Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

This is the 1st of your 3 free articles

Become a member for unlimited website access and more.

FREE TRIAL Available!

Learn More

Already a member? Sign in to continue reading

Ken Fowser: Standing Tall

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

It’s been quite a while since a tenor saxophonist arrived who’s learned the lessons of Lester Young as fully as Ken Fowser has. His compositions are honed to their essence; his solos combine fresh lyricism and firm pocket. But what shines brightest (and most Prez-inspired) on Standing Tall, Fowser’s terrific hard-bop debut as a leader, is the saxophone’s timbre: husky, round, open enough to either inject a soft center or allow for some muscle-flexing. At his best, as on the midtempo “Lucid Dreaming” and “Timeless,” he does both.

Timbre, in fact, is the element that distinguishes Standing Tall on the whole. Playing foil to Fowser, Josh Bruneau’s trumpet bares its teeth; even if he didn’t nose ahead of the beat at every opportunity, the edge would still be there. (Even on more languid pieces, like “The Fade Away,” he chafes audibly at his musical constraints.) Pianist Rick Germanson can lay down complex harmonies with the best of them (“Head Start,” “Standing Tall”), but tempers this with a dulcet glimmer in his touch, especially in his comping on “Standing Tall” and both his riff and melodic solo on “Mode for Red.” Bassist Paul Gill and drummer Jason Tiemann stay mostly in the background, swinging hard, though Gill establishes a hearty thump (“Lucid Dreaming”) and Tiemann a Bessemer-processed sheen (“Off the Path”).

But of course it all comes back to Fowser, who for all his Lester-isms is no rank imitator. “Off the Path” is a barreling waltz (reminiscent of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints”) in which the saxman unspools a concise thread of standard bebop and postbop licks, though recombined to create suspense and surprise. In jazz, whether or not it’s as straight-ahead as Standing Tall, you can’t ask for more.

Originally Published