Belgian guitarist René Thomas could be the missing link between Django Reinhardt and Grant Green. On this collection of small group sides from the mid-1950s he proves why he was so valued by his peers on both sides of the Atlantic. Although the music is deeply within the West Coast tradition, the fact that he would be recording in the far more heated circumstances of Sonny Rollins' company within a few short years is a testament to how adaptable he was.
The passing of time has not been kind to this music however, and for much of this program the listener might hear only the sum total of many musicians' influences. Tenor saxophonist Andre Ross is a case in point on "All The Things You Are," where his debts to both Stan Getz and Jack Montrose are abundantly obvious. That point is even more applicable to "Imy," where a tenor sax and trombone front line seems intent on replicating the Getz groups that featured Bob Brookmeyer or J.J. Johnson. Thomas' rhythmic sense gets the better of things though, and the ears prick up whenever he hits his flow, especially as he doesn't bring to mind any player other than himself. That said, he doesn't match Charlie Parker's break on "Night In Tunisia," but then only those who live in expectation of miracles would hold that against him.
Thompson avoids the obvious on his reading of "Lover Man" in a way that few musicians on any instrument at the time did. His lyrical sense is whimsical without being either sentimental or mawkish. The result is something rare indeed, and just to prove that performance to be no fluke, he brings the same creativity to his rendering of "My Old Flame." It's as if he was strictly adhering to Lester Young's remark to the effect that no musician could really play a song without close knowledge of the lyrics.
This is one of those releases the importance of which is historical as well as musical, not least because it trumps the notion that European musicians were incapable of making jazz to such telling effect as their American counterparts. Both students of jazz guitar and historians are thus well served by this release despite the qualifications discussed above.
Personnel: Rene Thomas: guitar; Andre Ross: tenor sax (1, 3); Rene Urtreger: piano (1-6); Benoit Quersin: bass (1-6, 12-22); Jean-Marie Ingrand: bass (1-11); Jean-Louis Viale: drums (1-11); Buzz Gardner: trumpet (7-11); Henri Renaud: piano (7-15); Jean-Louis Chautemps: tenor sax (12-15); Christian Kellens: trombone (12-15); Jacques David: drums (12-15); Serge "Bib" Monville: tenor sax (16-22); Roland Ronchaud: piano (16-22); Jose Bourguignon: drums (16-22).