Music Reviews
Chuck Owen and the WDR Big Band with Sara Caswell

Chuck Owen and the WDR Big Band with Sara Caswell


Summit/MAMA Records

Renderings is Chuck Owen’s collaboration with the highly respected WDR Big Band from Cologne, Germany. The WDR Big Band has been in existence in one form or another since 1947 as the in house orchestra for the WDR radio station. Chuck Owen is a composer, conductor, and professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. His work with his big band, the Jazz Surge, has been honored with several Grammy nominations.

The seed for Renderings was sown when WDR saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer asked Owen to write an arrangement of her song, “Of Mystery and Beauty.” Owen found this an exciting challenge, since his work with Jazz Surge had been almost exclusively a vehicle for his own compositions.

When the session dates for his collaboration with the WDR Big Band were suddenly advanced by nine months, Owen decided he didn’t have time to write all new material and would instead focus on arranging, or rendering, existing tunes. This gave him an excuse to work up the old Tommy Dorsey band classic “This Love of Mine” and the Chick Corea composition “Arabian Nights.” He selected three of his own songs that were not composed for big band and solicited other WDR members to contribute songs as well. The results are a master class in arranging by Chuck and interpretation by the WDR.

The album opens with Owen’s composition ”Knife Edge,” scaled up from its original octet score. “Knife Edge” charges out of the blocks swinging with lush brass and soulful soloists. “…And Your Point Is?” follows, feeling like a funky prog-rock classic souped up for big band. Billy Test’s organ work reminds me of Keith Emerson going crazy.

Owen brings a special guest to “Of Mystery and Beauty” in the form of violinist Sara Caswell. The piece is a slow burn romance with the violin darting around the horns for a distinctive feel. Sara’s violin makes a return appearance on “Arabian Nights,” giving the tune an added dash of exotica.

Renderings is a fine example of how when the unexpected happens, something exceptional can result.

Chuck Owen

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