Ellen Rowe Quartet
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Ellen Rowe Quartet

Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States | INDIE

Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States | INDIE
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"Denali Pass"

Review by Dave Lynch
If you spend much time perusing articles or reviews about jazz musicians, sooner or later you'll read that a particular artist has "big ears" -- and that has nothing to do with physical attributes. Rather, in many cases the writer is remarking about the artist's openness to a wide array of influences and willingness to draw upon a whole world of music in expressing his or her particular identity. One listen to Denali Pass, pianist, composer, and educator Ellen Rowe's second CD as a leader, and it becomes clear that Rowe certainly fits that categorization. Rowe and her Ann Arbor, MI-based quartet (which features saxophonist Andrew Bishop, drummer Pete Siers, and bassist Kurt Krahnke) are firmly based in the jazz piano quartet tradition, drawing particularly on post-bop and modal approaches, and Rowe herself is widely known for her melodic and lyrical sensibility in addition to her impressive chops. But Rowe also pushes herself and her bandmates; on Denali Pass the quartet moves effortlessly from a warhorse standard like "Time After Time" through pieces that encompass influences ranging from Carole King to Michael Brecker to Afro-Cuban jazz and even serial music (on "12 Ton Blues" [get it?], composed by multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson and recorded during an NPR performance at the San Jose Jazz Festival). One might presume from the Denali Pass title (and the title of Rowe's previous CD, Sylvan Way) that the music contained within would tend toward new age lightness, and while Rowe's music should certainly have broad appeal to the modern straight-ahead jazz fan, it doesn't fall into the footsteps of the Paul Winter Consort, Oregon, or their new age or smooth jazz followers. Even on "Lullaby" -- dedicated to Bishop's and Siers' children and one of seven Rowe originals on the disc -- the music is intended, as Rowe describes in the liner notes, to "reflect the more complex range of emotions that children experience at night and the sense of comfort and security that their parents provide." On the more uptempo pieces, however, the predominant feeling is exhilaration, as on the multi-part title track reflecting composer (and outdoor enthusiast) Rowe's emotions upon reaching the summit of North America's highest peak in Alaska's Denali National Park -- and safely getting back down again. This is music about tackling both physical and artistic challenges, not about introspective navel-gazing. And a piece like "Third Dimension," highlighting Bishop's formidable tenor chops, is as exciting and adventurous as anything penned by jazz musicians whose natural habitat is the late-night big city. After all, Rowe's principal inspiration for this CD is a jagged, rocky, imposing, and -- as the liner notes make clear -- sometimes dangerous mountain peak. There are sheer precipices that can be navigated only with the help of an expert crew. She's got that crew here in the Ellen Rowe Quartet, and they all have ears big enough -- figuratively speaking, of course -- to match hers and the music she brought down from the mountaintop.

Reviewer: Dave Lynch - Allmusic

"Detroit Disc -An Intoxicating Blend"

Maturity and selflessness are never gifts to be taken lightly and these qualities are stamped all over pianist Ellen Rowe's debut disc, "Slvan Way". Rowe, an associate professor of jazz studies at the University of Michigan, is a surefooted improviser with a bright harmonic imagination and a lovely melodic lyricism etched into her phrasing. Her compositions are smart and attractive, and she is also a game accompanist.
But it is the confident yet unassuming perfume of the music that is most intoxicating, the way Rowe blends her influences - Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock among them - into a personal vocabulary, and the way she refuses to preen. Notice on the title track how her single-note and chordal ideas flow effortlessly into one another.
Rowe swings, too, but even on a hard bop tune like Hank Mobley's "Funk In Deep Freeze", she favors a melodic focus that trumps more flamboyant change-running or blues cliches. The album was put together over several years and sessions with rotating trios, a quartet and one solo track. Bassist John Clayton and Joe LaBarbera bring some big-name glitter to their appearance on Rowe's wistful ballad "Hymn" but the local cats on the rest of the date more than hold their own.

- Detroit Free Press

"Ellen Rowe Quartet - "Wishing Well""

Ellen Rowe Quartet - "Wishing Well"
(PKO Records)
"For That Which Was Living, Lost" - a 9:21 elegy for the animals, plants and insects now extinct - opens inventive pianist Ellen Rowe's "Wishing Well" and sets the tone for an intelligent and sensitive set from Rowe and her quartet, featuring special guests Ingrid Jensen and Andy Haefner. Jensen's plaintive flugelhorn and bassist Kurt Krahnke's solo underline the sadness in this lovely piece. Meanwhile, the jaunty "Lewisburg Bluesy-oo" recalls Duke Ellington's "East St. Louis Toodle-oo" - showing another side of Rowe's personality. Despite it being primarily a quartet record (the other members are saxophonist Andrew Bishop and drummer Pete Siers) - the arrangements call to mind those of fellow heartlander Maria Schneider and the dynamics make it seem as if there is a much larger ensemble in play. The group has been together since 2002 - a lifetime by jazz combo standards - and their familiarity shows. Great solos by Rowe and Bishop highlight the rewarding Latin-flavored "Night Sounds," while "Tick Tock" - a swinging piece with lots of stops and starts is quite entertaining. Jensen takes on the Kenny Wheeler part on the lush "Longing," while the rocking "Sanity Clause" sounds almost like The Bad Plus (something Rowe admits in the liner notes). The title track is moody and reflective, while Rowe cleverly combines "Seven Steps to Heaven" with "Yardbird Suite" on "Seven Steps to My Yard," which features drummer Siers and Bishop on soprano. A heartfelt tribute to Rowe associate Detroit saxophonist and teacher Donald Walden ("For Donald") gives Walden two proteges - Haefner and Bishop, a chance to shine, while the group ends things with a sparkling cover of "Alone Together." A pleasing record for fans of both the contemporary as well traditional.
www.pkorecords.com - JazzChicago.net

