Tenorist Ken Fowser isn’t one to waste time or mince words on distractions peripheral to musical expression, particularly when there’s a seasoned band under his name available to engage in the same. Now Hear This! reflects that directness of character and intent in both title and content with a program of eleven originals built for hard, no-frills blowing. His colleagues on the date are comparably-minded, greeting the concise postbop vehicles provided with collective élan and an emphasis on candor and precision.
“Blast Off” a credible opener in conveying the larger intent behind the album with a tight, propulsive head and biting solos from the leader, trumpeter Josh Bruneau and pianist Rick Germanson in short order. “Hear and Now” dials down the tempo slightly, but the rhythm section led by Germanson still swings strongly on the flowing, vampish beat anchored by the supple walking line from bassist Paul Gill. Bruneau switches to the rounder tones of flugelhorn for his statement before deferring to a piano sortie stamped with sharper angles.
“Blues for Mabes” gives a shout out to septuagenarian pianist Harold Mabern, Jr. and the sort of boogaloo-infused burners that were the elder’s buttered bread in the employ of bandleaders like Art Blakey and Lee Morgan. An aggressive rolling backbeat works as flexible springboard for loose-limbed tenor locution answered by Bruneau’s crisp trills and runs. Germanson’s the real star of the piece though with a block chord showcase that’s deep in the pocket without feeling constrictive. That balance of clean, logical linearity and emotive thrust carries through across the entirety of the session.
None of Fowser’s tunes stray too far from the winning formula of past masters of the idiom, but that fealty is part of the music’s underlying charm. “One and Done” and “Fair to Middlin’” echo their numerous antecedents in the venerated Blue Note and Prestige catalogs with familiar hardbop-minted structures while retaining enough original Fowser-inculcated DNA to resist the charge of opportune imitation. Backed up by top gear blowing and a palpable sense of shared purpose and propriety the results can’t help but come across as winsome and worthwhile.
Derek Taylor – Dusted Magazine
Last year, when we reviewed Ken Fowser’s initial CD as band leader, (his previous issues for PosiTone shared the limelight with co-leader Behn Gillece) Standing Tall, (http://www.audaud.com/ken-fowser-standing-tall-posi-tone/) our conclusion was that Fowser was spot on in bringing hard bop fans a solid set of free wheeling jazz with a swagger. He once again shares the front line with trumpeter, Josh Bruneau, and their blend continues to impress.
Once more, Fowser has written all the compositions, and there is a maturity and a polished sheen from the get-go. “Blast Off” does just that, and Fowser makes his solo choruses pop in an effortless manner that keeps your attention and swings mightily. When Bruneau joins in, it recalls the Blue Note issues when tenor and trumpet highlighted hard bop’s appeal throughout the late ‘50s into the late ‘60s. Its appeal remains intoxicating.
That attraction demanded a strong piano presence, and Rick Germanson is back again to fill that bill ably. His sparkling lines provide the sound stage for the front line horns to emote and improvise. On “ Blues for Mabes,” a tribute to Harold Mabern, Rick channels
Horace Silver, with a Caribbean lilt, as Ken and Josh testify.
“The View from Below” is an increase in intensity and the quintet is up to the task. Drummer Jason Tiemann propels this tune. The title track is a feature for Fowser and his rapid fire delivery provides a stepping stone for Bruneau to further escalate in his solo. “Ready the Mops” (I wonder where the inspiration for the title lies) closes this fine release and all the members stretch out. Paul Gill’s bowed bass solo stands out.
Fans of classic hard bop should definitely Now Hear This…
Jeff Krow – Audiophile Audition
Taking a cue from some of the other smaller jazz-based labels, Posi-Tone has done a remarkable job over the past few years of building a roster of budding talents worthy of wider recognition. Part of the allure of such an endeavor is the ability to see the evolution of an artist’s muse unfolding like a rose. Those in the know have heard from tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser through his partnership with vibraphonist Behn Gillece via the four albums the two co-led starting with 2009’s Full View. Fowser’s own maiden voyage was last year’s Standing Tall, which is to be followed up with Now Hear This.
Built on a program of eleven original pieces by Fowser himself, this superb date recalls some of the finest iconic Blue Notes, and that is said with the utmost respect to the saxophonist and his peers. Although it comes about halfway through the program, a blistering “The View from Below” puts the ensemble through their paces. Trumpeter Joshua Bruneau shows us his bristling timbre, making him a perfect foil for Fowser’s more burnished sound. Having studied with Ralph Lalama, Grant Stewart, and Eric Alexander you can hear the amalgam that is part of the charm of Fowser’s approach.
The range of material here is diverse and disparate, from the boogaloo of “Blues for Mabes” that perfectly recalls its namesake to the muscular bossa of “One and Done,” which features one of Fowser’s best moments. The waltz tempo of “Still Standing” finds pianist Rick Germanson channeling McCoy Tyner during his time in the spotlight, while Fowser rifles off a few of Eric Alexander’s pet phrases, which in turn actually came down via the great George Coleman.
Dropping the tempo, “Fair to Middlin'” sits squarely in the pocket thanks to the drumming of Jason Tiemann. His drums and cymbals are rendered crisply and with just the right amount of ring and reverb. Fowser takes his time while telling his story, playing against the grain of Germanson’s thick chords. Bruneau gets to the core of the moment while bassist Paul Gill takes a rare solo that serves as the icing on top of the cake.
The medium to fast-paced tempos on “Ready the Mops,” “Blast Off,” and “Now Hear This!” really do give Fowser and Bruneau a chance to shine. They have worked out appropriate voicings and routines that provide for interest and variety. While this reviewer has previously stated a caveat in regards to Posi-Tone’s penchant for short numbers undeniably aimed for radio airplay, nothing here seems forced or lacking in development. Although the year is still young, this is one of the best sets to come down the pike so far.
C. Andrew Hovan – All About Jazz
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