For some bizarre reason this album inspires memories of Thailand, where a used paperback novel and a take-out meal for ten cost the same: the value is strongly influenced by the setting.
Nashville guitarist Tim Thompson's Faces is a smooth jazz collection of originals and standards offering substance while still appealing to the Russ Freeman/Lee Ritenour crowd. Compared to most such performers, Thompson dwells in above-average territory.
But an iPod programming accident exposed Faces' relative worth when a seemingly bold composition jolted me from the rather passive mood this album created. A moment later I realized it was from Chick Corea's Tones For Joan's Bones ; I had placed the title track on my playlist for comparison purposes since it's one of the standards on Thompson's album, and an extra song slipped in somehow.
So think of Faces as sort of Jazz Pad Thaiexotic at a mall food court, ordinary compared to fish steamed in banana leaves on the streets of Bangkok. But there's no shame in comfort food, nor finding Thompson's interpretation of "Naima," with its melodic phrasing and mellow beat more soothing than the acquired taste of John Coltrane's original.
Thompson is capable of complexity, plucking lickety-split bop twists impressively on Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee." But the ordinary pop beat is a terrible shame that must be tuned out to appreciate his playing. A more varied and interactive contribution from bassist Dow Tomlin and drummers Mel Watts and Brian Fullen would make it a first-rate modernistic interpretation.
Similar limitations hamper much of the album, as Thompson dominates at the expense of the others. Their few moments of prominence are decent, if not special. Keyboardist Mike Rojas plays a handful of rapid runs that try emulating Corea's colorful clashes in tone and pacing on "Joan's Bones," for instance, but doesn't reach the level the latter's acoustic piano brings to the original.
Everything comes together best on "A Night In Tunisia," where an upbeat Latin fusion pace gives Rojas and the drummers a canvas where being just outside the melodic lines results in legitimate flair. The guitarist is more impressive as a player than composer, with originals such as the title track and "Song For Terri" doing little to stand out in the smooth arena. It's worth noting, however, this is the first of his five albums focusing on jazzthe others include two Christmas collections, a solo guitar project, and one of him singing original works.
Ultimately Faces is a consistent fifty minutes that never feels like an insult to the intelligence, but falls short of the lingering impact clearly within Thompson's reach. His ability to interpret classics for the modern masses gives him a strong base, and if he can loosen his arrangements and delegate more to others, more ventures by him into jazz are worth anticipating.