Ken Thomson is a Brooklyn-based clarinetist, saxophonist, and composer.
In demand as a composer and freelancer in many settings, he moves quickly between genres and scenes, bringing a fiery intensity and emotional commitment to every musical situation. Called “the hardest-working saxophonist in new-music show business” by Time Out NY, he plays saxophone and is one of the 3 composers in the punk/jazz band Gutbucket, with whom he has toured internationally to 19 countries and 32 states over ten years, and released CDs for Knitting Factory, Enja, NRW, Cantaloupe and Cuneiform Records. He has created a new project of exclusively his music called Slow/Fast that was featured in 2010 at NYC’s heralded Winter Jazzfest and whose debut CD It Would Be Easier If was released internationally on Intuition Records in September 2010, garnering a long feature in The New York Times highlighting the “intricately wrought and incident-steeped” compositions and “gutsy precision of the playing.”
He is a faculty member at the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival and Institute, and co-leads Bang on a Can’s newest band, 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 is a Conn-Selmer Artist, and endorses Sibelius software.
As a composer, he has been commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra, Bang on a Can, the True/False Film Festival, and others, and has received awards from 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 in October 2007: “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... a texture laced with power chords, screaming clarinet lines and cluster-laden piano writing. In the end it is sheer madness, in a good, thrillingly visceral way.” The Philadelphia Inquirer also noted: “Thomson's Wait Your Turn is as visceral as music can be.”
His saxophone nonet, “Rut,” was featured on the Bang on a Can Marathon in 2009. His through-composed rescoring of the 22-minute 1936 British film “Night Mail” was called “a masterful re-imagining of an old classic” by Indiewire.com upon its debut in March 2007 at the True/False Film Festival. His 2006 clarinet quintet “How to Play” has been played in the US and Australia by multiple ensembles. The San Francisco Weekly writes about his music, “Thomson’s original compositions are as complex as a beehive, filled with amber-hued nooks and crannies that bear traces of jazz, world music, and classical, without succumbing to any of them.”
As a saxophonist and clarinetist, he is a member of the internationally-touring punk/cabaret band World/Inferno Friendship Society, next-generation chamber orchestra Signal (conducted by Brad Lubman), Jody Redhage’s art-song/world-jazz group Fire in July, the all-improvised No Net Trio, and was a co-founder of punk/chamber composer-performer collective Anti-Social Music. He is a frequent collaborator with new-composed music groups Alarm Will Sound (on their 2009 Nonesuch Records debut, “A/rhythmia”), International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), So Percussion, and more. He has also worked as a music director, most recently directing composer Julia Wolfe’s “Traveling Music” at the Bordeaux Conservatory, France, 2009.
He has performed extensively across the US and Europe at major jazz festivals including Jazz a Vienne, San Sebastian Jazz Festival, London Jazz Festival, Warsaw Summer Jazz Days, Rotterdam Jazz, Jazz Saalfelden, Copenhagen Jazz Fest, Belgrade Jazz Festival, etc.
In the July/August 2006 issue of the German-Dutch Sonic magazine, Ken was the “Top Interview,” garnering a four-page feature in which critic Ulrich Steinmetzger remarked about his "intense performances" which "left behind astounded audiences... [who] witnessed him blow raw energy from the stage like few others can." The Boston Globe has called his improvisation "dazzling;" and Time Out New York has called him a "manic sax dervish."