-based Jazz Surge, formed in 1995, shows no signs of aging or becoming obsolete. Thanks to Owen’s broad-beamed and colorful charts, the Jazz Surge is as mesmerizing as a memoir and stylish as tomorrow.

Half a dozen of Owen’s original compositions enhance the album alongside Chick Corea’s sunny opener, “The Chelsea Shuffle,” and Miles Davis’ irrepressible “Milestones,” the latter spliced by Owen with the first piece he ever composed for the band, suitably titled “Surge.” Corea, who was penciled in as guest artist on Within Us, died in February 2021, three months before the enterprise got under way, so Owen arranged “Chelsea Shuffle” as a tribute. As a further homage, saxophonist Steve Wilson, a member of Corea’s group Origin, agreed to join the Surge for this recording. Wilson solos on soprano on “Chelsea Shuffle” and alto on Owen’s “Sparks Fly.”

Speaking of solos, how many big bands can you name whose leading soloists include a violinist? On the Surge, her name is Sara Caswell, and she solos eloquently on “Trail of the Ancients,” “Apalachicola” and “Sparks Fly.” Besides Wilson and Caswell, the Surge benefits from persuasive statements by guest vibraphonist Warren Wolf, alto Tami Danielsson, tenors Jack Wilkins and Rex Wertz, baritone Matt Vance, trumpeter Clay Jenkins, trombonists Jerald Shynette and Tom Brantley, guitarists LaRue Nickelson and Corey Christiansen, pianist Per Danielsson, bassist Mark Neuenschwander and drummer Danny Gottlieb (the last three of whom comprise the band’s sharp and supportive rhythm section).

Even so, it is Owen’s bright and perceptive charts that guide the way, from the stalwart “Chelsea Shuffle” to the even-tempered title song, inspired by a quote from writer Albert Camus, which closes the album. Sandwiched between are the picturesque “Trail of the Ancients,” meditative “American Noir,” iconic “Milestones,” prayerful “Apalachicola,” cheerful “Sparks Fly” and prismatic “The Better Claim,” the final movement of Owen’s five-part concerto, River Runs, which debuted with the Surge and a large string orchestra in 2011. Within Us, recorded in May 2021, marked the first time the Surge was in one place since the start of the pandemic two years before, and the happiness and camaraderie are palpable. The result is an album whose import has more than earned its “happy anniversary” salutation.

01. Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge, Steve Wilson, Warren Wolf, Mark Neuenschwander – Chelsea Shuffle
02. Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge, Sara Caswell, LaRue Nickelson – Trail of the Ancients
03. Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge, Tami Danielsson, Jerald Shynett – American Noir
04. Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge, Jack Wilkins, Clay Jenkins, Danny Gottlieb, Matt Vance – Milestones
05. Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge, Sara Caswell, Corey Christiansen, Tom Brantley – Apalachicola
06. Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge, Sara Caswell, Jack Wilkins, Steve Wilson – Sparks Fly
07. Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge, Clay Jenkins, Warren Wolf – The Better Claim
08. Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge, Per Danielsson, Rex Wertz – Within Us (An Invincible Summer)

Chuck Owen: composer, arranger, conductor, accordion, hammered dulcimer; Frank Greene, Jay Coble, Mike Iapichino, Clay Jenkins: trumpcoet; Tami Danielsson: alto sax; Steve Wilson: alto, soprano sax; Jack Wilkins, Rex Wertz: tenor sax; Matt Vance: baritone sax; Keith Oshiro, Tom Brantley, Jerald Shynett, Jim Hall: trombone; Sara Caswell: violin; Per Danielsson: piano; LaRue Nickerson: guitar; Corey Christiansen: guitars, dobro; Mark Neuenschwander: bass; Danny Gottlieb: drums; Beth Gottlieb: djembe (6). Guest soloist—Warren Wolf: vibraphone, marimba (1, 7).

Within Us • Celebrating 25 Years of the Jazz Surge – Chuck Owen and the Jazz  Surge | Summit Records

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