A New Beat
Release Date: January 19, 2024
Label: Cellar Music Group

Praised by The New York Times, Rolling Stone, DownBeat and more for his impactful work as a bandleader and recognized as a vital force with legends such as Kurt Elling, Wynton Marsalis and Christian McBride, GRAMMY-Award winning Owens Jr.’s rise from “young lion” to seasoned mentor has been undeniably swift. As his career as a world-class musician has blossomed mightily, so has his impact in music education, marked by a professorship at The Juilliard School, now in its seventh year. Informed by his experience as an educator, and by the profound legacy of mentorship enacted by great bandleaders Art Blakey and Betty Carter, Owens Jr. scouts the next generation of jazz movers and shakers in an ensemble he calls Generation Y. Four years after its formation, Owens Jr. took the group - in its multiple iterations - into the studio. The end result is A New Beat - a unique musical juxtaposition that stands both as a tribute to the legacies and traditions of his mentors, and an homage to the unbridled potential of the future.

Ulysses Owens Jr.'s Generation Y, and ultimately A New Beat, finds its genesis in a seemingly simple question the drummer’s manager, Myles Weinstein, asked him: "Ulysses, who makes you happy when you play? Who do you want to be on the bandstand with?" In this moment, Owens Jr. understood that of all the electricity and fervor he had experienced onstage in his career, the spark that truly ignited his musical passion was working with younger musicians. He realized that it was because young musicians are still evolving and growing, and that it enables him to continuously grow, too. With synapses freshly firing and excitement bubbling, Owens Jr. immediately thought of his very talented then-Juilliard students. As the rehearsals began and the band went on the road, Owens Jr. realized that what he had discovered was not simply a concept or even a passion, but an opportunity for a lifelong endeavor to nurture upcoming generations of musicians and in turn to be inspired and vitalized himself. 

"It's an initiative that will last for the rest of my career, because there will always be some youthful energy and talent that needs mentoring and guidance," Owens Jr. says. "It just fit with my path and journey, because that’s how I was introduced to the scene, through mentors." After several successful tours, Owens Jr. and Generation Y deemed it time to record and chronicle their camaraderie, vigor, and musical explosiveness. A New Beat thus stands as a celebration of the band's journey over their first four years. The rising talent and notable voices featured on A New Beat include Erena Terakubo, Sarah Hanahan, Anthony Hervey, Benny Benack III, Luther Allison, Tyler Bullock, Philip Norris, Ryoma Takanega, and Milton Suggs.

The album's title, A New Beat, is a phrase that sums up Owens Jr.'s multifaceted growth throughout all aspects of his life as he has entered a new era as an educator, musician, and even philanthropist. Owens Jr. has entered his seventh year of teaching as Small Ensemble Director at the Juilliard School, and his 16th year as Artistic Director of the Don't Miss A Beat non-profit camp; he founded and runs his own Jazz Summer Camp, and - most proudly - is now a father to his two-year old son. Owens Jr. summarizes it outright: "I am not a kid anymore, and so much of what I give my attention to is now for the benefit of others. That’s a new reality for me, and I really enjoy it, and it’s something that has changed how I approach everything." For Owens Jr., this changed approach has permeated through his world, from how he lives to how he performs. "It’s a new time, and a new season, which allows me to have a new sound and A New Beat."

Musically, this album was substantially influenced by the passing of Owens Jr.’s primary mentor, Mulgrew Miller, and one of his great inspirations, Roy Hargrove. Owens Jr. first met Hargrove while touring with Christian McBride, and the conviction, soul, and emotion that permeated Hargrove and his band's playing left a lasting mark on Owens Jr. "I feel that since Hargrove left us, there was a void on the scene," Owens Jr. says. "My hope is for Generation Y to fill that musical void of being a quintet that’s swinging, playing in the Blues, and Soul tradition of the music and honoring our elders." Regarding Mulgrew Miller, picking up the mantle of training and providing opportunities for the next generation is Owens Jr.’s chosen way to honor the piano giant. "Mulgrew constantly mentored the next generation, so there is an underlying commitment to every member in this band of mentoring and guiding them beyond the music, album and touring."

