By: C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz

Ellen Rowe Octet
Momentum: Portraits of Women in Motion
Smokin’ Sleddog Records
2019

Pianist/composer Ellen Rowe’s recording Momentum: Portraits of Women in Motion is a concept recording similar to Miles Davis‘s Birth of the Cool sides recorded in the late ’40s. Both projects use “little big bands” whose music is highly and specifically arranged. Both are trying to achieve a signature sound different from their respective contemporaries. Rowe funnels several efforts at once: creating an all-female band, recording her original compositions and honoring different women from vastly different places. Rowe includes some symmetry here, employing eight women on eight compositions dedicated to eight sets of women.

The churchy opener “Ain’t I A Woman” praises heroines of the civil rights movement such as Daisy Bates and Septima Clark, featuring a Carla Bley-inspired trombone solo by Melissa Gardiner. “R.F.P. (Relentless Forward Progress)” honors the great female distance runners Joan Benoit Samuelson and Meghan Canfield, while “Game, Set, And Match” is devoted to Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova. The bouncing strut “Soul Keeper” remembers the late pianist Geri Allen and by extension, her muse Mary Lou Williams. Rowe heavily seasons the piece with Thelonious Monkian stride dissonances over those very familiar twelve bars. The recording sports a thoughtful theme that lets it hang together on its own terms. What a great idea and realization!

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