In most cases these days, the best new jazz albums sound terrific from their opening notes. I audit about 15 new CDs daily and, in nearly every case, the most inspiring ones are exciting from the get-go. That's largely because better musicians and their producers know that in today's world of digital distractions, you have to come out of the gate with your best stuff. Listeners no longer spend much time trying to figure out what musicians are trying to say and they aren't very forgiving when feet drag. [Pictured above, from left: Behn Gillece and Ken Fowser]
A good example of a new album that starts strong and keeps on going all the way to the end is Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece's Top Shelf (Posi-Tone). This hard-bop album pairs tenor saxophonist Fowser with vibist Gillece on 10 originals composed separately by the co-leaders. Top Shelf is their fourth joint album and features Michael Dease on trombone, Steve Einerson on piano, Dezron Douglas on bass and Rodney Green on drums.
Fowser grew up in southern New Jersey and attended Philadelphia's University of the Arts. He became a regular at local jam sessions before transferring in 2004 to William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. Upon graduating in 2005, Fowser relocated to New York, where he often plays at Smoke and Smalls.
Behn Gillece also is from southern New Jersey and jammed in Philadelphia before moving to New York in 2006. He has appeared routinely at clubs in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia as well as at jazz festivals. He finished his graduate studies at SUNY Purchase in New York in 2008 and has won a string of competitions.
As you'll hear, these two have a good thing going. Gillece jumps in aggressively with long, clean lines, complementing Fowser's confident, insistent tenor. Dig Gillece on the lightly Latin Pequenina or Proximity, for example. Or Fowser on Stranded in Elizabeth (N.J.) and Slick. And when they're playing together, it sounds as if Fowser is telling a story and Gillece is taking it all down on a steel typewriter behind him. These two are magic.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece's Top Shelf (Posi-Tone) here. Their previous releases are DuoTone, Full View and Little Echo.
JazzWax clip: Here's Stranded in Elizabeth (the rest of the album is just like this)...