Posts Tagged ‘ Ulysses Owens Jr. ’

Ulysses Owens Jr. – Songs of Freedom

In the most trying of times, it can be reassuring to listen back to the voices who’ve carried us through similar struggles. On his stirring new album Songs of Freedom, GRAMMY® Award-nominated drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. explores the songbooks of three female icons of the turbulent 1960s: Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, and Joni Mitchell. To convey the profound emotions of these powerful singer-songwriters, Owens has enlisted René Marie, Theo Bleckmann, and Alicia Olatuja, three of today’s most acclaimed jazz vocalists, along with rising star Joanna Majoko.

Songs of Freedom (available for streaming and physical pre-order now; album available March 15 via Resilience Music Alliance) was originally premiered in September 2016 as part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center celebration of “100 Years of Song.” The program culls inspiring songs from the three icons catalogues expressing the value of and struggle for freedom in America. The repertoire ranges from Mitchell’s soaring evocation of love’s complexity, “Both Sides Now,” to Simone’s acid takedown of the Civil Rights era South, “Mississippi Goddam,” to Lincoln’s rousing protest songs from Max Roach’s “Freedom Now Suite.”

Owens devised the idea for Songs of Freedom when he was approached by Jason Olaine, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s director of programming and touring, to take part in their century-spanning program, with the notion of taking on the period from the 1960s to the present day – a daunting proposition. “I realized that it would either end up a hodgepodge of random songs,” Owens says, “or I could find a defining moment that has influenced everything since.”

The core idea for Owens’ program came from the distressing headlines of the day. “At that time,” he recalls, “social media was blowing up every day with news of police brutality, videos of black men being killed by the cops. So, I thought back to the ‘60s, which seemed like a mirror image of today, and I asked, ‘Who were the figures that were on the front line then?’ I immediately thought about Nina and Abbey, and then I realized Joni would bring more of a love element to this fight.”

While Songs of Freedom looks back more than 50 years, Ulysses Owens Jr. is most concerned with how it touches audiences today. “Art has the ability to help you bide the time and get through,” he says. “Nina, Abbey and Joni were doing that while living in even crazier times. Art lets us say, ‘Ok, I can’t change anything, but here’s some people expressing exactly what I feel and the kind of agreement and resolve I hope our nation can come to, so it gives me some solace and comfort – which then gives me the ability to get through the tribulation. My ultimate goal with Songs of Freedom is to unite people.”

This album will be released on iTunes.

Ulysses Owens Jr. – Onward & Upward

Ulysses Owens Jr. is counted among the new breed of young drummers on the New York scene who are fast approaching veteran status. Onward & Upward (D-Clef Records, 2014) establishes that status.

Owens is a member of bassist Christian McBride’s trio. The Jacksonville, Florida, native and 2006 Julliard School of Music graduate brings a mix of original songs and covers on his third outing as a leader. Accompanying him are Anat Cohen, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Jason Palmer, trumpet; Michael Dease, trombone; Gilad Hekselman, guitar; Christian Sands, piano; and Reuben Rogers, bass. Appearing on selected tracks are Charles Turner, vocals; Adam Rongo, alto saxophone; Benny Benack, trumpet, vocals and percussion; and Matthew Rybicki, bass.

Onward and Upward is bookended by two drum solos, the title song in which Owens is complemented by hand claps, and “Drum Postlude,” which pays homage to Max Roach’s “The Drum Also Waltzes.”

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