Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Vibraphonist Behn Gillece Brings Catchy, Straight-Up Swing to Smalls

Vibraphonist Behn Gillece has been a fixture on the New York jazz scene for the past decade, notably in his project with one of this era’s great tenor sax player/composers, Ken Fowser. Gillece also has a cooker of a new album, Walk Of Fire due out mid-month from Posi-Tone Records and a show coming up on August 5 at 10:30 PM at his Manhattan home base, Smalls. Cover is the usual $20.

This is the most straight-ahead, unselfconsciously infectious stuff that the prolific, often ambitiously eclectic Gillece has come up with since his days with Fowser. The title track, a terse, brisk swing shuffle, opens the album. Listen closely to pianist Adam Birnbaum’s judicious, rhythmic chord clusters and you may get the impression that the song was originally written for Rhodes. Or maybe that’s just what vibraphonists come up with. Trombonist Michael Dease contributes a leapfrogging solo, and then the high-powered frontline – also comprising trumpeter Bruce Harris and tenor player Walt Weiskopf – are out.

Fantasia Brasileira, true to its title, is an easygoing bossa that Dease takes to New Orleans before Gillece ripples gracefully through the horn section’s big raindrop splashes.. Moodily resonant horns rise over bassist Clovis Nicolas and drummer Jason Tiemann’s blithe, latin-tinged, fingersnapping stroll in Bag’s Mood, Harris taking a low-key turn in the spotlight before the bandleader raises the ante.

Likewise, Dauntless Journey follows a balmy, allusively chromatic tangent out of Gillece’s resonant intro, maintained by Weiskopf, with brief elevation from Dease before the vibraphone subtly alters the groove. Battering Ram gives Weiskopf a launching pad for Weiskopf’s Coltrane-channeling, Dease’s contrasting gruffness and Birnbaum’s precise, rippling attack over quick, punchy, syncopation,

Gillece and Birnbaum blend subtly intertwining lines and then shift into separate lanes in the moody Reflective Current, a quartet number. Something New follows a similarly pensive, waltzing tempo: the point where the vamping grey-sky horns drop out completely makes a tasty jolt to the ears.  Specter, a catchy, vamping clave number, features Gillece’s most expansive but purposeful solo in this set and a welcome, tantalizingly brief confrontation between vibes and piano.

Break Tune has a subtle juxtaposition of steady, emphatic swing and allusive melody, echoed by Weiskopf before Gillece goes vamping and Harris spirals triumphantly. Artful metric shifts and Gillece’s rippling staccato raise the vamps of the concluding tune, Celestial Tidings above the level of generic. Marc Free’s production is characteristically crisp: the lows on System Two’s concert grand piano cut through as much as every flick of the cymbals.

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August 3, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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

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

B3 Overkill? NEVER!

Isn’t it funny how the world’s full of bad guitarists…bad sax players…bad drummers…but when you think about it, how many bad B3 players are there? For one reason or another, that’s one instrument that seems to draw an endless supply of passionate players. One of the most energetic of all of them is longtime Pat Martino collaborator Tony Monaco, who has a massive double cd release, Celebration, a “limited edition” out from Summit. What Monaco writes and plays is a sophisticated update on boisterous afterwork 60s organ-lounge jazz, more Bombay martini than gin and water. Monaco’s typical m.o. – which he actually varies from frequently here – is to open with a blistering, machinegun solo followed by tuneful restatements of the melody. For someone as fast and furious as this guy, it’s impressive how he doesn’t waste notes. Just as impressive is his command of an eclectic mix of styles.

The first cd is mainly trio or quartet numbers featuring Ken Fowser on tenor sax, Jason Brown or Reggie Jackson on drums and Derek DiCenzo on guitar. With its jaunty, Bud Powell-esque hooks, the most memorable track here is Fowser’s Ninety Five, a cut that originally appeared on the saxophonist’s brilliant 2010 collaboration with vibraphonist Behn Gillece; Monaco takes it in more of a vintage soul direction. Throughout these songs, Fowser’s misty, airy lines create a nifty balance with Monaco’s irrepressible intensity, whether on the Lonnie Smith-flavored Daddy Oh, the lickety-split shuffle Aglio e Olio, or the lurid, minor-key boudoir jazz of Indonesian Nights, which nails the kind of vibe Grover Washington Jr. was trying to do in the 80s but didn’t have the right arrangements for.

