City Scope is the debut album as leader for Dan Thomas, a Canadian-born saxophonist who now lives in Kansas City, MO. His talents as player and composer are lavishly praised in the liner notes by friend and colleague Bobby Watson, whose influence is readily apparent in Thomas’s music, especially in his approach to the alto sax, wherein Thomas borrows a few of Watson’s licks but avoids sounding like a carbon copy of his better-known comrade. Other likely role models who spring to mind include Kenny Garrett, Antonio Hart, Vincent Herring and Greg Abate. Thomas plays alto on seven selections, soprano on drummer Jim Eriksen’s “Sertan to Amsterdam” and “Ernastine” and his own “Life with Nedaj” and “Upbeat & Busted.”
The largely bop-based program is comprised solely of original compositions, eight by Thomas, the other three by Eriksen. The time-keeper, a transplanted Chicagoan, is an accomplished musician, as are the other members of the quintet—trumpeter Joe Parisi, pianist Roger Wilder and bassist Bram Wijnands. As for Thomas, he validates his credentials from the outset with an earnest soprano solo on “Sertan,” then reinforces them by solidly nailing every other shot, whether on alto or soprano. Parisi is an able sidekick, soloing with assurance on every track but “Ernastine,” on which the quintet is pared to a quartet, and Wilder is consistently brilliant when given an opportunity to shine, as he is on a number of occasions.
Although unfamiliar, the music is quite pleasant and well-written with enough variation in mood and tempo to nourish almost anyone’s interest. If I am partial to the burners (“Wablin’,” “City Scope”), that’s only because I grew up listening to Bird, Diz, Clifford, the Messengers and other exponents of chops-busting calisthenics, not because anything else on offer is less than agreeable. In fact, there are pleasures of many stripes from blues (“For BooDee”) to ballad (“Silent Summer Storm”), gospel (“Upbeat & Busted”) to Latin (“Life with Nedaj”) and even a hint of the Middle East on “Temple of Faith.” In sum, an absorbing discourse among five talented musicians with many provocative things to say.
Track Listing: Sertan to Amsterdam; Green Card; Temple of Faith; Leading the Blind; City Scope; Silent Summer Storm; Blues for BooDee; Ernastine; Life with Nedaj; Wablin
Personnel: Dan Thomas, alto, soprano saxophone; Joe Parisi (1-7, 9-11), trumpet; Roger Wilder, piano; Bram Wijnands, bass; Jim Eriksen, drums.