Jonathan Rowden Group – Skyward Eye Review (something else! Reviews - best of 2017)

BY S. VicTOR AARON

"Only his second album but hardly sophomoric, Skyward Eye represents a great expansion of scope for the saxophonist, composer and bandleader Jonathan Rowden. A weighty set of works by his Jonathan Rowden Group held together by a thematic purpose, Skyward (now available from Orenda Records) sets its ambitions, well, skyward. Rowden’s envelope-pushing quartet brings back pianist, keyboardist and co-composer Ryan Pryor as well as James Yoshizawa on drums, taiko and percussion. Only Jordan Richards is the new kid on the block, replacing Chris Hon on bass and also contributing a backpacker guitar..." 

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Jonathan Rowden Group – Skyward Eye Review 2017 (bird is the worm)

BY DAVE SUMNER

"Jonathan Rowden‘s music has always possessed a visceral punch, so in that way, Skyward Eye falls in line with past recordings.  However, on his newest, the textures are softer and less emphasis is placed on the edge of the blade and more focus on its polish.  As a result, the ambient soundscapes present in prior works are now front and center..." 

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MEng concert hall review 03/13/16 (daily titan)

by desiree hayley

"The sound coming from Meng Concert Hall on Saturday night depicted a butterfly’s struggle to break out of its cocoon. As a charismatic bunch enters the stage, Jonathan Rowden and his saxophone start the show. He breathes into his instrument a few times and loops the sound. Pianist Ryan Pryor, chimes in, playing over the loop, and the rest of the band joins in for a captivating introduction to what can only be described as an enchantment. The sound, embodies the butterfly almost giving up. It bursts from its shell as the music suddenly takes audience members from a heart-wrenching experience to a serene escape.

While most of the audience members sat with eyes glued to the stage, some actually closed their eyes to fully engulf themselves in the sound.

The show took audience members through a magnificent journey filled with edge-of-your-seat, almost nerve-wracking moments, to very pleasant and uplifting sounds of triumph and accomplishment..."

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Downbeat Magazine (THREE STARS) Review 09/14 

by Josef Woodard

Jonathan Rowden Group BECOMING (CLICK TO DOWNLOAD PDF)

 Los Angeles-based saxophonist and bandleader Jonathan Rowden is making some notable noise as a worthy player and conceptualist way out west, to quote Sonny Rollins. His group’s aptly named debut, Becoming, is a mix of unabashed emotionality, compositional breadth and occasional flights of free-ish fancy, adding up to an intriguing introductory mission statement from a West Coaster with something fresh to say and play. Becoming is more than the sum of a series of unconnected parts, but rather plays out like a suite-minded structural grand plan. After the short, unfolding title track, the furtive 5/8 riff-fueled “Snowing In Paradise” kicks up the energy level, and returns in an uptempo rush of a closing reprise to the album. “Autonation” takes an easy-on-the-ears path through waves of dynamics and melodic pleasantries as well as fiery interchanges between the saxophonist and drummer James Yoshizawa. But for all its muscular moments and solid ensemble interplay, sentiment often rears its head and softens the flow. There are echoes of the melodic and romantic airs of the Pat Metheny Group—an influence that includes song titles such as the three-part “Long Road Home” suite and pianist Ryan Pryor’s Lyle Mays-ish touch. Becoming goes down too easily at times, challenges the ear at other times. More generally, it serves to perk up ears to Rowden’s obvious gifts.

—Josef Woodard

 


Something Else! Reviews 07/29/14

by S. Victor Aaron

Jonathan Rowden Group BECOMING

When Jonathan Rowden and his four piece band went into the studio earlier this year to record their debut albumBecoming, they went in not really knowing how these batch of original tunes would turn out. “The experience we all shared during that 12 hour lockout was a sort of aesthetic anamnesis: when we were done, we couldn’t overcome the feeling that before this, we didn’t really know what these songs were about, despite having written them and performed them for months,” admits Rowden. “It was like discovering something that had always been there, like a memory we didn’t have eyes to see. Actively participating in the moment – the sound, energy, and momentum – stepping into the character of these pieces was like taking a deep breath and ‘being’ for a moment – and finding that is what becoming really is.”

The saxophonist, composer and bandleader had assembled this band that includes Ryan Pryor (piano, 88 key Fender Rhodes “suitcase”), James Yoshizawa (drums, bodhran, pandeiro, percussion) and Chris Hon (bass) thirteen months earlier and over time road tested these compositions until they became less like notated music on sheets of paper and more like organisms. Becoming — out this past spring on Orenda Records — is the end product of a band that stopped thinking so much and began to let instinct take over. That’s not something I got just from reading Rowden’s remarks, because the music speaks this loud and clear.

Yes, the Jonathan Rowden Group is a spiritual group, but with their uncommon approach to jazz with unusual percussion, the tactical use of electronics and avant-garde impressions, “spiritual” doesn’t equate to “sounds like Coltrane.” They achieve this feeling in their own way.

There’s real emotion in these strains, strains that are both long and short, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that just by listening. Compositions flow into each other, Becoming is really just one big suite connected to each other (one song, “The Long Road Home,” is split up into three parts to place emphasis on movements.)

That organic flow the band conjured up from this collection of distinctive tunes makes the first eight minutes that traverses across “Becoming,” “Snowing In Paradise” and “Entrance” whip by so quickly. The first track is a sax drone, a ghoulish premonition that seems best suited for a haunted house and can fool you into thinking this is going to be an electro-acoustic, free jazz record. But Rowden, as it becomes apparent over the course of this record, uses dissonance as one of many means to shape mood, not to dominate it. As this murmuring subsides, a two chord ostinato emerges to signal the transition to “Snowing,” a first sign of jazz as most people know it, but with spurts of drum ‘n’ bass inspired galloping rhythms, interrupted by a pretty bass solo. When Rowden finally gets around to fully express himself on tenor, it’s a purposeful, streaming outflow of notes with the tone of Ben Webster but the composed passion of Joe Henderson, and he peaks in sync with the song’s ending.

