Saxophonist Ken Fowser and vibraphonist Behn Gillece have recently released “Duotone” on Posi-Tone Records.
Every once in a while, I will be presented with a recording for review where my relationship with the artist(s) is more personal. This is the case with “Duotone” by Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece. Perhaps a bit of explanation is necessary. Several years ago as a young teacher I had the pleasure of being around an even younger Ken Fowser. He and his father of the same name were students at a conservatory where I served on the faculty. Both Ken and his father participated in the saxophone quartets I coached. They were mentored by my longtime friend (and my own mentor) Tony Salicandro. Over the years I have heard of Ken’s successes in the music business and only by happenstance found this recording.
Fowser’s sweet and lyrical tenor saxophone sound is perfectly paired with Gillece’s vibes. The first two cuts Overcooked and Spontaneity both swing hard and get “Duotone” off to the quick start. In addition to sax and vibes, the group is rounded out by Donald Vega, piano; David Wong, bass and Willie Jones III on drums.
The third cut, Attachment features Fowser and Gillece on a clever melody riddled with leaping triplet figures. The result is a swinging tune which had a head that sounds much more complex than the triplets may suggest. Gillece plays a wonderful couple of choruses to start out on this minor blues. Fowser solos second followed by Vega on piano and Wong on bass. The solos by all are relatively short, to the point and well constructed.
Back To Back begins with a polyrhythmic melody, which initially disguises this up-tempo swing tune. The pace is furious, yet Fowser navigates the changes beautifully as does Gillece behind him. Playing over this tune is not for the faint of heart and demonstrates what wonderful musicianship this group possesses. Not to be overlooked, Donald Vega plays a particularly technical and spirited solo on piano. His left hand comping under his own solo is equally as compelling as his right hand. Jones is also rewarded some deserved time to shine on the drums prior to the final melodic statement.
The sound of the lesser-used vibraphone is refreshing on “Duotone” and never more apparent than on Come Around Again. The duet between Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece shows a tenderness not otherwise found on this recording. They are patient and stingy with their notes to perfection.
The straight eighth notes of In The Twilight are a refreshing variation at the midpoint of “Duotone.” It is difficult not to make comparisons to one of the few, well-known contemporary vibraphonists. That being said, Gillece does have his own unique approach to the vibes, as does Fowser on tenor.
The cute and swinging Low Ball again is well suited to the sound of vibes and Fowser’s smooth tenor sound. There are no rough edges here, just a pleasant journey set to familiar changes not unlike the standard Satin Doll. David Wong gets a chance to take a chorus on bass here as well.
The bossa nova Bongo seems a tune stuck in time – reminiscent of the wonderful “Bossa Nova Craze” of the 1960s.
Offset is not unlike the earlier Attachment features a melody, which utilizes triplet figures at the onset. The tune unfolds to reveal a medium swing romp with Vega soloing first on piano. Fowser and Gillece also solo before the head finishes the tune.
My personal favorite cut comes at the end with One for G. The quirky, blues with a bridge retains a quality similar to the blues classic Twisted. Fowser’s tone is clean, clear and never ugly. He stays within the traditional register of the tenor here and elsewhere, never feeling the need to explore the outer limits of the altissimo or sometimes barking low register. Gillece and Vega solo, although the none of the soloists feel the need to blow chorus after chorus. They say what they have to say. They get in and they get out.
Ken Fowser has entered a world of jazz riddled with well-trained, technically proficient and creative tenor saxophonists. Somehow his sweet sound is his own, never sounding like anyone but himself. He and Behn Gillece have surrounded themselves with a cohesive ensemble of like-minded musicians who can make their case within only a few, well constructed choruses.
You can find out more about “Duotone” and other innovative recordings at www.posi-tone.com