The album opens with "Sticks," a Cannonball Adderley/Nat Adderley composition that comes out the gates striking audiences with a powerful statement. Unbeknownst to many, the Adderley Brothers were native Floridians, and Owens Jr,, who has himself settled there, wanted to highlight the unique contributions of Floridians to jazz. This piece, when originally recorded, featured Sam Jones, another Floridian jazz musician, and so Owens Jr. jumped upon the opportunity to swing hard and pay homage simultaneously. A New Beat continues with "Better Days," a composition by Generation Y band member and trumpeter Anthony Hervey. While producing Hervey’s critically acclaimed debut Words From My Horn (Outside in Music, 2023), Owens Jr. fell in love with the composition, and added it to the Generation Y repertoire. Owens Jr. continues with the music of his bandmates with "London Towne," an original composition by Benny Benack III. Owens Jr.  jests that he "will not stop until we make it a standard," having recorded different arrangements of the song with his New Century Jazz Quintet, his Big Band, and now Generation Y. 

"Until I See You", by pianist Luther Allison, emphasizes his and Owens Jr.’s shared love of harmony and Black American Church music. The composition leans into the spiritual and has proven to be a favorite in concert. Owens Jr. continues his tribute to Roy Hargrove by including his tune "Soulful". The album progresses with the Jackie McLean composition, "Bird Lives." Chosen by saxophonist Sarah Hanahan, who counts McLean as a major influence, this track showcases the band's ability to reign within the bebop idiom, as they hold their ground at break-neck tempos. The penultimate track is "Helen's Song," a George Cables song that Owens Jr. was first introduced to during his time playing in Steve Wilson's band. "George's tunes really spoke to me because they feel like R&B tunes, with beautiful chord changes, and melodies, and the structure of the tunes fit the sound of this band," Owens Jr. says. "Helen's Song" was composed by Cables for his wife, and emphasizes a sentimentality that Owens Jr. found irresistible. A New Beat concludes with "Chicken An' Dumplings." Originally composed by pianist Ray Bryant, this piece was a staple part of the Art Blakey songbook, and has been a staple part of Owens Jr.’s repertoire since the days of his New Century Jazz Quintet. A feel-good blues with a twisting bridge, this piece marked the perfect way to conclude the album. "It reminds me of home, and it communicates the overall soulfulness I try to bring to the world through my band and music," Owens Jr. says.With A New Beat, Owens Jr. displays not only his long-beloved formidable drumming and arranging, but he allows his poignant vision and leadership to take the spotlight. By organizing and riding the waves of youthful creativity and the unbridled ability of the rising generation to grow, Owens jr. has created an artistic statement that shimmers with brilliance - both musically and with the seeds of the legacy that he is planting for the future.

Soul Conversations
Release date: May 7, 2021
Label: Outside in Music

Soul Conversations is the fiery tour-de-force from jazz luminary Ulysses Owens Jr and marks the renowned drummer’s recording debut with his exciting new 19-piece outfit, the UOJ Big Band. With his unimpeachable drum mastery Owens Jr. is heralded for augmenting the ensembles of such eminent figures as Christian McBride, Wynton Marsalis and Kurt Elling. Owens Jr. has also proven his excellence at steering and magnifying his own ensembles, including his New Century Jazz Quintet. With Soul Conversations, he demonstrates a fresh and ebullient approach in large ensemble jazz. Alongside Owens Jr., Soul Conversations features trumpeters Walter CanoBenny Benack IIISummer Camargo and Giveton Gelin; trombonists Eric Miller, Gina Benalcazar, Wyatt Forhan, Chris Glassman, Seth Weaver and Michael Dease who also serves as the album’s associate producer; alto players Alexa Tarantino and Erena Terakubo, tenor players Diego Rivera and Daniel Dickinson; and baritone player Andy Gatauskas as well as pianist Takeshi Ohbayashi, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, vocalist Charles Turner III and special guest vibraphonist Stefon Harris.

Recorded live at Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center in early December 2019, Soul Conversations captures a jubilant performance from the big band, documenting the electricity of a large ensemble that expertly balances excitement with subtlety, and polish with unbridled innovation. The story of the band’s inception began two years prior on the very same stage when Owens Jr. assembled the group to fill out his renowned New Century Jazz Quintet for one night of a week-long run at Dizzy’s. This outfit, at the time billed as the ‘New Century Jazz Big Band’, received tremendous praise, reportedly even giving Wynton Marsalis and The Lincoln Center Orchestra’s performance in the Rose Hall a “worthy run for their money”. Owens Jr. recalls “Everybody kept asking if [the big band] was coming back for the rest of the week.” 

