Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Familiar NYC Jazz Presence Keeps Cranking Out Catchy Albums

Since the mid-zeros, tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser has methodically if not exactly quietly built an increasingly vast body of catchy, hard-swinging jukebox jazz. Brisk tempos and hooks that a talented group can take out on plenty of tangents are his thing: most of the tunes in his ever-expanding book are done in less than five minutes. Lately he’s been playing a mostly-Friday night residency at the Django, where he’ll be tomorrow night, March 13 at 7 PM; it’s $15 at the bar.

For those interested in checking out the show, there are many albums to choose from. The most recent one that made it to the hard drive here (there have been others released since – Fowser works fast) is Don’t Look Down, a 2018 release and one of his best, streaming at Posi-Tone Records. It kicks off with Maker’s Marc, a fast, tiptoeing swing tune that may be a shout-out to producer and Posi-Tone honcho Marc Free, working a familiar golden-age trope. The bandleader and  trumpeter Josh Bruneau hit the big riff head-on but then don’t really revisit it until the second verse, pianist Rick Germanson working increasingly gorgeous chordal clusters and a marionettish solo alongside bassist Paul Gill and drummer Joe Strasser.

Coming Up Shorter – a Wayne Shorter salute – shifts between broodingly syncopated modalities and a steady swing, Fowser adding shivery microtones and terse curlicues, Germanson taking a more majestic direction. The band completely shift gears with the Rhodes-driven bossa You’re Better Than That, a vehicle for lyricism from Bruneau. Then they go back to hard-hitting, gritty mode with the darkly bluesy Fall Back, and more shadowy understatement from Fowser.

The album’s title track is a moodily muted, latin-tinged gem, followed by the more balmy Divided State. Gemanson’s beautifully glittery opening solo kicks off I’ll Take It From Here, with its Ellingtonian gravitas, misty midrange Fowser work. stately muted Bruneu solo and a more wryly romping one from Gill.

Queens is a brightly bustling swing tune, possibly a portrait of the New York borough that superseded Brooklyn in coolness a long time ago. Top To Bottom is Monk taking a side trip to New Orleans, while Inversions is a weird blend of almost-frantically uneasy, racewalking postbop with a Rhodes echoing through the mix. The band wind up the record with From Six To Midnight, a sage wee-hours waltz and a strong example of the new depths Fowser’s compositions have reached in the recent past.

March 12, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ken Fowser’s Now Hear This: A Clinic in Postbop Tunesmithing

As straight-ahead postbop jazz tunesmithing goes, tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser has few rivals. His compositions are catchy without being dumbed down, and challenging without being self-consciously harsh or awkward. His albums on the Posi-Tone label are refreshingly free of the “OMG, the clock is ticking, rush rush rush to get this in the can’ vibe that plagues so many jazz releases these days. His latest one, Now Hear This – streaming at Posi-Tone Records – bristles with the conversational energy of a live set. It’s Fowser’s most latin-influenced release to date, and one of his best (Little Echo, from 2011, with vibraphonist Behn Gillece is his career benchmark so far). Fowser’s next gig is this Friday, May 5 at 8 PM at the Django, in the basement of the new shi-shi hotel at 2 6th Ave. just north of Canal in SoHo; your best bet is to head for the bar where it’ll only cost you $10 to get in.

A bustling blues riff opens the album’s first cut, the brisk, aptly titled swing shuffle Blast Off.  Fowser prowls amid the lows, a little smoky; trumpeter Josh Bruneau bubbles and then pianist Rick Germanson walks on coals over the hypercaffeinated drive of bassist Paul Gill and drummer Jason Tiemann. Bruneau gets the slam-dunk at the end.

Here and Now has an early 60s Verve latin noir undercurrent: terse, pensive solos from the horns, brooding swing backdrop, workmanlike stairstepping from Germanson. A little later on, The View From Below follows the same pattern: moody, judicious modal melody anchoring an almost frantic swing, Germanson at the center. By contrast, Blues For Mabes has a disarmingly catchy latin go-go bounce: it could be a Dizzy Gillespie tune, lit up with some tasty passing tones from the bandleader, energetic flurries from Bruneau and a similarly fun mashup of gospel, blues and go-go from Germanson.

The pianist opens the jazz waltz Still Standing with a neoromantic majesty before its dancing On Broadway riff kicks in. One and Done, a bossa, is a genial, send-em-home-with-a-smile wee hours number: you can hear the anticipation of the end of the night’s last set, and a drink at the bar (or finally some sleep) in Bruneau and Fowser’s solos, and finally some clenched-teeth levity from Tiemann.

The album’s title track makes a return to almost furtively fast, tiptoe-tapping swing: Germanson’s wry quotes and Bruneau’s volleys of blues are highlights. On one hand, the midtempo swing number Fair to Middlin’ has a troubled undercurrent, notably in Fowser’s moody lines and Gill’s all-too-brief solo, but there’s also a tongue-in-cheek resemblance to a famous Miles Davis tune.

The album’s most expansive and arguably catchiest cut, Transitions opens with some LOL call-and-response between Fowser and Bruneau, then gives everybody in the band a launching pad for good-natured soloing. A Few Blocks Down blends nocturnal bossa nova and nocturnal Afro-Cuban tinges over Germanson’s simmering, tense lefthand attack and Gill’s similarly dancing lines. The album comes full circle with a final upbeat swing shuffle, Ready the Mops, another very possible choice of closing number after a couple of high-voltage sets in a crowded West Village basement amidst the tourists and the diehards. If that’s you, give this a spin.

May 1, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment