Ken Thomson - Sextet

Label: Panoramic/New Focus Recordings, 2018

Personnel - Ken Thomson: alto saxophone, clarinet; Anna Webber: tenor saxophone; Russ Johnson: trumpet; Alan Ferber: trombone; Adam Armstrong: bass; Daniel Dor: drums.


Alto saxophonist/clarinetist Ken Thomson, a reputable member of New York’s Bang on a Can All-Stars and Asphalt Orchestra, squeezes excellent ideas into Sextet, an album that often swirls post-bop with classical elements. He plays alongside a wonderful set of horn players that includes tenorist Anna Webber, trumpeter Russ Johnson, and trombonist Alan Ferber, and a rhythm section that glues everything together with Adam Armstrong on bass and Daniel Dor on drums.

Dominated by rich polyphony, Gyorgy Ligeti’s “Pasacaglia Ungherese” opens the recording in the classical fashion. The wide tonal range leans on melancholy here, contrasting with “Mysery In The New Hope”, in which drums and bass hold together to set a hasty, urban pace enlivened by relentless rhythmic accents in an unquiet contrapuntal activity. After the bandleader’s solo, mostly shaped within the boundaries of the implicit harmony, Johnson promotes dynamism in the call-response communication established between him and elements of the horn squad.

On the vibrant “Icebreaker”, the horn section explores labyrinthine melodic paths, evincing the same affinity for rhythmic punctuation as its precedent piece. The flow becomes swingingly Latinized, accommodating Ferber’s wise lines, and the finale brings an exciting dialogue of saxophones to the table.

The swinging vibration continues with rhythmic crosscurrents and phrasal juxtaposition on “Phantom Vibration Syndrome”, an embroidering jazz fantasy meandered by a perpetual confluence of accents and patterns. This energetic current is discontinued for a minute by a musing unison passage that occurs after Thomson’s pronouncement.

At first, “Resolve” depicts tranquil landscapes with chamber classical poise, but then veers into deep solemnity just before Dor's jubilant percussive sparks take us to avant-garde vicinities. That’s when Webber shines by delivering a sturdy solo that also breathes conveniently whenever necessary. She leads the way to the motivic and synergistic section that concludes the piece.

If the placidity of “Helpless” lives from a set of loopy lines that induce a sensation of curtains in perpetual movement, “Turn Around” bristles with flawless interplay in an animated collective dance impregnated with jazz punch.

Thomson guides the crew with a firm pulse and sheer ambition, assuring that the arrangements hybridize genres with a personal musical stylization and influential narrative force. Sextet is a solid effort.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Misery in the New Hope ► 04 - Resolve ► 07 - Phantom Vibration Syndrome