The Joe Bowden Project is actually a quartet that expands to a quintet on two songs. However, thanks in part to the elegant high jinks from behind a battery of rumbling drums and hissing, splashing cymbals, percussion colourist and leader Bowden makes his Project’s music sound as if it were a much larger ensemble. But that is not the best part of the album.
What makes Black to the Roots an unforgettable experience is the quality of the repertoire. As a composer Bowden imbues his songs with vibrant drama and fierce urgency that makes their musical narratives utterly compelling listening. The word Black in the title may suggest a cultural awakening and while the often martial-sounding rattle and roll of the snare drums may raise its percussive head, the temptation to add unsavoury fire to the music’s pulse and timbre is largely eschewed. In fact, Bowden’s work – and his playing – is eminently poised.
An interesting aspect of his work is that he approaches Black music from the – almost parallel – perspectives of the American and Caribbean tributaries that flow out of the proverbial African river. The presence of the incomparable Cuban pianist Manuel Valera certainly energizes the musical excursion. Valera is an erudite composer himself and his presence and singular artistry have certainly impacted the expression of this music. Bassist Mike Downes, saxophonist Jesse Ryan and vibraphonist Dan McCarthy add their distinguished artistry to this disc.