NYC Jazz Record (Top Shelf, written by Ken Dryden)
Tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser and vibraphonist Behn Gillece make up a potent pair, having played together while growing up outside Philadelphia before moving to New York City. Their fourth CD as co-leaders features ten originals, most of them by Gillece, but adds a second horn soloist by using the in-demand trombonist Michael Dease. They’re supported by a strong rhythm section consisting of pianist Steve Einerson, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Rodney Green.
The vibraphonist’s “Slick" is a solid opener that could have easily fit into the heyday of hardbop, showcasing big-toned tenor, fluid muted trombone and buoyant, conversational vibes. Gillece is the lead voice in his infectious, Latin-flavored romp “Stranded in Elizabeth", followed by Fowser channeling Dexter Gordon and Dease’s inventive open horn. The vibraphonist’s more subdued “Discarded" has a gently swaying theme with a slightly wistful air. Dease’s whimsical, laconic solo in the otherwise brisk “Proximity" is bracketed by hard-charging leads from Gillece and Fowser. Dease steals the show in Gillece’s breezy “Pequenina", another piece with an infectious Latin pulse. The vibraphonist’s ballad “For the Moment" has an impressionistic air, with spacious thoughtful solos by the co-leaders.
Fowser proves to be his partner’s equal as a composer. His “Due Diligence" has a swaggering bop motif with a playful edge, spotlighting Einerson, a fine pianist who deserves to be more widely known. Fowser’s spirited postbop vehicle “Unstoppable" has a roller coaster-like driving theme, with Gillece charging full force into his solo, contrasting with the more spacious offerings by the composer and Einerson. The tenor saxophonist’s tricky blues “Top Shelf" is a delightful romp, fueled by a Latin undercurrent.