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Ken Fowser: Standing Tall

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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”).

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