Friday, November 14, 2014

Steve Fowler "Captured" (1987)

You might as well just call this Fowler Brothers, Captured.

Not to diminish Steve Fowler, the alto sax and flute playing brother of the Fowler clan of musicians, who composed each track on his debut and one in the mighty musical Fowler family, overcast on Steve's solo release. 

The Fowlers were introduced to America by way of the late, brilliant and universally maniacal musical genius Frank Zappa, who used each and every talent of Fowler in his music since the 1970's, toured with mostly Tom, Bruce and Walt in the 80's. No matter what Fowler you get, you're in for something interesting, certainly doing things their own way, but melodic, listenable fusion with avant-garde touches of class, complexity and progressive edge.

The Fowler Brothers started doing their own thing aside Frank Zappa in the mid-1970s with their group Air Pocket before evolving into The Fowler Brothers. Steve Fowler, along with trombonist Bruce, broke away further and did their own albums in the Fowler style of music, occasionally tricky and progressive melodic jazz-fusion. If you liked the jazzier material of Zappa sans the lewd lyrical talent of the late mad genius and his Mothers, The Fowler Brothers' independent work is right there for ya. Think of it as instrumental Zappa.

Like a Fowler album, they're all here: multi-instrumentalist brothers Walt Fowler, on trumpets and flugelhorns but also electric and acoustic pianos and synthesizers, Bruce Fowler on trombone, Ed Fowler on bass (not to be confused with brother Tom Fowler, the Zappa Fowler bassist). Zappa's captured right here in spirit too from the wonky time signatures, progressive and souring sound of some arrangements to the silly, cryptic track naming convention Bikini Paralysis, H.H. for He Is Abnormal and so on.

Steve plays only the Alto [in the family of] Saxophones, but actually surprises further on this album filling most of his airtime with the flute, which keeps this album from saturating with soloing like the later Breakfast For Dinosaurs (not a bad thing by any means, sorry Albert Wing!). If anything, this album's real shine is Steve's flute harmonies, with his sax mostly captured on the front cover of the album...

Following in the shadow of 1986's Hunter, the arrangements are solid, tight, clean, original and melodic. Each cut begs another listen and it's largely thanks to Steve deploying the Zappa sound through he and his brothers. As with any Fowler Brothers' joint, Steve couldn't get away without a lyrical track They Hang Out with his brother Marvin on vocals, ominous prog-rock (about prostitutes?) with a flutter of flutes amongst Mike O'Neill's riffs.

It's a shame not more people know of the Fowler Brothers' horns, there's really only one group tried and tested by time to be good enough to roll with Zappa for all these years and more. While they may not smoke as hard as how they sounded on Zappa's (Make A Jazz Noise Here) tours but they're just as extraordinary, just a little more tame but not nearly numbed nor dumbed.


NOTABLE TRACKS: Bikini Paralysis, For H.H. He Is Abnormal, They Hang Out
WHILE THEY REALLY COULD HAVE: called it Fowler Brothers' second album, it would've probably been one of the strongest of the bunch.

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