How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Pianist Ron Thomas has led an extremely interesting life, musically and otherwise, and it is distilled into the lovely and intense set of pieces on Wings of the Morning, originally recorded in 1978, and now reissued on CD.
Training from a young age to be a concert pianist, Thomas eventually realized that the rigors and mindset necessary for that kind of musical life were not his forte, and he turned to composition, studying with many famous people in the classical world including Karlheinz Stockhausen and Stefan Wolpe. Introduced to jazz in his mid-twenties, he was bowled over by Miles Davis, Gil Evans and Bill Evans, whose harmonic language was strongly influenced by Claude Debussy, who had shattered Thomas' musical world at age fifteen.
Completely improvisedexcept for "En Reve" by Franz Liszt, who was one of his musical idolsthe pieces represent the kind of music he was composing at the time. An avid reader and thinker about the creative arts, a keen intelligence informs Thomas' music; and these pieces, although improvised, sound composed, which is an indication of the strength and speed of his musical mind.
Regardless of what he, or any of his piano teachers, thought of his physical playing abilities, Thomas' touch can be extremely subtle. He is a master of the sustain pedal, and has more than enough technique to do anything his mind asks his hands to do.
Just as important as how the music is played, is what is played; and Wings of the Morning does easily what much music works hard to do, which is to create a sound world which literally engulfs the listener. The music is unabashedly Romantic, and revels in its power to affect the listener.
The first thing that will strike the listener is the high degree of harmonic control that underpins the music, despite the fact that most of the time, clear movement is avoided. The music flows logically, while at the same time singing and emoting in exaltation.
In the liner notes, Thomas describes the title track and "Orpheus" as "more restrained and objective" than the others, which are "poetic, subjective, rhapsodic." The first of these tracks has echoes of a Bach prelude, albeit shifted forward two hundred years in its abstraction, thus projecting more emotions and less images. "Orpheus" is a bit more romantic, but never gives in, and treads right to the edge line separating emotions and images.
The Liszt piece, not surprisingly, fits right in with the more romantic pieces, although its melodic content is more direct. The pause between the first and second parts is startling at first. The melodic line seems to die off into the high harmonics of the string, and the piece could have ended, but the second part raises musical imagery to a very high peak.
Whether Wings of the Morning is called jazz or not is immaterial; it is improvisational playing of the highest order.
Track Listing: Wings of the Morning; Cossacks and Wolves on the Frozen River; Orpheus; Oostkapelle; En Reve; Dusk of the Nightlands.