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Ron Thomas: 17 Solo Piano Improvisations

Budd Kopman By

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Music is the language of sound, of vibrations; and hence, at a basic level, of physics. The history of Western music is an effort to understand and control how these vibrations interact and relate to each other, always with an ear towards how they affect the listener. Music's emotional affect on us is its greatest mystery.

Pianist Ron Thomas' 17 Solo Piano Improvisations is an exploration of certain features of the music of Franz Liszt, as they connect to the work of Debussy, Bartok, Schoenberg, Ligeti and Stockhausen. The connection to jazz comes from the fact that jazz has compressed 1,000 years of harmonic history into 100, and, for some players, has arrived at the same point.

These improvisations start where those of Wings of the Morning (Vectordisc, 2007) end, in that the overt romanticism of the earlier works has been abstracted and extended. However, the pieces share an extremely strong sense of control combined with the searching intelligence that was evident before. Definitions of consonance and dissonance; tension and release; preparation and arrival; and resolution and surprise are overturned and shattered, but then put back together. The concepts of tonality and melody are questioned and challenged, but then answered by each piece in its own way.

Be clear that these improvised pieces are not academic exercises, but rather highly charged, deeply emotional and spellbinding creations. They take one's breath away as they unfold, each with its own internal logic, carrying the listener to many unexpected places.

The pieces are not named, which is probably a good thing, since we are then allowed to make our own connections. It really does not matter if your knowledge of the classical music of this period is limited—although like most everything, pleasure will be increased when the new can be related to the known. With most of the tracks being under three minutes, they feel taut and dense with no rambling.

While each listener will get different things out of these wonderful pieces, what is incontrovertible is Thomas' improvisatory ability. This is something that has been lost in the classical world and it takes a musician comfortable in both the jazz and classical worlds to bring it back.

The figure of Lizst looms large in Thomas' development, both in his place in musical history and, more importantly, in artistic attitude. Thomas firmly believes that for a creative work (in this case, music) to rise to the level of art, the artist must find out what its intrinsic properties are and then work within the limitations thus defined to bring them out.

In his view, style has nothing to do with an artwork's merit and thus he reinforces, without saying so, the concept that jazz is an aesthetic attitude and not a style. These pieces stand outside of time, and are truly wondrous to hear—many times over.

Track Listing: 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12; 13; 14; 15; 16; 17.

Personnel: Ron Thomas: piano.

Title: 17 Solo Piano Improvisations | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Vectordisc Records

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