Album Review: Chuck Owen and the WDR Big Band – Renderings

It’s more than a bit remarkable that the big band format has sustained into the 21st century, no less into 2023. But indeed it has, and much of the credit for that durability is owed to Chuck Owen. Working here with the WDR Big Band, he has returned with Renderings, a vibrant, vital and often thrilling set of eight tracks. The music swings, swooping and diving in an exciting manner.

As is so often the case in recent history, this project’s creation timetable was affected by the pandemic, but here it is. And worth the wait it most certainly is. The unifying concept here – -as best explained in Owen’s liner essay – is to focus on creating unique arrangements for existing material. While Owen’s a composer of note, for Renderings he’s working primarily with compositions by others.

If your tastes run toward the big, bold, brassy arrangements of Lalo Schifrin, Don Ellis and the like, you’ll find much to savor in Renderings. The arrangements don’t rival Ellis’ work in terms of complexity, but they’re accessible in the extreme, offering up power, nuance, humor and emotional content. The titles hint at the vibe: “Of Mystery & Beauty,” the wonderfully evocative “Arabian Nights,” the rich and soulful “This Love of Mine.” Select tracks feature delightful solos on organ, violin and more; there’s a great deal of variety in these tracks. The unifying character is tunefulness, though. Big band jazz is alive!