JazzTimes Review - November 2001
by Harvey Siders
Reviewed by Harvey Siders in the CD Reviews section of the November 2001 issue. This is an impressive debut as a leader for trumpeter/flugelhornist Michael Thomas, but more so as a player and as a writer than as a producer. Granted, it is easy to be critical of certain aspects without knowing all the sweat, time constraints and marketing frustrations that go into putting out your first album. And let's not forget the bread involved. Perhaps that's why the notes proudly proclaim, "No editing, overdubs, or fixing. Just good stuff." It's putting a positive spin on the decision not to go back and touch up here and there.
What was needed were repairs to the Sahib Shihab line "Rue de la Harpe." Its fiendishly tricky bop intervals resulted in some sloppy harmonizing by the front line. What was needed was a different piano for Darius Scott; it was badly out of tune. What was needed was the removal of "The Warm Up," 44 unmotivated seconds that fade in and fade out midway through the CD.
Fine writing on "The Little Individual," Thomas' tune that begins and ends with an infectious bass ostinato by Kent Miller. The best solo work by Thomas and Graddy can be heard on "The Messenger" and "Mike's Blues." Stylistic influences by Freddie Hubbard, Jon Faddis and Roy Hargrove come through Thomas' horn. (His gut-wrenching solo on Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes" is spoiled by the out of tune comping.) Altoist Antonio Parker is heard on two tracks and he never disappoints.
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As the rhythm and horns come crashing down, the first moments of "The Messenger" proclaim something special - an urgency, an unadorned elbow. Like Winard Harper, Michael Thomas speaks to the Blakey tradition and the CD's title itself is a message: the pieces (largely originals) and the pulses will remind you of the Jazz Messengers.
Recorded at Michael Thomas' home studio, this is his debut recording. And he's a dynamic force, rolling along, bopping and weaving. He can be aggressive ("Tense Moments"), rollicking("Rue de la Harpe"), soulful("Mike's Blues") - you name it.
As like a good Jazz Messenger, he rarely eases up. Nearly forty minutes in, on "Soul Eyes", he pulls out the flugelhorn and things drop down. Though he doesn't seem as comfortable now; there's an emotional disconnect between Thomas's ideas and Mal Waldron's composition. There isn't an uptempo issue, however, and as if to reinforce this there's a quick fade into "The Warm Up(interlude)," an unabashed swinger, before "Mike's Blues," a medium walk - soul music Jazz Messenger-style.
The quintet is a solid unit. Tenor saxophonist Zack Graddy makes a real impression: his delicious tone - deep and rough - paired with a frisky ear makes for a smart combination. The notes may gush out in clumps - a honk, a trill - or slowly in lines, but he's continually reinventing himself within a solo.
Alto saxophonist Antonio Parker makes two swinging guest appearances,
though I would have liked to hear him straight up against Graddy. While their
mandates are similar, they're coming from different strains within a common
Drummer Frank Williams provides a constant cascade, piling rhythm upon rhythm. And pianist Darius Scott knows what each piece needs. On "Tense Moments", for instance, he draws lines out of McCoy Tyner's bag, but for the most part he's playing on his own terms. The rhythm section's vigorous, intelligent support is especially noticeable on "The Messenger," where Scott and Williams lock into a compelling conversation behind the soloists. Bassist Kent Miller, firm and full throughout, walks along.
Let me first say how much of a pleasure it is to offer this music to you. I cannot tell you how excited I am about the group. This CD represents the group in great form. There are many things on the horizon and you can be sure that I will keep you posted the whole way through. The website will be going through more changes as it mature, so stay tuned for more updates, surprises, and information.
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Open Sky (www.jazzcorner.com) - November 2000
by Willard Jenkins
For DC-based trumpeter Michael Thomas this initial release is the result of a true labor of love. Not one to wait for a record label to come knocking at his door, Thomas seized the initiative himself, not only starting his own label and releasing his own debut disc, but also developing his own home studio to lay down these 10 persuasive tracks. Thomas has a brass proud trumpeter's arrogance in sound but not demeanor. The title is an apt one as the feeling harkens back to Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers without in any way being imitative. And Mr. Do Everything Michael Thomas also wrote all but three of these tunes, mining the books of Sahib Shihab, Tina Brooks, and Mal Waldron for the other three. From Waldron's book he beautifully essays the ever-lovely "Soul Eyes" as a quartet feature for his flugelhorn.
Elsewhere the chores are shared roundly by Thomas' mates the edgy tenor saxman Zack Graddy, bassist Kent Miller, drummer Frank Williams lV, pianist Darius Scott, and he broadens the band on two tracks with the energetic altoist Antonio Parker. Highly recommended stuff. Contact: www.jazhead.com
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