Little Echo (Posi-Tone)
Ken Fowser & Behn Gillece
Unlike Dana Lauren, the saxophonist Ken Fowser and vibraphonist Behn Gillece, who are a few years older than she is, have a very focused take on their stylistic turf. They are unabashed lovers and perpetrators of hard bop and a brand of modal jazz that more secular than the spiritual style that John Coltrane ushered into being. Some would call Fowser and Gillece guardians of the flame, while others might deride them as “reboppers.”
How much you enjoy their disc, Little Echo, might depend in part on where you fall on that flame-keeper/anti-rebop continuum. At the level of genre and style, Little Echo is very much reminiscent of the straight-down-the-middle hard bop and modal jazz that the Blue Note label during the late 1950s and 1960s. It also brings to my mind the discs that featured pianist McCoy Tyner and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson.
I don’t have an issue with the stylistic turf that Fowser and Gillece chose to stake out. But the other issue, of course, has to do with the amount of excitement and distinctiveness the disc delivers. In this regard, I’d say that the CD falls short. Here are two excerpts from the disc:
One Step At A Time is a riffing swinger that takes the harmonic grid of Speak Low as its point of departure: Also falling in the disc’s swing category is its opener, Resolution, reminiscent of Four. The disc ends with the bopping medium tune Another View. Other tunes are more modal romps, such as the minor-key tune Sap, the major-key waltz You, and Ninety Five, the simple straight-eighths tune heard below, which strives for a soulful vibe:
For my tastes, too many of the disc’s tunes are a little too basic in terms of structure and and overly riff-based, resulting in a disc that feels to me somewhat generic and predictable rather than specific and surprising. The better tracks are Gillece’s You, which has a bit more harmonic material and emotional heft to it, and the tune Vigilance, which groove-wise is a bit more varied and involved. Best perhaps is the evocative ballad The Dog Days, which finds Gillece and Fowser hitting the right notes of vulnerability and tenderness.
Overall, it’s Gillece’s playing that provides the disc’s highpoints. He’s the most consistently flowing, melodic instrumental voice on Little Echo. Fowser on tenor saxophone has a nice, classic sound, but he plays with less fire and sophistication, I think.
Pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Quincy Davis — very much a trio of seasoned musicians — accompany the young leaders and make the music sit in the pocket. But I don’t feel as much engagement with the music and with the session’s leaders as I think their could have been. Germanson, for example, takes a fine solo on You, but some of his other solos — on a piano that incidentally seems a bit tinny to me in the upper registers — strike me as correct and polished, but not more.