Upon the band’s return two years later, audiences were greeted with a working ensemble with a burgeoning repertoire of exciting material and the beginnings of a new musical institution modeled after the iconic bands of yesteryear most notably Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. “The band became a cradle for not only young musicians but for young arrangers who wanted to get their work played,” says Owens Jr. The UOJ Big Band is as multigenerational – the members’ ages range from early 20s to their early 40’s – as its multi-gender and multi-ethnic, and the group’s repertoire contains compositions by a multitude of the group’s members.

Soul Conversations opens appropriately with some snappy rim shots before Owens Jr. ignites “Two Bass Hit” with a pithy arrangement that was inspired by both Roy Hargrove’s Big Band rendition from the late-2000’s and Miles Davis’ up-tempo reading of the piece from his 1961 date at San Francisco’s Black Hawk nightclub. The UOJ Big Band then showcases one of its splendid originals – the pneumatic groover, “London Towne,” written by Benack. It originally appeared on the New Century Jazz Quintet’s Time Is Now album. For this version, Steven Feifke provided the simmering arrangement as the composer delivers a satiny, conversational solo followed by a shimmering vibraphone improvisation by Stefon Harris.

The band leader composed three pieces featured on this release, “Beardom X”, “Red Chair” and the title track “Soul Conversations”, penned by Owens Jr. and Ohbayashi. “Beardom X”, is a masterclass in dynamics, with quiet episodic moments and majestic highs. The piece was penned by the leader in tribute to two of his artistic and political guiding lights, visual artist Romare Bearden and civil rights activist Malcolm X. Rivera provided the expansive arrangement heard on this release. The decidedly modern sounding “Soul Conversations” has soul-jazz leanings and a laid-back arrangement provided by trumpeter Jonokuchi. The composition imbues a certain cinematic splendor and features Gelin and Tarantino as soloists.

Aside from innovative original material, the album features impressive arrangements of classic compositions including John Coltrane’s titanic piece “Giant Steps”, Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”, and Neil Hefti and Bobby Troup’s “Girl Talk”. Rivera’s arrangement heightens the devilish suspense as it allows the saxophone section to ricochet timeless melodies with the trombone and trumpet sections. As the composition builds steam, it becomes a delightful showcase first for Rivera and Dickinson to volley brilliantly inventive solos and then for Gelin to wax a flaring aside. “Girl Talk”, arranged by Nakamura, allows Gelin to unfurl a sensual melodic improvisation, while the other horn sections quietly accompany, sometimes with the soothing harmonies one would expect from a doo-wop group. Owens Jr.’s dramatic rhythmic bombs were inspired by drummer Sonny Payne, who played on Count Basie’s immortal 1966 version.

This formidable introduction of the UOJ Big Band documents the exuberant, soulful sound of the outfit as well as the genuine love and enthusiasm emanating from the leader of the group. Owens Jr. remarks, “I finally feel like I have a record that is emanating a sound that I can confidently create forever.”

For: A New Beat

DICK METCALF
CONTEMPORARY FUSION REVIEW
I give Ulysses and all his players a Most Highly Recommended rating....Read this feature here.

MATT MICUCCI
JAZZIZ
'Significantly inspired by the passing of Mulgrew Miller, and one of his great inspirations, Roy Hargrove, the album serves as both a tribute to the rich legacies of the greats of the past' Read this album announcement here.

ZACK ALBETTA
APPLE PODCASTS
"His jazz drumming video on Drumeo unpacking the nuts and bolts of jazz drumming." Check out this amazing podcast here.

THIERRY DE CLEMENSAT
PARIS MOVE
"... Grammy-winning Owens Jr. has rapidly transitioned from a “young lion” to a seasoned mentor." Check out this amazing podcast here.

MARC MYERS
JAZZ WAX
"Led by Ulysses on drums, the album is never dull and shows off what this group can do with different configurations of musicians and a singular sound" Check out the full review here.

STEPHEN GRAHAM
MARL BANK
"...even better a tender version of 'Helen's Song' by George Cables kept to the end which really is a treat." Check out the full review here.

GEORGE KANZLER
HOT HOUSE JAZZ
"The music skews toward the hard bop and soul jazz that was a mainstay of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, but Ulysses also cites another main inspiration." Check out the full review here.

HERB BOYD
DOWNBEAT MAGAZINE 
"They put a new beat and a fresh gloss on a collection of timeless chestnuts." Read the full review here.

