Ellen Rowe Quartet with Special Guest Ingrid Johnson
From the stop action photo of a water drop in a still pond to the last lingering chords of this disc, the Ellen Rowe Quartet creates a mood of calm and introspection that is the highest and best use of the clarinet, piano, and bass. Each song is as carefully crafted as a miniature still life, and each comes with a small paragraph explaining how or why it was written. Sometimes you want a back story or a map of the artistic path, but for this collection of 10 tunes, the experience of the music transcends the mundane details of who arranged what or played what or what they thought – rather, sit down with this disc for the essence of Jazz, not its lecture hall aspects.
Female jazz musicians are as rare as female heavy metal drummers, but there’s no good reason for that. Rowe teaches at Ann Arbor and has studied under some of the greats, and her compositions and arrangements are some of the best I’ve heard in the last decade. Opening this disc is “For That Which Was Living, Lost,” an ode to Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” with a subdued Ingrid Jensen on flugelhorn. It begins simply and quietly as a walk in the meadow, and gradually adds and subtracts musical elements, much as a nature walk will pass through various ecosystems, each unique but all magically tied together. A few tracks later we stumble into the 4/4 signature of “Tick Tock,” a carefully structured number that goes back to the Art Blakely style of half a century ago. Musical styles come and go, but a few dig so deeply into our collective conscience that they never fade away completely. Another noteworthy track is “Alone Together,” the only track on this disc not of Ms. Rowe’s work. Its relaxed counterpoint feels optimistic and hip, and ties up one of the coolest cool Jazz discs around today. While the century old art form of Jazz may not be tearing up the charts like hip hop and electronica, it’s shown that it has the legs to innovate in the new century, and Ms. Rowe and her friends are whipping out solid, enjoyable material that builds on the shoulders of giants.