Bryan Bowman and the urge to record

Bryan Bowman Quintet plays the California Jazz Conservatory on Saturday (photo by Ravi Abcarian)
Bryan Bowman Quintet plays the California Jazz Conservatory on Saturday. Photo: Ravi Abcarian

For the vast majority of musicians making an album is a money-losing proposition these days, a time-intensive undertaking that’s hard to justify looking at the bottom line. But the urge to make a statement, the call to document a particular program of music interpreted by a specific cadre of collaborators, is no less potent, which is why drummer/composer Bryan Bowman rounded up some of the region’s finest improvisers for his album Like Minds.

A smart and resourceful accompanist by night and caretaker of his three-year-old son by day, the Albany musician was determined to record a set of his original compositions. “I’m almost 50 and I have this music and want people to know who I am,” says Bowman, who celebrates the release Like Minds at the California Jazz Conservatory 8 p.m. Saturday. “I can go to all these gigs and play standards, which I love, but people don’t really get to know me. It was a bit of an act of desperation.”

Featuring Ian Carey on trumpet and flugelhorn, bassist Doug Miller, pianist Matt Clark, and Berkeley tenor saxophonist Bob Kenmotsu (who are all joining him at the CJC), Like Minds provides the players with consistently singing melodies. Intricate but not busy, Bowman’s tunes are full of striking rhythmic and harmonic details, with playful sidesteps and feints in unexpected directions.

Bryan Bowman Quintet (L to R Bob Kenmotsu, Ian Carey, Doug Miller, Bowman, Matt Clark)
L to R Bob Kenmotsu, Ian Carey, Doug Miller, Bowman, Matt Clark. Photo: Dan Feiszli

The tunes grew out of Bowman spending a lot of time at the piano, an instrument he’s played since youth. He credits Clark, a first-call pianist who has worked with the likes of Bobby Hutcherson, Laurie Antonioli and Joshua Redman, with helping him fine-tune the tunes.


“Matt and I do a lot of duets together,” Bowman says. “He’s got a kid a little older than my son, and we’ll get together on short notice to jam and play standards. The material was hammered out on the piano. I brought it to Matt and threw a lot of stuff in front of him, and he played it all beautifully. He’s responsible for making this stuff breathe.”

The instrumentation is the classic hard bop line up codified by Miles Davis and Horace Silver in the mid-1950s and not surprisingly Davis serves as an important model for arranging. “The way he uses space is so inspiring, to take a simple tune and make so much,” Bowman says. “Wayne Shorter’s melodies and his strange harmonies are also important for me. I’m not trying to write like that, but I end up writing a melody and then think about setting up harmonies no one’s expecting.”

Born in Los Angeles, Bowman grew up in Chico, where his father Robert E. Bowman was coordinator of the keyboard program at California State University, Chico from 1971-2003. His mother Andrea, a psychologist and cello player, exposed him to a vast array of music through her passion for folk dancing. He’s recorded and performed around the region with Bulgarian accordion master Ivan Milev and Trio Mopmu with Lily Storm.

“My mother turned me on to Bulgarian, Greek, Macedonian and Turkish music, all kinds of great stuff,” he says. “When I was a teenager I thought this was so annoying, all those trebly sounds. But when I got older, I realized what amazing music I was exposed to. That’s how I got into Indian music and ended up studying at Ali Akbar College of Music.”

He moved to the East Bay in the mid-1990s found early inspiration at the jam session saxophonist Harvey Wainapel ran at Sausalito’s No Name Bar with bassist John Wiitala and drummer Kenny Wollesen. (“Kenny changed my life,” he says. “His natural ability and musicality really shook me”). Another jam session at the lamented Berkeley House on University Avenue provided a different creative crucible.


Drum great Donald “Duck” Bailey, who made his mark with Jimmy Smith’s hugely popular organ trio in the mid-1950s, ran the session, and he recruited Bowman for the drum chair “because he wanted to play sax and harmonica,” Bowman recalls. “Howard Wiley was like 12 years old and he’d play all the time. I got some drum lessons from Donald, and gave me good advice about how to practice.”

Being a stay at home dad has provided a new source of inspiration, and many of the tunes on Like Minds evoke childhood (“Pick You Up,” “Restless Boy” and “Baloo’s”). With the album he’s certainly provided his son with an invaluable guide for creative expression. “If there’s anything unique that you have to share,” Bowman says, “you should find a way to share it.”

Recommended gig: Rupa and the April Fishes

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Photo: courtesy Rupa and the April Fishes

Rupa and the April Fishes open a monthly residency at Albany’s Ivy Room 9 p.m. Friday, bringing live music back to the venerable watering hole. Now based in the Berkeley area, Rupa is looking to introduce her global folk rock sound to her new hood. “We will be playing the more romping, wild tunes of the April Fishes this first show and each month we will have the opportunity to stretch out and try some other things as well,” she says. “I look forward to bringing new songs to the Ivy Room because it’s the right sized room with a warm vibe from the people there to offer the kind of space I need to try out new songs and reinvigorate old ones.”

Andrew Gilbert writes a weekly music column for Berkeleyside. He also reports for the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and KQED’s California Report. Read his previous Berkeleyside reviews.

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