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Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast: It Would Be Easier If

Bruce Lindsay By

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Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast: It Would Be Easier If Ken Thomson, New York based saxophonist and composer, describes the music of Slow/Fast as "21st Century Third Stream." It's an apposite description, for it certainly brings together elements of jazz and classical music, but it underplays the third element of Slow/Fast's sound—the influence of rock. All four members of Slow/Fast, heard on the band's debut, It Would Be Easier If, have roots in rock music, and it's these roots that most clearly inform the excitement and aggression to be found on the best of this album.

For much of the recording Thomson—also a member of the rock-influenced Gutbucket—favors bass clarinet rather than alto saxophone, making a fine partnership with Russ Johnson's trumpet, the brightness of Johnson's tone contrasting with the deep, mellow sound that Thomson creates.

"Kleine Helmet," "No, no, no" and "It Would Be Easier If" are gentle, floating, compositions that generate a relaxing, at times almost bucolic, mood. On "No, no, no," this goes a little too far, the tune's lack of focus renders it somewhat forgettable. "Kleine Helmet" is more complex and the contrasts between the bass clarinet and trumpet, underpinned by Nir Felder's restrained guitar chords, result in a more interesting composition.

Guest player Melanie T Sehman's glockenspiel on the opening and closing sections of "Wanderangst" gives the tune a child-like serenity that is retained even when the other musicians open out with rockier sounds—something Thomson manages with seeming ease on the rather un-rocky bass clarinet. It's the tune that best sums up the "21st Century Third Stream" concept—incorporating jazz, classical and rock elements in almost equal measure.

The splendidly-titled "Goddamn You Ice Cream Truck" is the album's high-energy, powerhouse tune—the one that wears its rock influences most openly. It begins with a hint of the angst-ridden sound of Van Der Graaf Generator's Peter Hamill—thanks mainly to some emphatic unison playing by Johnson and Thomson, now on alto saxophone. Felder adds some strong guitar to the track, his single-note runs reminiscent of Robert Fripp and his full-throated, raw, solo lending a touch of aggression that is eventually matched by the horns.

It Would Be Easier If is an impressive amalgam of influences, ideas and inventiveness. The quality of the compositions may be a bit uneven, but the best of them are exciting and at times mesmerizing—the whole package makes for a very promising debut from Slow/Fast.

Track Listing: Kleine Helmet; Goddamn You Ice Cream Truck; No, no, no; Wanderangst; It Would Be Easier If.

Personnel: Ken Thomson: bass clarinet, alto saxophone; Russ Johnson: trumpet; Nir Felder: guitar; Adam Armstrong: bass; Fred Kennedy: drums, electronics; Melanie T Sehman: glockenspiel (4).

Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Intuition | Style: Beyond Jazz


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