Half Notes: Ken Thomson And Slow/Fast – It Would Be Easier If (2010)

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by S. Victor Aaron

Like Jason Stein, Gutbucket co-founder Ken Thomson is a bass clarinetist — he’s an alto saxophonist, too — and both like to play along the margins of jazz, but Thomson’s conception of music freely spills over into other styles as well. His latest project, Ken Thomson And the Slow/Fast, is a quintet with him and Russ Johnson (trumpet) forming the brass front line, Nir Felder on Felder on guitar, Adam Armstrong on bass and Fred Kennedy on drums. They really means it with this whole “slow/fast” dichotomy: the five tracks here alternately either take is nice and easy or kicks it into thrash jazz mode. “Kleine Helmet” is folky and dreamy like a Bill Frisell song, while the immediately following “Goddamn You Ice Cream Truck” sounds like a punk rock band with a disciplined horn section. Either the songs reveal themselves gradually like a stripper over a ten minutes time frame, or punch you in the face like the stripper’s jealous boyfriend, sometimes within the same song. There’s not a terribly lot of soloing going on here and there’s no need to be, as Thomson opts for charted unison lines that are often more stupefying than the improvised solos. Those charts get to the heart of what It Would Be Easier If is about: classically structured music welded to modern, whack jazz, rock and world fusion sonorities. Those things aren’t necessarily evident right off, so if you don’t like this record the first time out, keep listening. Eventually it’ll sink in quite nicely.

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