Blindfold Test: Endea Owens


Endea Owens takes the Blindfold Test with writer Ashley Kahn onstage at this summer’s NorthSea Jazz Festival.

(Photo: Hans Tak)

At this early stage of her career, the bassist and bandleader Endea Owens — a product of the Detroit music scene (Michigan State University ’15) and Juilliard master’s jazz graduate — can be seen almost nightly performing in the house band for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Her debut album, Feel Good Music, was recently released, featuring her group The Cookout. At the helm of that band, Owens has headlined major jazz clubs and festivals, and a memorable Tiny Desk appearance on NPR, delivering an uplifting mix of jazz, gospel and neo-soul energy. On the day of her debut headlining gig at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam this summer, she made time for her first Blindfold Test on the nearby Central Park talk stage.

Christian McBride Trio

“Car Wash” (Live At The Village Vanguard, Mack Avenue, 2014) McBride, bass; Christian Sands, piano; Ulysses Owens, drums.

I knew it when I first heard it — the “Car Wash” cover, and also he’s from Philly. This is screaming Christian McBride so much. [Later] He has a tendency to start in hot, even on a ballad like “Stars Fell On Alabama.” Also, he’s coming from the school of Ray Brown, but the recording is newer so it gives it a crisper sound. Christian has an incredible groove, so I know I’m going to hear a little bit of ring from the fingerboard because he’s pulling those strings. Whew! 5 stars.

Meshell Ndgeocello

“Burn Progression” (The Omnichord Real Book, Blue Note, 2022) Ndgeocello, electric bass; Ambrose Akinmusire, trumpet; Hanna Benn, vocals.

At first it sounded like Ben Williams on electric bass. If it’s not, then it sounds like someone from the school of Meshell Ndgeocello, but I don’t think it’s her because she plays behind the beat a little bit more. This is her whole style. Her fill is like no other. Her bass playing is so melodic and her sound is so deep, almost like an Anthony Jackson kind of depth. [Later] Oh, this is the new one. I actually got a chance to play with her on The Late Show. I played upright and she played electric. I told her I’m such a fan. We talked about life and how to make it better. She also taught me how to just relax and focus on the melody and the bass line and how they interact with each other, how to get that really big sound. 5 stars.

Oscar Peterson Trio

“How High The Moon” (At The Stratford Shakespearean Festival, Verve, 1956) Peterson, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Herb Ellis, electric guitar.

Wow. The quarter note fill is so — it’s in the middle but it’s just a touch on top, which I love. My first thought was Ray Brown. It sounds like early Ray, like [Oscar Peterson’s 1964 album] We Get Requests. [Later] This was one of the first albums that my first bass teacher, Rodney Whitaker, taught me with. This is an album that all bass players should know, just pure magic. 5 stars.

Brandee Younger

“Save The Children” (Soul Awakening, Independent Release, 2019) Younger, harp; Dezron Douglas, acoustic bass; E.J. Strickland, drums; Niia, vocals.

I’m hearing some deep, deep bass notes. The tone is beautiful, but also they’re really focused on holding it down and not playing any chordal things, just playing the line and letting everyone else have the colors, which makes it more difficult to ID. But it takes a lot of discipline to do that as a bass player. [Later] I forget that Dezron doubles on upright and electric. He’s equally amazing on both. If you ever see him live, he’s going to play the notes, not going to embellish too much, and it’s going to sound warm and grounded. It’s going to anchor the whole band. 5 stars.

Marcus Miller

“Mr. Clean” (Renaissance, Mack Avenue, 2012) Miller, electric bass; Alex Han, alto saxophone; Sean Jones, trumpet; Adam Rogers, electric guitar; Bobby Sparks, organ; Frederico Gonzalez Peña, electric piano; Louis Cato, drums.

I’m hearing all the funk. All that Larry Graham stuff. That is beautiful bass playing — from the slides and the slapping of the bass, down to the tone. It’s a mixture of lows and highs, and just a touch bright but not too bright, which makes me feel it’s Marcus Miller playing. The slides remind me of Luther Vandross [recordings]. It’s also Marcus’ kind of arranging: these big, grand arrangements like this tune. Another 5 stars.

Rodney Whittaker

“Just Squeeze Me” (All Too Soon: The Music Of Duke Ellington, Origin, 2017) Whittaker, bass; Brian Lynch, trumpet; Michael Dease, trombone; Diego Rivera, tenor saxophone; Richard Roe, piano; Karriem Riggins, drums.

This sounds like Rodney [pause] Whittaker. The best bass player ever. He’s from the east side of Detroit. I met him when I was 15, and he’s basically the reason why I play bass. I saw him when he came to my high school and he played solo bass — also I know this album. His groove, his beat and his sound are so deep. 5 stars.


“Unrequited Love” (It Is What It Is, Brainfeeder, 2019) Thundercat, vocals, electric bass,.

Thundercat, of course. He plays a six-string bass and he has the tendency to play really high and still get that super clean tone in his playing. His playing is remarkable, and you can hear everything that he’s studied: the bebop, the funk, the R&B, the classical aspect. He’s like a gumbo pot of bass playing. Shout-out to Thundercat — give me a lesson! 5 stars.

Cory Wong & Friends

“Separado” (Ask For Chaos, YouTube video, 2021) Wong, electric guitars; Louis Cato, electric bass; Eric Finland, keyboards; Jordan Rose, drums.

From the first line, it sounded like something Richard Bona would play. But then I heard the tone of the bass and his singing along and I thought, that’s all church. It sounds like Louis Cato, my new boss, the bandleader on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. What can I say about his playing? Honestly, Louis is like a savant. The way he hears music is just second nature, and he’s been playing the bass since he was 4 years old. Also, Louis is from North Carolina. He does a lot of those churchy lines and he also uses the whole facility of the bass. That’s what sets him apart. Nothing less than 5 stars. DB

The “Blindfold Test” is a listening test that challenges the featured artist to discuss and identify the music and musicians who performed on selected recordings. The artist is then asked to rate each tune using a 5-star system. No information is given to the artist prior to the test.

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