Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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

Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece’s New Album: Tuneful and Retro with an Edge

It’s hard to think of anybody who makes better jazz albums than alto saxophonist Ken Fowser and vibraphonist Behn Gillece  Jazz being defined by improvisation, and magic being hard to bottle, so many studio efforts by jazz artists sound strained, rote or haphazard- Not these guys’ records: they have the livewire energy that you would expect from the duo in concert. There is absolutely nothing about their new one, Top Shelf, which is cutting edge, or for that matter references any jazz style after about 1965. But it is tuneful beyond belief: Christian McBride would call it “people music.” This band of journeymen plays with a singlemindedness and focus matched on few other studio efforts from recent months. Gillece, in particular, has a fondness for edgy chromatic vamps and the occasional biting modal interlude; likewise, Fowser is a no-nonsense tunesmith and purposeful player. Here they join forces with Steve Einerson on piano, Michael Dease on trombone, Dezron Douglas on bass and Rodney Green on drums.

Most of the compositions here are by Gillece. The albums opens with a biting swing tune, Slick, immediately setting the tone with an allusively slashing, modal Fowser solo, Dease taking it in a more bluesy direction, Gillece straddling between the two. Stranded in Elizabeth – at a Jersey studio, maybe? – is catchy as hell, with Gillece spiraling out ot the hook, Fowsser choosing his spots as Green rumbles and then lets Dease add an ironic edge.

Due Diligence, one of three tracks by Fowser, maintains a deliciously purist bluesiness, Einerson’s pinpoint solo being a highlight,  Gillece taking it into more nebulous territory –  then Dease channels Wycliffe Gordon with some LOL buffoonery. Ginger Swing builds suspense out of a wicked catchy vibraphone hook. hinting at a lickety-split swing that they finally leap into as Gillece and then Einerson go scampering in a blaze of precise chops. Unstopppable, another Fowser tune, is aptly titled, Gillece having a great time with a prowling, animatedly nocturnal solo before turning it over to Fowser, who takes it in an unexpectedly dark direction before they wind it up, anthemic and triumphant.

Discarded works a murky On Broadway feel. both Gillece and Douglas maintaining a gritty, clenched-teeth, modally-charged intensity. It might be the best song here, or at least the darkest. That could also be said about the slowly turbulent, resonant ballad For the Moment, with its achingly teasing crescendos, bittersweet Fowser sax and misterioso Einerson solo. And just when the jaunty, bossa-tinged Pequenina sounds like they’ve left the shadows behind, Fowser brings them back – he’s good at that. The title track makes syncopated bossa out of the blues, with yet another cool chromatic vamp; the album winds up with Proximity, engaging the whole band in the album’s most buoyant charts, switching between lickety-split swing and an almost marching midtempo rhythm.You will walk around all day humming these tunes to yourself. It will put you in a good mood. It’s one of the best albums of 2013 and it’s out now from Posi-Tone.

May 24, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece Chase Two in a Row

Saxophonist Ken Fowser and vibraphonist Behn Gillece’s previous album Little Echo was one of the best of 2010; how does their new one Duotone measure up? Where Little Echo was all gorgeous, often lurid Mad Men era ambience, this one’s got a more stripped-down, late night juke-joint flavor. The teamwork between the co-bandleaders is familiar yet fresh: it isn’t always this way, but often it’s Gillece introducing an element of menace or suspense, playing bad cop to Fowser’s warmly tuneful, blues-tinged lines. Likewise, the tunes – most of them supplied by Gillece – have a comfortably familiar swing and the kind of knowing ability to pick a spot and hit a high note that comes from hosting innumerable late-night jams, as these guys have both done.

The opening track, Overcooked, a briskly shuffling two-chord vamp with latin allusions, sets the mood. Gillece’s fast, sostenuto lines have a literally hypnotic effect, pianist Donald Vega bringing it up with a rippling intensity. Spontaneity begins dramatically: they rubato it and swell on a single chord, then the hook comes in and drummer Willie Jones III has them off swinging, Fowser soulful and sailing over Gillece’s insistence.

The chromatically-fueled Attachment features a neat handoff from Fowser to Gilllece, who does the same to Vega, whose climactic intensity is characteristic of everything he does here. Likewise, Back to Back swings slowly and then goes up the ladder again. Then they flip the script with Come Around Again, a somewhat skeletal, cozy ballad, just vibes/sax evoking the ambience of Little Echo.

In the Twilight takes the idea of the opening track to the next level, Vega punching in incisively and memorably, Fowser maintaining a sense of cool. The best track here, Low Ball, evokes a slightly more ornate, Johnny Mandel-esque California noir swing. Bongo, by Fowser, is a casually cheery bossa tune lit up by Gillece’s bright neon malletwork. The album wraps up with the thoughtfully swaying, crescendoing, catchily early 70s bluesy Offset and then One for G, another Fowser tune to end it on a genially swinging note. As melodic jazz goes, Fowser and Gillece are really onto something. It’s out now on Posi-Tone.

October 21, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment