Having co-led three sessions with vibraphonist Behn Gillece on Posi-Tone Records, saxophonist and composer Ken Fowser is a staple of the imprint. However, he’s just now releasing his first album for Posi-Tone under his name alone. The aptly titled Standing Tall proves an auspicious debut, as Fowser displays his lush and heady tenor sound on a set of bluesy original compositions. Leading a like-minded quintet, the New York-based saxophonist evinces the classic hard-bop era, finding simpatico tones and phrases in frontline partner Josh Bruneau’s trumpet and Rick Germanson’s piano. Bassist Paul Gill and drummer Jason Tiemann provide sensitivity and propulsion in equal measures, and the ensemble should hit the sweet spot for fans of Blue Note’s golden age. In fact, “Head Start,” included here, opens the album with a riff-rich tune that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an Art Blakey and the Jazz Messenger’s album. Fowser, Bruneau and Germanson take turns on soulful solos, while Tiemann’s stick work drives the team.
Ken Fowser four 1/2 stars
Standing Tall – Posi-Tone
After co-leading four records on the Posi-Tone label with vibraphonist Behn Gillece, tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser revs his own engine on his fast and furiously entertaining debut release, Standing Tall. A former University of the Arts student in Philadelphia, Fowser has crafted
a free-wheeling gem, boldly exploring harmonic grooves and smooth, textured rhythms with a fine band that seduces on ear-friendly tracks like “Head Start,” thrills with fleet changes on “Mode For Red,” and chills you out with the cool blues, “Filling In The Blanks.” Well-conceived and spirited in execution, his assertive compositions are
punched up by his quintet of up-andcoming players and the in-demand pianist Rick Germanson. Fowser not only succeeds in making a terrific modern jazz record, he brings an original, contemporary voice and a resounding agenda to swing, along with fond echoes of early jam records made by Philly greats like Benny Golson, McCoy Tyner and Prestige era Coltrane. (12 tracks; 59 minutes)
This session is led by tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser, presenting as program of original compositions in the company of Rick Germanson on piano, Paul Gill on bass, Jason Tiemann on drums and Josh Bruneau on trumpet. The music is straight up modern mainstream jazz with a focus on snappy melodies deft soloing. The album opens with the fast and swinging “Head Start” which shows the unit as a strong and supple band, and soon Fowser breaks out to a gliding and swinging solo with a medium tone reminiscent of a modern day Hank Mobley. The round-robin soloing continues with a fine spot for Bruneau, moving with aplomb and making a fine statement. The piano, bass and drum team is tight and supple, and adding fine support when the brass returns. “Off the Path” begins with a milder opening as the brass weaves contrails over the reserved rhythm section. Fowser steps out with a patient, laconic solo, unhurried by the fast pace of the world that swirls ever faster around him every day. The urgent “Mode for Red” picks up the pace considerably with the horns in overdrove surfing over a fast and driving rhythm. Fowser’s solo calms the crew with confidence and navigates the thickets of the composition and rhythm with a fine improvisation before he hands the baton to Bruneau who solos with a sense of urgency. The rhythm team keeps the music at a boil, as the band finds the escape hatch and ends this short but excellent performance. “Patience and Optimism” is a bright and swinging tune exuding good vibes in its opening statement before Fowser takes the stage for an unhurried solo, pacing himself well and never overplaying his hand. The solo rotation moves to Bruneau who has been impressive throughout punching through the air and making his presence felt in a powerful way. The subtle rhythm section gets the spotlight briefly before the horns return to lead the tune out. The title track “Standing Tall” is Fowser’s credo and centerpiece with some fine trumpet playing leading the charge. Fowser takes his place and carefully builds his own individual statement, weaving and ducking with the piano team and then adding his sound to the ensemble to move the band forth with a lack of selflessness. The horns harmonize beautifully on “Brick’s Tune” and the light touch of the pianist leads to a nice pinched (muted?) trumpet solo, before Fowser glides in with an elegant solo and the band reforms as a whole to conclude the piece. Everyone comes together for the fast and fun concluding track “Somebody’s Got to Do It” with the group riffing hard before Fowser and Bruneau slip out soloing at a slow burn. What we have here is a very well played modern jazz CD. There is nothing to spook the horses, and Fowser has definitely made a deep commitment to its success. Hopefully the music will be picked up by what remains of jazz radio and will allow him to keep the band together and further their music. Standing Tall – amazon.com
Tim Niland – Music & More Blog