Ken Thomson & Slow/Fast | Constellation | Jazz | Chicago Reader
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Ken Thomson & Slow/Fast 

When: Thu., Oct. 2, 9:30 p.m. 2014
Price: $10
Few musicians travel as assuredly and meaningfully between jazz and new music as saxophonist Ken Thomson. He’s a member of New York’s vaunted Bang on a Can All-Stars who recently wrote an album’s worth of riveting music for the dynamic string ensemble Jack Quartet. He also plays in the proggy rock band Gutbucket and leads the high-caliber improvising group Slow/Fast, which makes its Chicago debut tonight. Thomson’s original pieces on the group’s strong new album, Settle (NMC East), reflect his penchant for complex music in a rigorous postbop context. The title track is a breathless sprint through shifting time signatures as his alto saxophone braids in wild zigzag patterns with the steely trumpet of Russ Johnson, eventually breaking apart to navigate the landscape with a mind-numbing improvisation that eats up the composition’s chord changes like Pac-Man. The band’s not-so-secret weapon is its agile rhythm section—featuring bassist Adam Armstrong, drummer Fred Kennedy, and the rising guitarist Nir Felder—which sculpts and shapes the twisting lines with empathy and grace. There are lots of jazz artists who write complex music, but much of it lays flat and sounds stiff. Thomson’s pieces breathe and emanate an infectious energy, with every wend and wind hurtling the music forward rather than showing off the band’s chops, and every deceleration and pause recasting the sections of his multipartite works rather than winding up the next display of virtuosity. The first few minutes of “Spring” are given to an extended bass solo by Armstrong—with the others draping gorgeous harmonies over each movement—suddenly followed by fleet, rapid horn playing that shimmers like jewels and leads into a hard-hitting rock-flavored conclusion fueled by searing group improvisation. —Peter Margasak

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