MARK LOMANNO
THE RHYTHM OF STUDY
"Everything about this recording is masterful and joyous." Check out the full review here.

MATT MICUCCI
JAZZIZ
Check out this feature on the editors playlist here.

GLENN ASTARITA
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"A New Beat, crafted by the multi-Grammy award-winning drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. and his Generation Y outfit, materializes as a vivid emblem of jazz's evolving dynamics." Check out this review here.

TSF JAZZ EDITOR
TSF JAZZ
"A raw swing sound, irresistible and invigorating! " Check out the feature on the editor's playlist here.

JOE LANG
NEW JERSEY JAZZ SOCIETY
"The music is quite varied, and the young players flawlessly execute the demanding charts conceived by Owens." Check out the full review here.

JACK BOWERS
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
Check out the full article here.

GEORGE W. HARRIS
JAZZ WEEKLY
"The horns smack you right off the bat on the soul groove of “Sticks” and is silky smooth for “Until I See  You Again”." Check out the full review here.

For: Soul Conversations

R.J DELUKE
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
Some jazz drummers, as remarkable as they may be and as successful as their careers are, just aren't suited to drive a big band. It's not for every percussionist. But every big band needs a good one or the effort will fall short. A ship needs a rudder. Ulysses Owens Jr., who started beating out rhythms at home at the age of two, is one of those. Read this feature here.

 

SIMON SWEETMAN
OFF THE TRACKS
"This is a lot of fun and so beautifully played and arranged. Big band music isn’t for everyone – but this is the type of big band music that every jazz fan can be on board with, I should think." Read this review here.

 

D. OSCAR GROOMES
O'S PLACE MAGAZINE
"It’s an ultra-modern set with tons of energy. The music is heavily punctuated with crisp dynamics and a wealth of lively brass." Read the full review here.

GARY FUKUSHIMA
DOWNBEAT
Feature article. Read it here

EDITOR
REPUBLIC OF JAZZ
"Outside in Music is thrilled to announce the May 7th, 2021 release of Soul Conversations, the fiery tour-de-force from jazz luminary Ulysses Owens Jr. Soul Conversations marks the renowned drummer’s recording debut with his exciting new 19-piece outfit, the UOJ Big Band, as well as the artist’s first release on Outside in Music."  Check out this announcement here

MATT MICUCCI
JAZZIZ
One of the 10 Albums You Need To Know in May 2021. Check out the list here

MATT MICUCCI
JAZZIZ
Album announcement featured on The Week in Jazz here.

DEE DEE MCNEIL
MUSICAL MEMOIRS
"Ulysses Owens Jr. takes a mind-blowing solo excursion on his trap drums.  I appreciate his power, his creativity and technical wizardry." Read the full review here. 

JACK BOWERS
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Recommended for the exuberant flag-wavers, first-rate solos and sizeable number of impressive moments on the less-than-emphatic numbers." Read this review here.

BOBBY E. DAVIS JR. 
BLACK GROOVES
"Soul Conversations is full of exhilarating and breathtaking tunes that will have you on your feet dancing at some moments and thinking critically about the state of the world in others." Review here

NEWS DESK
REPUBLIC OF JAZZ 
Read the album announcement here.

JIM HYNES
GLIDE MAGAZINE
"That one-week run at Dizzy’s sowed the seed for this exciting large ensemble recording, one that Owens Jr. is eminently comfortable with and will likely serve as a foundation for further large ensemble dates. You’d never guess he was new at such an endeavor." Review here

ÉTIENNE DORSAY
JAZZ MAGAZINE
"Impressive in his swing and authority." Read the full review in the July 2021 issue of Jazz Magazine

PHIL BOOTH
JAZZIZ
"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." Review here

GEORGE W. HARRIS
JAZZ WEEKLY
"Rewards for the ears." Review here.

BURAK SÜLÜNBAZ
CAZKOLIK
Read the full Turkish review here.

JIM HYNES
GLIDE MAGAZINE
Honorable Mention on The Glide Top 20 in Jazz here.

ALAN YOUNG
NEW YORK MUSIC DAILY
"Close your eyes and this could be Max Roach with a careeningly energetic crew in front of him." Read the review here.

ALEXA PETERS
DOWNBEAT
"Owens brings variety with intention." Read the full review in the August issue of Downbeat magazine.