Jimmy Katz seems to really be onto something with his Giant Step Arts label. Begun in 2018, the label has established a tradition of recording live performances by modern jazz musicians given complete freedom of repertoire and personnel. That approach has produced several outstanding releases including, earlier this year, The Concert: 12 Musings For Isabella
, (Giant Step Arts, 2020) by trumpeter Jason Palmer
, who also appears on the label's latest release, this time as a sideman for alto saxophonist Michael Thomas
Thomas and Palmer are captured live in a loose, swashbuckling quartet with Hans Glawischnig
on bass and Johnathan Blake
on drums. Thomas' alto has a soulful, freewheeling sound. Like Ornette Coleman
and Oliver Lake
he can be both exploratory and earthy at the same time. Jason Palmer, meanwhile, plays Don Cherry
to Thomas' Coleman, blowing bubbly, high-wire acrobatics in contrast to the alto's intense heat. They take their time building solos. Thomas often starts quietly and ripples into high-register flights while Palmer answers him with smears, stutters and brash calls to arms. With Glawischnig and Blake stoking the fire underneath, the group creates a swaying, seductive flow of rapturous music.
The quartet plays passionately in all manner of tempos and settings. On "Dr. Teeth" the rhythm section stalks with a creeping bass pulse and New Orleans flair on the drums while Palmer struts and Thomas dances. "Drift" rolls out slower and cooler with the horns lazily stretched out on the melody. Thomas blows long, graceful lines like Lee Konitz
, gradually getting faster as the tempo increases and Blake's drum rolls intensify. "Chant" has the horns rolling together over a bumpy pulse and "Underground" moves at a slow, seductive pace on a melody that resembles John Coltrane
's "Equinox," trumpet and alto quietly surging and singing in unison as Blake rumbles on his drums.
"Event Horizon" is a relatively compact mood piece with the horns playing an ominous long-toned melody that could soundtrack a movie scene of a rocket traveling through space. Thomas and Palmer play closely together over Blake's mallet work and Glawischnig's arco bass before scampering into a quiet, bluesy dialogue. On "Fox and Cat" everyone relaxes and has double-time fun with classic bebop rhythms.
This set is explosive and compelling. Michael Thomas' blistering alto sound plays perfectly off Jason Palmer's soaring trumpet while the Glawischnig-Blake rhythm team give them outstanding support. This is small group jazz of the highest quality, imaginative, fiery and powerful. It is also, amazingly enough, just Michael Thomas' second recording as a leader. He sounds like a major force to follow and this volcanic concert is one of the year's best recordings.
Disc One: Distance; Drift; Bass Intro; Dr. Teeth; Framework. Disc Two: Sax Intro; Chant; Underground; Drum
Intro; Event Horizon; Fox and Cat.