This was one of those weeks when music served as a “healing force, helped to ease the pain of the tragic events in Boston and elsewhere. Driving home from work the other night, I put “Top Shelf” into the player; it’s the 4th PosiTone Records release from the duo of Ken Fowser(tenor saxophone) and Behn Gillece (vibraphone) and the easy-going swing was a true panacea (sounding just as fine the next day and in the background as I write.) Featuring the classy rhythm section of Steve Einerson(piano), Rodney Green (drums) and Hartford, CT, native Dezron Douglas (acoustic bass), the leaders also invited trombonist Michael Dease to add his burr-ey sound to a number of the tracks. When Dease is in the group, as he is on the opening track, “Slick“, the music has a resemblance to the music of the Jazz Crusaders (pre-funk). The blend of tenor and trombone really stands out as does the interaction of the vibes and piano. When you add in the smart work of Green and Douglas, the music really flies. “Stranded in Elizabeth” is an excellent example of the interaction and interplay. Green really pushes beneath the vibes solo while Einerson’s Tuyner-esque supporting chords, along with the fine bass work, acts as a solid foundation for the soloists.
There’s a Latin tinge to “Unstoppable” as well as a snappy theme for the tenor and vibes. In a short YouTube video that accompanied the CD’s release, the leaders mention the influence of Bobby Hutcherson’s work with saxophonist Harold Land and it is most evident on tunes such as this one and the up-tempo title track. Green creates sparks beneath the hearty tenor solo and prods Gillece to produce one of his most notable solos on the recording. Again, Einerson’s forceful chords and driving solo stand out.
Some may say that “Top Shelf” does not break new musical ground but what the CD offers an eager listener is a band comfortable with each other playing a repertoire born from the duo’s weekly gigs at Small’s Jazz Club in New York City. Rodney Green, Steve Einerson and Dezron Douglas are super throughout, giving the music the energy it needs to stand out.