Ken ThomsonBrooklyn, NY
Ken Thomson, a staple of New York City’s contemporary music and jazz communities, is widely regarded for his ability to blend a rich variety of influences and styles into his own musical language while maintaining a voice unmistakably his own. Embracing the combination of complexity in harmony, rhythm, and form while pushing musical forces to their extremes, Thomson stands alone in his unique corner of today’s multifaceted musical world.
As a performer-composer bridging jazz and contemporary music, his latest release with his group Slow/Fast was called Settle. It was praised by The New York Times for its “intricate long-form compositions,” and garnered a five-star review in All About Jazz. The Chicago Reader wrote, “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.” He has released a CD of his compositions for the heralded JACK Quartet, entitled Thaw, on Cantaloupe Music, which was called the #1 Classical CD of 2013 by Rhapsody.com, and was featured in NPR’s “10 Songs Public Radio Can’t Stop Playing.” His most recent disc, Restless, released October 2016, focuses on two major works for cello and piano performed by Ashley Bathgate and Karl Larson, released digitally and on vinyl. It garnered a 7.9 Pitchfork review and received Top of 2016 accolades from writers Seth Colter Walls, Steve Smith (The Log Journal) and AnEarful blog, who wrote, “No album in 2016 in any genre did more with less than Restless, featuring two huge-sounding chamber works composed by Thomson.”
He plays clarinet for the Bang on a Can All-Stars, one of the world’s preeminent new music ensembles. He is the musical director for the Asphalt Orchestra – a 12-piece next-generation avant-garde marching band, called “cooly brilliant, infectious… top notch players” by The New York Times. He plays saxophone and is one of the 4 composers in the punk/jazz band Gutbucket, with whom he has toured internationally to twenty countries and 32 states over seventeen years, and released six CDs and a DVD for Knitting Factory, Enja, NRW, Cantaloupe and Cuneiform Records. He is on faculty at the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival.
As a composer, he has been commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra, Bang on a Can, the True/False Film Festival, Doug Perkins, Mariel Roberts, and others, and has received awards from New Music USA, ASCAP and Meet the Composer. The New York Times wrote of his work “Wait Your Turn” for the American Composers Orchestra upon its debut at Carnegie Hall: “The concert ended on a high note…. the music offered a density worthy of the closing bars of a Led Zeppelin epic;” and of his work “seasonal.disorder” for the Bang on a Can All-Stars, “a virtuoso piece.” His latest 15-minute work for chamber orchestra, “Boil,” was premiered at the Bang on a Can Summer Festival in summer 2016.
As a saxophonist and clarinetist, he has performed and recorded with Ensemble Signal (conducted by Brad Lubman), working directly with composers from Steve Reich to Helmut Lachenmann and performing on CDs for Harmonia Mundi, Mode, Orange Mountain, and Cantaloupe Records. He is a frequent collaborator with many new-composed music groups including Alarm Will Sound, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) and more. He has also worked as a music director, notably, directing composer Julia Wolfe’s “Traveling Music” at the Bordeaux Conservatory, France, 2009, and has conducted performances of “Music for Airports” with the Bang on a Can All-Stars, choir, and guest musicians from Melbourne to Buenos Aires.
He has performed extensively across the US and Europe at major jazz festivals including Jazz a Vienne, San Sebastian Jazz Festival, Warsaw Summer Jazz Days and the Saalfelden, London, Copenhagen, Rotterdam and Belgrade Jazz Festivals. He has recently been the subject of profile features in Downbeat and NewMusicBox. He is a Selmer Paris and Conn-Selmer Artist, a D’Addario Reeds artist.
Ken Thomson: Thaw (part 2): Dig
CD release performance for “Thaw” (Cantaloupe Music), recorded live at SubCulture
Performed by JACK Quartet, this is the second movement from my string quartet “Thaw,” in which the group starts in unison, is then divided in half and reunited. Taking inspiration from a unison moment in Bartok’s second string quartet, “Dig” spins this idea out over its six minutes, and is a riot of intense virtuosity brilliantly performed by JACK.
Ken Thomson, bass clarinet with Todd Reynolds, violin
From Todd Reynolds: Outerborough (Innova Records)
This piece, written in 2010, was written for looping violinist and bass clarinet. The idea was to examine how the two instruments can work together – both supporting each other and soaring above one another; making good use of Todd Reynolds and his brilliant technique and technical acumen while exploring a multi-faceted use of the bass clarinet.
We Are Not All in this Together
From Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast: Settle (NCM East Records, 2014)
Ken Thomson, bass clarinet, composition
Russ Johnson, trumpet
Nir Felder, guitar
Adam Armstrong, bass
Fred Kennedy, drums
Recorded by Damon Whittemore at Flux Studios, NYC; mixed by Damon Whittemore at Valvetone Studios, NYC