Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast Release the powerful composed-jazz milestone, Settle

Settle, the new recording from Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast, exhibits the kind of stylistic breadth and alert experimentation that one would expect from a leader famed for his work in both the worlds of new jazz and contemporary classical music. Alto saxophonist, bass clarinetist and composer Thomson -- a co-founder of the acclaimed band Gutbucket and a recent addition to the Bang On A Can All-Stars - digs deeper into uncharted musical realms with Slow/Fast, a visionary quintet that includes the guitar phenomenon Nir Felder, trumpeter Russ Johnson, bassist Adam Armstrong and drummer Fred Kennedy. Settle, the band's second album, will be released on September 23, 2014 on NCM East Records (40138).

Combining the sounds of improvisation-filled chamber jazz with the lucidity of contemporary classical composition - infused with distortion-laden twists that reveal the band's embrace of rock influences -- Thomson and Slow/Fast bring new ideas to small-group jazz. Vivid composition rather than head-solo-head norms prevail here, lending the album a freshness that leads the listener on a journey to unexplored, yet inviting, sonic landscapes.

The five main pieces on Settle were developed after the band toured behind their debut record. Each piece has a discernable focus and theme - whether the ever-shifting grooves of "Settle," the pushing of Thomson and Felder to new heights on "We Are Not All In This Together," the wild use of instrumentation on "Bend Towards Light," or the wide compositional-dramatic arc of "Spring" - but all display the seamless interweave of rigorous composition and exhilarating go-for-broke improvising that has become the calling card of this outfit. Settle is the sound of a compact band creating a massive musical groundswell.

Slow/Fast has remained consistent in its personnel since the release of the band's first album, It Would Be Easier If, in 2010. Finding its way on to many of the Jazz Journalist Association's Best of 2010 lists, the debut recording also received a featured New York Times review which pointed to the "intricately wrought and incident-steeped" compositions and "gutsy precision of the playing." The members of Slow/Fast are each new jazz mainstays, including guitarist Nir Felder whose own debut recording as a leader was released to critical accolades earlier this year; the newly Chicago-based trumpeter Russ Johnson, and the New York go-to players: bassist Adam Armstrong and drummer Kennedy.

In addition to his work with Slow/Fast, Thomson's recent compositional output includes Thaw, a CD for string quartet and bass clarinet recorded with the heralded JACK Quartet. Thaw was ranked the #1 Classical CD of 2013 by Rhapsody.com and garnered a four-star review in DownBeat; the piece was also listed on NPR's "10 Songs Public Radio Can't Stop Playing." http://ktonline.net/

Ken Thomson is a Brooklyn-based clarinetist, saxophonist, and composer.  In demand as a composer and freelancer in many settings, he moves quickly between genres and scenes, bringing a fiery intensity and emotional commitment to every musical situation; Time Out NY called him "the hardest-working saxophonist in new-music show business."

He has recently released a CD of his compositions for the heralded JACK Quartet, entitled Thaw, on Cantaloupe Music, called #1 Classical CD of 2013 by Rhapsody.com, and was featured in NPR's "10 Songs Public Radio Can't Stop Playing."   His latest project of exclusively his music, called Slow/Fast, released its debut CD It Would Be Easier If internationally on Intuition Records in 2010, garnering a feature review in The New York Times highlighting the "intricately wrought and incident-steeped" compositions and "gutsy precision of the playing."  A followup disc, Settle, will be released in 2014.

Thomson plays clarinet for the Bang on a Can All-Stars, one of the world's preeminent new music ensembles.  He leads the Asphalt Orchestra - a 12-piece next-generation avant-garde marching band, called "cooly brilliant, infectious... top notch players" by The New York Times.  He plays saxophone and is one of the 3 composers in the punk/jazz band Gutbucket, with whom he has toured internationally to nineteen countries and 32 states over fourteen years, and released CDs for Knitting Factory, Enja, NRW, Cantaloupe and Cuneiform Records.  He is on faculty at the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival.

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