Do drummer-led big bands — think Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, Gene Krupa — simply pack a bigger punch than those led by other instrumentalists? Maybe. Ulysses Owens Jr. makes a strong case for that argument with his first big-band album, following the Florida native and Juilliard jazz prof’s four releases as a leader and stellar work with the likes of Christian McBride, Kurt Elling and Joey Alexander. Recorded live at Dizzy’s Club at Lincoln Center in Manhattan, just a few months before the venue shutdowns, it’s a collection of rousing performances of standards and originals, featuring arrangements by band members and others.
Lead-off track “Two Bass Hit” launches with a series of quick snare hits and inventive drum fills before the band gets going in earnest with the familiar bluesy Dizzy Gillespie-John Lewis melody. Shortly after comes the first of the album’s several solo romps by tenor saxophonist Diego Rivera, and a round-robin of solos by five others including a two-minute showcase for the leader. Owens also delivers several other inspired interpretations.
Impressive originals abound, too. Charles Turner III’s “Harlem, Harlem, Harlem” offers gospel-fired call-and-response action by singer Turner and the band, and fiery turns by alto saxophonist Erena Terakubo, trombonist Michael Dease and mute-jamming trumpeter Summer Camargo. Owens brings three compositions to the program, including the closing title track, a mellow, funk-edged piece livened by Alexa Tarantino’s high-flying alto solo.