Tradition is a minefield topic in the context of modern jazz. Its tractor beam pull on contemporary players invites the expenditure of ink and pixel pro and con like scarce others. Tenorist Ken Fowser appears to recognize that the best way to contend with the figurative elephant of precedence is feed it personalized peanuts, however thin the shells. Audition Standing Tall for jazz neophytes alongside Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil or any of another dozen vintage postbop albums and the listeners would likely end up erroneous in placing it as contemporaneous.
Some among the cognoscenti would find this subjective interchangeability of artistic outcomes opprobrious. Fowser and his compatriots seem rightly unperturbed, preferring instead to content themselves with the satisfying industry of creative expression regardless of whether the angel of innovation alights on their activities or not. Twelve pieces, all from Fowser’s pen, traffic in mellifluous small group jazz of the sort that came to popular prominence over a half century ago. Sharply spun heads as springboards for concise solos are the menu items on offer. If they all exude the enticing if familiar aromas of conventional counter fare so be it.
Trumpeter Josh Bruneau divides front line privileges with the leader and adopts a crisp, nimble attack parallel to purview of past heroes who answered to the surnames Hubbard and Morgan. Pianist Rick Germanson fronts the rhythm section with bassist Paul Gill and drummer Jason Tiemann. All five bring life to Fowser’s charts with enthusiasm and aplomb and the tunes are uniformly oriented to an egalitarian parity between individual and ensemble expression. “Filling in the Blanks” harkens directly to the assertive vamp-based vernacular of classic Billy Harper sans the spiritual heat while “Mode for Red” beats a bustling beeline for collective sweat-breaking catharsis.
Later pieces like “Patience and Optimism” and “Hanging On” emphasize the clean and cooperative fit between Fowser and Bruneau both in unison and apart alongside Germason’s easy talent for tasteful comping. Bruneau also seizes a couple opportunities to affix mute and blow with a pleasingly dampened tone. Due to the economy of compositions Gill and Tiemann don’t earn comparable time in the spotlight, but their group-minded contributions are equally essential to the results. An inverse of the “old bottles, new wine” adage, the music here is still worth knocking back at a leisurely pace.