Ulysses Owens

Ulysses Owens

Driva man the kinda boss
Ride a man and lead a horse
When his cat o’ nine tail fly
You’d be happy just to die
— Driva Man, as Sung By Abbey Lincoln with Max Roach

Tonight, drummer Ulysses Owens Jr brought his Songs of Freedom project to the main stage at the Reva and David Logan Center.  At first, it seems a bit odd for a drummer to feature three singers as part of his band, but Owens decision makes perfect sense once you realize that he  received his first Grammy award for his playing on Kurt Eling's 2010 Dedicated to You album.

This is the Age of Trump, which means that featuring well-know works by Sixties stalwarts  Abbey Lincoln, Joni Mitchell, and Nina Simone makes perfect sense.  As Owens pointed out several times during the 105-minute set, these songs are once again relevant.  

Lots of powerful music here.  My favorite was Joanna Majoko's take on Nina Simone's Driva Man, which opened a five-star 1960 album entitled We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite--a collaboration between Roach and Chicago's Oscar Brown Jr.  The band laid down a solid blues beat, and Majoko ran with it.  [Note the link to Driva Man is to a performance by Abbey Lincoln]

I was not as taken with Theo Bleckmann's vocals as was Howard Reich, Evelyn Brody, and Judith Stein, three heavyweights in their own right.  I don't think it is a question of whether it was objectively good or bad.  It was a matter of personal preference.  I give Bleckmann credit.  He used tape loops and various electronics to alter and complement his voice.  I found the result rather cold and unemotional, but other disagreed.

I was most impressed with the quartet backing the singers.  Owens is a phenomenal drummer.  He  could lay low when required, but he also could add a solid beat, as well as subtle flourishes.  I particularly liked David Rosenthal, the guitarist.  He had a nice economical, but forceful sound.

Unfortunately, the concert was not well attended, with about half the seats empty.  A lot of people missed some very good music.

Owens seems to have a demanding touring schedule ahead of him.  We were the first U.S. audience to have the opportunity to buy the CD, which was first released in Japan.

And in the Facebook (social media) is not always evil department:  Owens discovered Joanna Majoko through a Facebook connection.  She is relatively new to the scene, but she is a worthy discovery. 

Earlier in the evening, I renewed our subscription for the Logan Presents Jazz Series.  $285 is a small price to pay for two tickets to an exceptional concert series that often features those who will be the Lions of Jazz tomorrow.  Check out the 2018-19 season with performances by: Christian McBride New Jawn, Jazzmeia Horn, Marquis Hill Blacktet, The Cookers, and the Chris Potter Underground Orchestra.

Drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. Leaning Back Into the Beat

Joanna Majoko

Thinking About Joni Mitchell's Borderline

David Rosenthal with Some Tasty and Understated Wailing

Theo (Mouth) and David (Fingers)


Theo (Hand) and Ulysses (Stick)

Alicia Olatuja in an Expressive Mood

Theo Bleckmann accompanied by Allyn Johnson

The Group, Minus Two Singers

Switching to the Fender Rhodes

Alicia Olatuja Steppin' Out in Her Red Shoes

Swingin' With a Light Snap

The Three Singers Finish Off with Nina Simone's Four Women

Photographer's Notes:  Let's be honest here.  For a photographer, the stage was a hot mess.  At least three mike stands for the vocalist blocking a view of the bassist and Owens.  The piano, as is often the case, was turned so that the keys faced the audience, meaning that the pianist's fingers and face were hidden.  Both the guitarist and bassist were behind black music stands, and the bassist was further obscured by the mikes over Owen's drum set.  I had to work the angles to get any shots where a microphone was not growing out of someone's butt or head.  

I used one camera and lens--the Sony A7Riii, with the 70-200 GM lens.  On the last shot presented here, I pushed the ISO from 3,200 to 12,800, so that I could go from F2.8 to 8.0.  I did not apply any noise reduction to that photograph.  I typically don't apply noise reduction.  I'd say the Sony sensor is a pretty impressive.

And now for something more.  Eveyn is now in the habit of bringing her sketch pad to concerts.  From the front row, this was her best view. 

It is worth noting that Andy Warhol began his career as a commercial artist, drawing shoes.  He did dabble in jazz, illustrating several jazz album covers, including two by guitarist Kenny Burrell.  Evelyn is in some pretty good company.

Flesh and Wood

Flesh and Wood

Oak Park

Oak Park