With “Entrance” serving as a bridge, “The Long Road Home I” is a long, slow procession of soulful notes buttressed by Pryor’s Rhodes, while “The Long Road Home II” features Pryor’s same, gleaming electric piano used as chimes set against the expanding rustle of Yoshizawa’s drums. A bell-shaped song that peaks in the middle, Rowden let’s the rhythm section set the pace, and serves to put punctuation on the high point. For the third part of “The Long Road Home” trilogy, all timbres come from an exotic variety of percussion until the entry of a sparse piano about two minutes in. Pryor’s Rhodes and Rowden’s sax discreetly combine to strike a spectral sentiment.

Two extended performances follow. A slow burning blues swing defines “27-1″ with Rowden’s most expressive saxophone yet, and he stretches out his sound to reach all four corners of the harmonic square. Out of nowhere, Pryor comes crashing in with a real dirty-toned Rhodes. That spurs Rowden to go from expressive to downright heated. The song floats to a gentle landing, which segues right into “Autonation.” Composed by Pryor, it’s a melody that’s more hopeful than the prior one, and Hon’s poetic bass solo sets the stage for Pryor’s piano statements, his best of the album. Another motif is used as a springboard for Rowden’s own asides, highlighted by a sax/drums display of funky inspiration.

By pulling it together from sources equally from jazz and non-jazz worlds and an attention to sound over scoring, Becoming transcends simply being a set of songs to rise to the level of ‘becoming’ this breathing, ardent entity. The Jonathan Rowden Group achieves spiritual unity uncommon in much of jazz today and even rarer in a debut album.

Visit Jonathan Rowden’s website for more details.


Bird Is The Worm 07/01/14

by Dave Sumner

Jonathan Rowden Group BECOMING

With a debut, there’s always a danger of doing too much.  There’s a natural enthusiasm with the debut, no matter what the artistic medium, to aspire to express all of those creative ideas that have been bubbling up to the very moment the debut becomes official.  It’s the kind of thing that can lead to a wildly varying panoply of sounds and imagery, lacking cohesion and a frame of reference.

This, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing.  It can often lead to some pretty dramatic moments, and it’s the kind of thing where even if an artist falls flat on their face, they can get huge marks for the time they went airborne.

On their debut Becoming, The Jonathan Rowden Group maintain their balance, despite taking that prototypical “debut leap.”  It’s an album that has some post-bop, some chamber jazz, some avant-garde, and some of that Brian Blade Fellowship nu-jazz, and, strangely enough, Rowden is able to bundle it up in a way so that something approaching cohesion is achieved.

The gem of the album is the three-part “The Long Road Home,” which begins as a solemn hymn, middles with gentle sigh becoming a roar, and ends with the rooftop sound of a rainstorm slowly dwindling away.

Several tracks fit in with the modern jazz approach of incorporating infusions of post-rock and folk, where melodies are thick and heady and often go wandering off with only the occasional postcard as a reminder, and rhythms more likely to stomp and scatter than they are to swing.  “Snowing in Paradise” emits a rapid, though comforting pulse while piano and sax trade melodic gestures… some gentle, some as grand pronouncements… interrupted only by the sudden rise of bass from a deep hum to a lovely eye-of-the-storm solo.  “27-1″ rides the shoulders of a profuse, drawling melody up to furious heights.  The indie-pop catchiness of “Autonation” sticks even when the song’s second half sees it carry out a series of rapid costume changes.

Of particular interest is the way in which Rowden wraps these tracks around the three-part “The Long Road Home,” which lies at the heart of the album.  By stacking a couple post-bop, nu-jazz tracks at either end of “The Long Road Home,” Rowden creates something of a story arc, with the major conflict of the three-part chamber jazz suite bounded by the introduction and denouement of post-bop tunes.  Add to that some small avant-garde infusions, like album opener “Becoming,” in which a slow minimalism slowly morphs into an expansive loud drone, and “Entrance,” where the shroud of silence is as thick as shadows… and now the storyline has some necessary textural ambiguities.  Rowden manages to balance debut creative exuberance with some deft album craftsmanship.  Nicely done.

One of those albums that thoroughly captures the attention, and then, when released, the album reveals just how much fun it was, too.

Your album personnel:  Jonathan Rowden (saxophones, electronics, percussion), Ryan Pryor (piano, fender rhodes, percussion), Chris Hon(bass), and James Yoshizawa (drums, pandeiro, bodhran).

Released on Orenda Records.

Jazz from the L.A. scene.


Wondering Sound 06/04/14

NEW JAZZ THIS WEEK - JONATHAN ROWDEN GROUP: BECOMING

by Dave Sumner

Jonathan Rowden Group, Becoming: Captivating album by the quartet of saxophonist Rowden, pianist (and keys) Ryan Pryor, bassist Chris Hon, and drummer James Yoshizawa, who also throws some pandeiro and bodhran into the mix. It’s a recording that goes through plenty of changes, and that may be the ingredient that most contributes to this being such a winning album. It opens with some avant-garde, moves into a straight-ahead post-bop, then a three-part suite that comports itself like a chamber jazz outing, moves into a bit of spiritual jazz, and then ends with some tracks that settle in with the modern jazz-indie rock fusion. One of those albums that is terribly arresting throughout, and then when it’s over, it’s suddenly revealed how much damn fun it was, too.