The good news is trumpeter Malachi Thompson mixes multiple styles and approaches on his latest release. But that is also the bad news. Thompson packs a wealth of music into his discs. As with his earlier Delmark projects; New Standards (1993), Buddy Bolden’s Rag (1995), and Free-bop Now! (1999), Thompson’s eclecticism informs us of jazz history, but that also distracts from a singular message.
It’s not that there isn’t plenty to dig here. Guest frontline saxophonists Hamiet Bluiett and Oliver Lake, half of the World Saxophone Quartet, churn up a storm on several tracks. The opening of “Fred Hopkins” sans rhythm section, takes us through a history of the Chicago jazz sound with a blustery blues passage into some outward directed AACM work and whistling saxophones. When pianist Willie Pickens enters, he provides piano passages worthy of one-time Chicago resident Sun Ra. Thompson and his band of musicians from either St. Louis or Chicago tear off some spirited hard bop on “Woody’s Dream” and “Lucky Seven,” arranging the three horns into a super-tight arrangement. Bluiett seems to be everywhere these days disseminating his ever distinctive baritone sound. The lesser heard from Oliver Lake is the gem in this session, blowing energy and outward squawks to the delight of his responsive bandmates.
Thompson changes directions with the free piece “Circles in The Air” and the percussion-laden “Talking Horns.” While theses two takes have personalities of their own, they distract from the main message of this recording. Listeners would surely savor a meeting between Thompson and Chicago’s son Kahil El’ Zabar for a roots percussion-fest or a freeform summit with Fred Anderson (or Lake for that matter). His tendency to display multiple directions leaves the whole less than the sum of the musical parts.