"Ellen Rowe Quartet - "Wishing Well""

Wishing Well
Ellen Rowe Quartet | PKO Records (2010)

By Bruce Lindsay


Wishing Well is a beautifully crafted second album from the Ellen Rowe Quartet. Composer, arranger and pianist Rowe, a faculty member at the University of Michigan School of Music, formed the quartet in 2002, releasing her debut, Denali Pass (PKO Records), in 2005. Two albums in an eight-year history ensures that the band will never be labeled as prolific, but sometimes the best things are worth waiting for—and Wishing Well has certainly been worth the wait.
The album—Rowe's original compositions plus a version of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz' "Alone Together"—is a master class in small-band, straight-ahead, jazz. All of the musicians are outstanding, but no single player ever attempts to overwhelm the others and, as a result, this album is characterized by exceptional ensemble playing. Guest players Ingrid Jensen on flugelhorn and Andy Haefner on tenor sax slip perfectly into the ensemble, as well as producing beautiful solo performances. The album has a late-night, laidback feel in the main, though occasional faster numbers like "Seven Steps to My Yard" up the tempo while still maintaining the mood.

Right across the album there are moments of pure magic and the occasional surprise. Andrew Bishop's soprano solo on "Alone Together" is a hard-blowing performance that also demonstrates a fine ability to create a real emotional connection with a tune. Pete Siers' drumming on "Sanity Clause" is oddly reminiscent of the drum style of the White Stripes' Meg White (although Rowe's sleeve notes actually reference Art Blakey)—a solid, hard rhythm that suits this funny and joyful tune exactly. Bassist Kurt Krahnke, whose own playing on "Sanity Clause" is rich and funky, delivers a gorgeous bass line on "Night Sounds," while playing of Siers and Rowe are at their most delicate and sensitive. Most magical of all is the duet between Bishop and Jensen on "For That Which Was Living, Lost"—plaintive and delicate, it's a most affecting interplay.

The production quality is just as high as the album's musical quality, ensuring that even the instruments' subtler nuances can be clearly heard—yet another credit for Rowe, as producer. The musicians bring creativity to their playing and Rowe's writing stands comparison with the best contemporary jazz composers. The Ellen Rowe Quartet deserves wider recognition, with the beautifully realized Wishing Well a rich and engaging testament to this band's talent.

Track listing: For That Which Was Living, Lost; Lewisburg Bluesy-oo; Night Sounds; Tick Tock; Longing; Sanity Clause; Wishing Well; Seven Steps to My Yard; For Donald; Alone Together.

Personnel: Ellen Rowe: piano; Andrew Bishop: soprano and tenor sax; Kurt Krahnke: bass; Pete Siers: drums; Ingrid Jensen: flugelhorn (1, 5); Andy Haefner: tenor sax (9).
- all about jazz.com

"Ellen Rowe Quartet - "Wishing Well""

Ellen Rowe Quartet
Wishing Well
(PKO Records)

Pianist Ellen Rowe explores nine originals (plus the standard “Alone Together”) with her quartet and two special guests: trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and tenor player Andy Haefner. Rowe’s originals are vivid sound paintings that happen to swing mightily. Jensen is a wonderful addition on two tracks: the Rachel Carson-inspired “That Which Was Living, Lost” and the Kenny Wheeler-influenced “Longing.” Other favorites: “Night Sounds” and the title track, “Wishing Well.” The pensive “For Donald,” written in memory of late saxophonist Donald Walden, features two of his students, Haefner and Andrew Bishop. The quartet members featured throughout are Rowe, Bishop, bassist Kurt Krahnke and drummer Pete Siers. This is a gem in every respect, revealing much to savor on every track - and a well-above-average sound quality. Rowe is a University of Michigan School of Music faculty member. Go Blue.

reviewed by Ken Franckling - jazz times.com

"Ellen Rowe Wishing Well"

Ellen Rowe Wishing Well (PKO Records 054)
An exceptionally attractive CD by Ellen Rowe, a fine pianist and composer playing in what might be termed the post-bop mainstream. Lyric music, superbly played, and appealing to heart and mind alike. The members of Ellen's quartet are Andrew Bishop, tenor and soprano saxophones, Kurt Krahnke, bass, and Pete Siers, drums. All three have their solo moments, especially Andrew, and like their leader, all play with skill and imagination. Adding to the proceedings are guests Andy Haefner, tenor saxophone, on ''For Donald', and Ingrid Jensen, flügelhorn, on 'For That Which Was Living, Lost' and 'Longing'. All of this is lovely music, wonderfully well played and the result is an album that should appeal to many (Buy this now ...)

