Ken Thomson’s delicate, energetic melting of the outskirts of classical chamber music into full-on experimental jazz tempers It Would Be Easier If with a real sense of danger.
His Slow/Fast plunges into the music head-first, plumbing the depths of the intricate arrangements with precisely reckless abandon. The often discordant notes pull together with a sort of seamless grace, creating a compelling listen destined to keep the listener on his or her toes.
Thomson, the co-founder of Gutbucket, has collected some of New York’s finest jazz talents for Slow/Fast. His bass clarinet and alto sax are joined by Russ Johnson’s trumpet, Nir Felder’s guitar, Adam Armstrong’s bass, and Fred Kennedy’s drums and electronic input. Melanie T. Sehman tosses a glockenspiel into the mix for good measure on “Wanderangst.”
As complex as Thomson’s compositions are, it’s hard not to smile through them. The challenge in playing this sort of music is in transporting some sense of excitement and risk to the listener, so it helps that these cats explore things on the edge. These musicians aren’t just going through the paces.
“Kleine Helmet” opens things up. The piece comes to life like a flower, with the instruments “waking up” to the dawn of something fresh. Thomson and Johnson play through, while Kennedy sprinkles the cymbals. Armstrong and Felder provide accents, helping the track take form as it reaches through the cool mist to find the warmth of the sun.
Elsewhere, Slow/Fast cranks things up gleefully. “Goddamn You Ice Cream Truck” is every bit the energetic chase song it ought to be, with Felder’s guitar pounding away like a kid’s feet on the pavement after the elusive ice cream truck. One can picture the little one scampering over fences and trying to track that tasty goodness as Johnson and Thomson trade explosive barbs.
Sehman’s glockenspiel adds dreamlike flavour to “Wanderangst.” The piece is inspired by beautiful classical music and seems designed for a larger group, but Slow/Fast pulls at the intimate strings of the composition and fully embraces the nuance. As they build things, the song inevitably speeds up into raucous jam before cooling its heels again.
Whether they’re playing with tempo or with the boundaries of various musical genres, Thomson’s Slow/Fast is a treat to hear. Impossible to peg and even more impossible to pin down, It Would Be Easier If is a scorcher of a recording that draws a vibrant picture of a very dangerous band.