Bang on a Can All-Stars
Cal Performances Berkeley,
Acclaimed internationally-touring electro-acoustic sextet for which I largely play clarinet and bass clarinet. This group, directed by the Bang on a Can collective in NYC, has worked with an exhaustive list of composers over 20 years, while focusing on the music of artistic directors Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe. It has been a pleasure to be a new member of this fantastic group since May 2013.
I am the music director and alto saxophonist for this 12-piece virtuoso street band that plays music from across the world, performing outdoors at festivals and indoors at theaters across the US and Europe. After working with everyone from Yoko Ono to Goran Bregovic, David Byrne, St. Vincent, and more, Asphalt’s newest project is a re-imagination of the Pixies record Surfer Rosa, which debuted at Lincoln Center Out of Doors in Summer 2013 and was released on Cantaloupe Music in Fall 2014.
My project as composer/performer. This is long form, theatrical and often intense music for alto saxophone/bass clarinet with trumpet, guitar, bass, drums. I’m trying to synthesize some of my more rigorously composed music with the influences of jazz and improvisation. The group has released two CDs; the first, It Would Be Easier If (2010), received a feature-length review in The New York Times referring to the “intricately wrought and incident-steeped” compositions and “gutsy precision of the playing.” After the followup CD, Settle (2014), the Chicago Reader wrote, “Few musicians travel as assuredly and meaningfully between jazz and new music as saxophonist Ken Thomson.”
This punk/jazz 4-piece collective has been going strong since 1999 — having toured 33 US states and 19 countries across the USA and Europe, and released 6 CDs and a DVD on Cuneiform Records, Cantaloupe Music/Enja Records, NRW, Plattenfroster and Knitting Factory Records.
I’m on performance faculty here with an incredible team of colleagues. This festival, for emerging composers and performers, features inspiring student-fellows every summer, and is always a highlight of the year — with multiple daily concerts, packed rehearsal days, and an ending marathon concert all at the Mass MoCA museum in the Berkshires, Massachusetts.
Recorded works only - for alto saxophone, gtr, bass, drums
through-composed distorted/clean jazz quintet
More as Composer/Arranger
More as Performer
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.