Review by Bruce Crowther - swing2bop.com


CDs: "Sylvan Way" (Ellen Rowe Trio with guests John Clayton, Joe LaBarbera and Andrew Bishop), "Denali Pass" (Ellen Rowe Quartet with guest vocalist Sunny Wilkinson) and "Wishing Well", Ellen Rowe Quartet with guest Ingrid Jensen

Streamed selections "Night Sounds" and "For That Which Was Living, Lost" available at www.PKORecords.com. Many tracks on "Wishing Well" have been receiving radio airplay recently.



Ellen Rowe

“A polished, engaging pianist; a rare convergence of technique, emotion and soul”
Richard Crawford, Director, American Music Institute

A headline in the Ann Arbor News reads "Jazz Pianist Keeps Running". Another article in the well-known music journal, Michigan Sports and Fitness is entitled "Running For The Summit". Both articles describe how jazz pianist, composer and educator Ellen Rowe combines her love of the outdoors with her career in jazz and how she derives inspiration for her music from her athletic pursuits. She has completed 12 marathons and recently ran the New York Marathon as a fundraiser for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. From that experience came the piece "...And Miles To Go", which utilized the scale degrees associated with her LAF member number as melodic motives. In 2004 she climbed Mount McKinley (also known as Denali) and wrote the title track for her second CD, "Denali Pass" while on the mountain. Her most recent expedition to Aconcagua, at 22,841 ft. the highest peak in the Americas, has yielded "Golindrinas de los Horcones" and "One for Summit Dog", both of which will be recorded on her next CD.

She has been described as “that rare ‘triple threat’ of pianist, composer-arranger, and teacher” (Ken Keuffel, Arizona Daily Star), a title that for many years kept her too busy to release a CD under her own name. That situation has been rectified with the releases of “Sylvan Way”, (2000) a trio CD combining jazz standards with original compositions that “soar with emotion and expression” (Denis Naranjo, WFBE), and “Denali Pass” (2004), a quartet CD that has been described as a “beautifully balanced and inspired journey, that showcases her abilities as a strong conceptualist pianist and band leader” by pianist Geri Allen and released in 2004. Her most recent CD, “Wishing Well”, with special guest Ingrid Jensen, was just released in January of 2010 on PKO Records.

Born in Ridgefield, Connecticut to musician parents, Ellen started playing the piano by ear when she was 4. “Being constantly surrounded by wonderful music in the house was an incredible gift”, she says. “I was hearing everything from Brahms trios and Beethoven symphonies to English folk music, musicals, the Beatles and Dave Brubeck”. Informed by her high school band director that she could not play in the school’s jazz band unless she started to study jazz more seriously, she embarked on her first formal piano lessons with jazz pianist and pedagogue John Mehegan. “I was so fortunate to be able to work with John - he was the real deal. Getting to listen to Bud Powell, Bill Evans, and Horace Silver when you are 14 has an extremely powerful impact on you.”

After working with Mehegan for 4 years, she entered the Eastman School of Music, continuing to study jazz with Bill Dobbins and Rayburn Wright. It was at Eastman where she had her first significant professional success, winning the Kansas City Womens’ Jazz Festival Combo Competition with her jazz quintet “Joyspring” and subsequently performing at that festival as well as in New York City. After working with Mehegan for 4 years, she entered the Eastman School of Music, continuing to study jazz with Bill Dobbins and Rayburn Wright.

Ms. Rowe has performed at jazz clubs, festivals and concert halls throughout the United States, Europe and Australia and has had the honor of appearing on Marian McPartland’s acclaimed NPR show "Piano Jazz" twice. In addition to leading her own trio and quartet, she is in great demand as a sideman, having performed with a variety of artists including Kenny Wheeler, Ingrid Jensen, John Clayton, Tom Harrell, Frank Morgan, Steve Turre and Jiggs Whigham. In keeping with the eclectic nature of her earliest musical influences, she has also continued to perform classically, recently performing the Stravinsky Piano Concerto with the University of Michigan Wind Ensemble. Her three CDs as a leader have received extensive airplay and critical acclaim.

The Ellen Rowe Quartet was formed in 2000 as a vehicle for her original compositions and the other members of the band, including on the last CD trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, all share her eclectic musical tastes. "I couldn't possibly have four more intuitive, sensitive and swinging players to interpret my music" she says. In his Allmusic review of "Denali Pass", Rowe's second CD,Dave Lynch describes the nature of the band and its' music: If you spend much time perusing articles or reviews about jazz musicians, sooner or later you'll read that a particular artist has "big ears" -- and that has nothing to do with physical attributes. Rather, in many cases the writer is remarking about the artist's openness to a wide array of influences and willingness to draw upon a whole world of music in expressing his or her particular identity. One listen to Denali Pass, pianist, composer, and educator Ellen Rowe's second CD as a leader, and it becomes clear that Rowe certainly fits t