New Century Jazz Quintet
Time is Now

It was 2012 and two young musicians, Takeshi Obayashi and Ulysses Owens Jr., were playing a gig in NYC for a young vocalist, Charles Turner. During one of the songs, Takeshi played a lick on the piano that made it evident that he had spent some time listening to Mulgrew Miller. Mulgrew Miller, the pianist for Art Blakey, Tony Williams and many more, was also a long time mentor to Ulysses. This instantly peaked the interest of Ulysses and at that moment Ulysses proposed the idea of creating music with Takeshi when they both would be in Japan.

In August 2013, Takeshi arranged a small trio gig for he and Ulysses to play in Okuyama, Japan. When the bassist Takeshi hired could no longer make it to the gig, Ulysses suggested that he and Takeshi just play duo. The concert was an absolute success because of Takeshi’s musicality and rhythmic approach to the music matched with Ulysses’ musical abilities, these two struck a positive musical chord together that would begin a fortuitous musical bond. . Afterwards, on the six hour train ride back to Tokyo, Ulysses and Takeshi discussed the idea of putting together a band for the Japanese market. It would be a New York-based band, that is a hybrid of some of the most talented Japanese and American musicians and the focus and goal of the band would be to play music steeped in the tradition of Jazz, but with a modern approach.

Once the concept was born, Takeshi and Ulysses immediately created the name for the band right there on the train. “New Century Jazz”. Conceived with the idea that this is a new day and time, echoing Dizzy Gillespie’s sentiment of having one foot in the past and one in the future. Other integral influences of the band are Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Terence Blanchard and Donald Harrison, Wayne Shorter, and Roy Hargrove.

The way to build any ensemble is to first start with the rhythm section. When thinking of a bassist that would fit successfully into this unit, Yasushi Nakamura was the first name that came to mind. He and Ulysses have always had a great musical bond and Yasushi and Takeshi spent time together at The Berklee College of Music in Boston. Within the last few years, Yasushi has become one of the most in demand bassists in NYC and Japan.

The next voice that would add to the melody bearers of this ensemble would be Tim Green. On Alto Saxophone, Tim echoes the sounds of Kenny Garrett, Charlie Parker, and Wayne Shorter and this is a sound that the band really desired and knew would be integral to it’s success. Last but not least, is the young firecracker and amazing trumpeter, Benny Benack, who along with Ulysses was on Wynton Marsalis’ top picks for the new generation of jazz musicians that would carry the torch in 2012. Benny is the full package, and contributes to the band with just the right energy. As a guest artist the magnificent Michael Dease on Trombone who is a virtuouso to say the least, and really rounds out the sound of the front line leaving New Century with no voids sonically.

The most important thing about NCJQ is it’s collaborative focus. Although the ensemble is co-led by Takeshi and Ulysses, each member composes, arranges, and submits material for the band.

Ulysses, along with Tomoki Sassa of Spice of Life Records in Tokyo, Japan, will produce New Century Jazz CD, as the band embarks on their first record together . Tomoko Sassa has been a great supporter of Ulysses’ work as a musician and a producer and decided to partner with Ulysses to re-initiate the strong relationship with Japan and the new generation of jazz musicians. Tomoko wants to re-create the feeling in the 1980s and 90s when Japan’s relationship with young great musicians, particularly from the New York City Jazz scene, was a very fortuitous one. In the wake of the recession, that relationship did not completely dissolve, but larger labels began to take fewer risks with new and emerging talent. “Sassa-San”, as Ulysses refers to him, wants to re-ignite this fire and allow New Century Jazz to bridge the gap that has existed for far too long.

New Century will be releasing their debut record “Time Is Now” in Japan in June 2014 and will follow it up with a tour of Japan in July 2014 under Spice Of Life Records .