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Reuben Fowler’s ‘Black Cow’

reuben fowler 2

In my experience, jazz musicians tend to approve of Steely Dan. The mixture of sardonic outlook, funny chords and respect for fine improvisers seems to do it. Herbie Hancock, Ahmad Jamal, Christian McBride and Mel Tormé were among those who covered their songs. A few months ago I enjoyed hearing the students of the Guildhall School of Music’s jazz course performing variations on Donald Fagen’s classic album, The Nightfly. Now comes Reuben Fowler, a gifted young London-based trumpeter, composer and arranger, with a download-only big band version of “Black Cow” — track one of the Dan’s album Aja — whose proceeds will go to Cancer Research’s oesophageal cancer unit, in memory of Walter Becker.

Steely Dan’s music wasn’t jazz. A rock body with a jazz head, maybe. Anyway, it responds well to being played by jazz musicians, as it usually was on the original albums, as long as they don’t try to play tricks with it. Fowler’s “Black Cow” is respectful to the work put in on the slinky groove of the original by the likes of Joe Sample, Victor Feldman, Larry Carlton, Chuck Rainey and Paul Humphrey. Jason Rebello (Fender Rhodes piano), Rob Luft (guitar), Lawrence Cottle (bass guitar) and Ian Thomas (drums) hit all the marks, while Paul Booth’s muscular tenor solo loses nothing by a comparison with Tom Scott’s original. The Average White Band’s Hamish Stuart does a great job with the enigmatic lyric — a little hoarser and more wearied than Fagen, but that works, too. Fowler’s arrangement wisely plays it cool until the finale, when the power of four trumpets, four trombones and eight reeds filters through to stirring effect.

I’m not normally a fan of downloads and streaming, for reasons mostly to do with the shamefully inadequate way they remunerate the artists. In this instance, however, the music and the motive make it a must. It’s also a nice way to celebrate Aja‘s 40th anniversary (which was actually last September). And at some time in the future Fowler — who was born 12 years after that album made its appearance — might put together a whole album of this stuff, which would be a very nice thing indeed to have.

* “Black Cow” by the Reuben Fowler Big Band is released on the Ubuntu label and can be found on the regular download and streaming platforms, including Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer and Tidal. The photograph of Fowler is by James Gardiner Bateman.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mark Berkeley #

    Fowler’s big band recording “Between Shadows” on Edition was a very fine statement from a young talent. That was four years ago and I’m not aware of any other recording since. It will be good to hear something new from him. Hopefully a precursor to some more recordings soon

    February 21, 2018
  2. I can’t see it on any of the ‘regular download platforms’.A pity it is not on Bandcamp, like the release above mentioned by Mark.

    February 21, 2018
  3. GuitarSlinger #

    It wasn’t .. Jazz ? Ahhh … well .. perhaps but only if you’re willing to exclude any and all forms of Jazz Fusion as being … Jazz … which I somehow doubt you would be .

    So is Steely Dan then an eccentric vocal variation of Jazz fusion that by some major fortuitous fluke managed to find its way onto the pop charts ?

    Suffice it to say Richard .. in the opinions of anyone who played on their albums … toured with them … or came within their circle of influence … including the overwhelming majority of jazz conservatories and their students in the US …. not to mention both the Jazz and Rock critics of the day here in the US …

    You’re damn right its Jazz …

    February 21, 2018
  4. I’ve just downloaded on ITunes (79p)… it came up under Hamish Stuart &….

    February 21, 2018
  5. Michael in UK #

    99p on Amazon UK.
    I have an account but for music these days I try to buy direct from artists or at local high street HMV store, we still have one.

    Anyway having listened just once it sounds terrific. I would buy a whole album of Steely Dan arrangements from this band. Congratulations and thanks to Reuben Fowler and all the musicians.

    Richard, as a relatively recent convert to Steely Dan, thanks so much for bringing this to my attention.

    Timely to mention that this Saturday the excellent Nearly Dan are playing in Brighton. Their March gig at the London Jazz Cafe is already sold out I think. I know some people are sniffy about so called tribute bands, but Nearly Dan are brilliant musicians inspired by a love of the music. See their Facebook page for comments from fans.

    February 21, 2018
  6. Stewart #

    Superb arrangement…..great to hear Hamish in fine voice, as ever

    February 21, 2018

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