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Queens is a brightly bustling swing tune, possibly a portrait of the New York borough that superseded Brooklyn in coolness a long time ago.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

Coolly Enigmatic, Purist Jazz Chanteuse Dorian Devins Brings Her Reinventions to Her Usual West Village Haunt

Singer Dorian Devins works the cool side of jazz. Subtlety is her thing: if you detest over-the-top things in general, you will love her style. Her uncluttered, often disarmingly direct mezzo-soprano delivery brings to mind misty torch singers like June Christy and Julie London (Devins once conceived of a multi-artist tribute night that would be called I Am Not Julie London). Which speaks to Devins’ deadpan, often devastating sense of humor, something that sometimes makes it into her performances depending on how sedate the venue is. Some of her latest full-length album, sardonically titled Imaginary Release  is streaming at her music page. She’s at Cornelia Street Cafe on August 31 at 6 PM leading a quintet; cover is $10 plus a $10 minimum.

The album is a mix of standards, the classic instrumental joints that Devins loves to pen her own lyrics to, and a handful of choice originals. She and her group open with Benny Goodman’s Lullaby in Rhythm, Devins’ artful climb from guarded hope to quiet triumph contrasting with Tom Christensen’s jaunty tenor sax and Paul Gill’s dancing bowed bass over the low-key swing of pianist Lou Rainone and drummer Taro Okamoto. Her first lyrical reinvention here is Wayne Shorter’s Conundrum, an aptly enigmatic ballad with Rainone’s glittering piano and Christensen’s terse flute over Okamoto’s bossa-tinged groove.

The lustre of Richie Vitale’s flugelhorn in tandem with the flute introduce a balmy, matter-of-factly optimistic take of Leonard Bernstein’s Some Other Time, Gill’s fluttering bass solo handing off to Rainone’s gleaming neoromanticisms. Then they pick up the pace, remaking Duke Ellington’s I’m Gonna Go Fishin’ as a brisk, understatedly biting jazz watlz with soaring solos from Vitale on trumpet and Christensen on tenor to match Devins’ leaps and bounds.

The album’s best and most deviously entertaining track is Satie-ated – damn, there goes another good title! It’s a distantly bolero-esque remake of Erik Satie’s Gymnopede No. 1. “Here and there the distant glare that burns me/I hope there’ll be a time my mind returns me,” Devins broods, echoed by Christensen’s moody oboe. Resolution, a Devins/Rainone co-write, opens with a similarly modal gravitas and rises to a shuffling entreaty to come down from the clouds and have some fun, Christensen’s tenor spirals handing off to Rainone’s terse flourishes.

Devin’s coy vocals contrast with the nocturnal groove of Jobim’s So Tinha de Ser Com Voce: it’s closer to straight-up clave jazz than dreamy bossa, Rainone adding a welcome bluesy tint. Devins’ final original is the pensive jazz waltz Lament for the Moon, Christensen’s mournful oboe and Rainone’s expressive piano echoing the metaphorically-charged tale of a satellite who’s completely lost in daylight hours.

They do Hidden Treasure, by jazz-inflected 70s British rock band Traffic, as an uneasy clave tune and stay in tropicalia mood for a bossa take of 60s folksinger Tim Harden’s Misty Roses, Tom Hubbard’s pinpoint bass contrasting with swooping flute. The album winds up with a genially swinging, bittersweet take of Billie Holiday’s The Moon Looks Down and Laughs. This is Devins’ most eclectic and strongest release to date – and she’s got another ep, City Stories, just out and up on Spotify, too.

August 27, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment