Monday, February 28, 2011

Ken Fowser/Behn Gillece Quintet

Ken Fowser/Behn Gillece (sax; vibes)

Getting excited about new jazz music is very easy for me. While there are very few artists who are trying to reinvent the wheel; there are quite a few that just trying to keep tradition alive and sounding fresh. One of those groups is the Ken Fowser/Behn Gillece Quintet.

One of the instruments outside of the piano and saxophone that I love the most is the vibraphone. It may seem like an easy instrument to incorporate into the mix of any group but you would be gravely mistaken. It does add an ethereal element to mix but it is difficult to get it to the point where the instrument is one of the leading parts of the group. The greatest players, Bobby Hutcherson, Lionel Hampton, Gary Burton, Dave Pike, Milt Jackson to today's new guard, Joe Locke, Jason Adasiewicz, Stefon Harris, Mike Mainieri and Steve Nelson have made it look easy. While all of these artists (past and present) have shined as leaders; they have had the dueling counterparts to accompany them and challenge them.

Now I think we are all about to stumble upon another group that hopefully will stand the test of time and be mentioned in the breath with the new guard of vibraphonists and their co-leaders. Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece already with two albums under their belt are those co-leaders who really posed for much larger attention.

Seeing Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece live fully convinced me that this pairing, with a bit of longevity could live up to some of the great groups like Chick Corea/Gary Burton, Milt Jackson/John Coltrane, Bobby Hutcherson/Herbie Hancock, etc. Big lofty claims--maybe. But this quintet is the real deal.

Both Both Fowser and Behn Gillece honed their skills together in Philadelphia before continuing their studies in New York. They performed together and separately with various local groups in the late 2000s but it wasn't until 2009 that they paired up and released their first record together as the Fowser/Gillece Quintet with the debut Full View (PosiTone Records).

Full View featured veteran pianist and One For All member, the great, Dave Hazeltine, Adam Cote on bass and Paul Francis on drums. While the majority of the music is written by Gillece you wouldn't really notice it because its so fluidly perfected for both sax and vibes that you don't realize who really is the leader on any particular piece.

Full View is a wonderful and exciting debut, rich with a modern hard bop, romantic styles that shows these guys know exactly what their doing and where they want to take the listener.

"The Hutch" gets the proceedings jumpin' and immediate interaction between Fowser and Gillece shows that they have worked together for years. Fowser then takes the lead and shows some impressive chops with Hazeltine handling rhythm masterfully in the background. Fowser then turns the duo over to Gillece and Hazeltine. Cote and Francis rise later to the occasion, both with considerable voice and emotion. As expected Fowser and Gillece close this out on a gentle but still uptempo note.

On "Act Of Disguise" the group adds a little funkier groove but it's still in the hard bop tradition. Hazeltine's solo work here fabulous. "Act Of Disguise" could settle nicely on a Hazeltine or Eric Alexander record. The group perform a lovely rendition of Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes" that with the element of vibes makes this already sombre piece seem a bit more ethereal and kind of uplifting. A precious moment indeed.

Ken Fowser's "Two Pair" features some great work from Adam Cote on bass in addition to Fowser and Gillece's seamless communication making them almost the same note inside your head. It's a young group outside of the veteran Hazeltine but they perform with a maturity that is far beyond their years.

That maturity would soon explode wide open with their latest release, Little Echo (PosiTone Records). This time out with a whole new lineup featuring young but also veterans in the New York jazz scene, Quincy Davis (drums), Ugonna Okegwo (bass) and Rick Germanson (piano). Okegwo recently performed with saxophonist, Alexander McCabe and pianist, Uri Caine (on McCabe's Quiz album), Germanson has been lighting up the scene for awhile now with his own group and the always dynamic, Quincy Davis (worked with Tom Harrell, Walt Weiskopf and Ted Rosenthal) has added a unique timbre to this session.

While "Resolution" sets a swingin' tone on the outset, its the Fowser penned "Ninety Five" that really shows the collaboration of Fowser and Gillece have taken the step up from Full View. The playing is more bold and well developed. Fowser and Gillece sound fully comfortable and the rest of the group are higher up in the mix and involved from every note. The material on Little Echo is for each member and each member stands out more as a result.While Full View had the classic mixture of originals and interesting covers, Little Echo screams with colourful and expressive self-penned material.

"Sap" is a fiery piece which Gillece and Gemanson have some great back and forth conversations. Gemanson is the real revelation for me form this session. His playing is solid with a really high energetic voice. The whole group gets in on this one with some fantastic solo performances both from Germanson, Davis and Fowser. And while Okegwo's bass may sound down in the background you can hear he's tearing it up as well.

"Vigilance" is another moment in which the quintet delivers a sizzling performance and you really get a feel for how Fowser and Gillece interact with the rhythm section on their respective parts. Gillece is killer with Davis and Germanson while Fowser is a bit more refined letting the rest of group construct the colour and shape around him. But together the quintet is smokin' and you really want "Vigilance" to go another five minutes.

"You" is a lovely midtempo piece where you don't really notice the leaders as much as you notice the cohesion of the quintet. At this point you realize this is probably the quintet that should record together all the time. It's a group that challenges and follows each other with a dynamic and unique vision and a sound that is beautiful in execution and hopeful together again despite the commitments of the various groups they all oversee.

Both Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece perform separately and together throughout New York City (mainly Smoke and Smalls in particular). You need to check them out because it's the live experience that will really make the final connection for you. This duo is and will be formidable for year to come. Little Echo is a great document of quick maturity from the first album and a real statement on the quality of the new generation of jazz. Excellent stuff.

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