The endless parade of styles continues with a pretty bossa tune turned in a much darker direction with Monaco’s funereal timbres beneath Fowser’s bracing microtones, followed by what could be termed a B3 tone poem. Guest pianist Asako Itoh’s You Rock My World takes a familiar soul/funk groove and adds a terse, biting edge; there’s also a gospel number complete with church choir; the off-center, bustling Bull Years, which eventually smoothes out into a soul/blues shuffle; the carefree, wry It’s Been So Nice To Be With You and a scampering Jimmy Smith homage.

The second disc is just as eclectic and features a rotating cast of characters including guitarists Bruce Forman, Ted Quinlan and Robert Kraut, drummers Byron Landham, Vito Rezza, Louis Tsamous and Adam Nussbaum, saxophonist Donny McCaslin, trombonist Sarah Morrow and trumpeter Kenny Rampton. There’s even a Joey Defrancesco cameo (liner notes indicating who’s where would have been useful, at least in terms of giving credit where due). In general, this material is more funk-infused, with soulful, judiciously bluesy guitar (that Monaco could get such consistency out of so many players is impressive). Monaco’s rapidfire cascades and tidal chords set the tone on the opening number, Acid Wash; Rampton’s animated lines elevate the shuffling Backward Shack, the guitar throwing off some unexpected Chet Atkins lines. There are a couple of extended numbers here, both of them choice: the practically ten-minute, aptly titled Takin’ My Time, with its long launching pad of an organ crescendo, and the even longer Slow Down Sagg, where Monaco finally goes off into wild noise as it reaches critical mass. There’s also Booker T. Jones style soul, a couple of blues numbers, a jump blues and a couple of gospel tunes, all delivered with passion and virtuosity. Any fan of organ jazz who doesn’t know this guy is missing out: count this among the most enjoyable jazz releases of 2012, all 133 minutes of it.

August 15, 2012 Posted by | funk music, gospel music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece Ask, Your Place or Mine?

This is what the Mad Men soundtrack ought to sound like. On their new album Little Echo, tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser and his vibraphonist cohort Behn Gillece have teamed up for an absolutely period-perfect, gorgeously melodic collection of golden age-style jazz. This is the kind of thing you can stump your jazz snob friends with: guess which 1959 group this is? Maybe a previously unknown Chico Hamilton session with Hamp, maybe? Even the cd cover images and fonts come straight out of the late 50s Columbia catalog, and for anyone who owns actual physical albums from the era, they’re a dead giveaway. To call this boudoir jazz doesn’t give enough credit to the strength and intelligence of the compositions, but with the nocturnal ambience created by the intermingling of the piano and the vibes, it’s the jazz equivalent of Al Green or Sade. If there’s a population explosion among jazz fans in the next nine months or so, blame these guys. Here Fowser and Gillece – who wrote all but two of the compositions – are joined here by Rick Germanson on piano, the ubiquitously reliable Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Quincy Davis on drums.

The genius of the songs here – and they are songs in the purest sense of the word – is their simplicity: the “jukebox jazz” label recently applied to JD Allen’s recent stuff aptly describes this as well. The band set the tone right off the bat with the ridiculously catchy Resolutions, with brief and vivid solos by Fowser, Gillece and Germanson in turn. A Fowser composition, Ninety Five employs a slinky guaguanco vamp as the launching pad for some balmy sax work followed by a more aggressive turn by Gillece. The band pass the baton around on the next one: Gillece plays a horn line, Germanson scurries along and Fowser bounces off the bass and drums.

The dreamy ballad The Dog Days is a showcase for Fowser sultriness, Germanson impressionism and a hypnotic, slow Gillece solo over steady piano. Upbeat latin tinges and a soaring sax hook give the next cut, Vigilance, a summery blissfulness. Germanson anchors the deliciously noir-tinged latin jazz of the title track as Fowser prowls around on the low notes: the utterly carefree, closing-time style piano solo might be the most vivid moment on the entire album. Fowser’s One Step at a Time offers more than a hint of Gil Evans era Miles Davis; Gillece’s ballad You mines some choicely pensive modalities on the way to the blues; the closing cut Another View works a shameless So What quote into the wee-hours bliss of the opening track.Marc Free’s production goes back to the golden age as well – he doesn’t overcompress the vibes or the piano and puts Okegwo’s tireless bass walks up just high enough that you appreciate all those tireless walks, without making it sound like hip-hop. It’s out now on Posi-Tone Records.

August 4, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment