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Dawn Thomson: Happenstance

AAJ Staff By

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Front cover shows Dawn Thomson, guitar at the ready, out in the country somewhere. The back cover has Dawn (guitar still at the ready) near a store in The Big City, sitting down as a stranger walks by. This album, mostly originals, marks her five-year anniversary in New York and the happenstance of her being there. If she has anxiety, you can’t hear it; this music is peaceful and so is her album.

The notes come somberly, with a soft trumpet following. Peck Allmond gets the first solo on “Happenstance”, Dawn chording gently behind him. He is mellow, but a brassy edge develops as he gets faster. Dawn is quiet, a clean tone that is outshouted by the piano (at times Kevin Hays drowns her out.) Hays’ own solo is cerebral, with a wandering right hand. It’s more “interesting” than good, and that also describes the track. Better is a plaintive “Lazy Afternoon”, with slow metallic strings and a wistful vocal from Dawn. Most of this is solo, and gives a good look at her style. Some notes ring and others are blunt – it’s more distinctive than “Happenstance”, and more focused. A gentle breeze on a simple day.

“Zigzag” is an attractive line; it darts as the title suggests. Hays is back, and he takes the left speaker while Dawn serves the right. He gets in that relaxed ‘Sixties groove, while she has the edgy sound of “Happenstance” – the parts don’t fit exactly. A bright flourish at the end sends it off nicely – maybe this was the right tone. “All the Things”, another trio number, has the reflective touch and it works, her splashy chords resting on the dancing brushes. Listen to Doug Weiss: his bass walks the walk, and quotes the tune’s opening, which Dawn doesn’t play. Her end theme has the kind of smiling melancholy you rarely hear – and it’s welcome.

“Hicksville” is a sneaky blues, with hints of “Epistrophy” and other off-center delights. Hays feeds the right chords and Dawn walks along with fluid notes – here we have balance. Hays sounds more relaxed than past efforts, cerebral with down-home touches. Weiss is on target: he creeps, and Dawn gives him juicy chords to play with. The fadeout is especially lovely, and leads to “Remembering Dreams”. The tune is pure grace; producer John Nugent covered it on his West of Flatbush album. Hays is lush and rings high as Dawn meditates. She varies a three-note pattern, twangs high, and has one of her best efforts. Hays starts a riff which later forms a part of his solo. Chords build up, snaky lines slide around, and notes rain down as cymbals thunder. It’s a great mood, and a dream to remember.

Drums and piano are heard on “Open to the View”; Dawn is reflective. She flutters high, and the blunt chords make her sound higher. The approach works, helped by Dawn’s strong line and a solid rhythm. (Kenny Wolleson’s drums are varied, and his solo is fun.) Allmond comes back for "My Only Home”, and so does Dawn’s voice. It’s a moody original, and everything works here: Allmond’s mute, Hays’ only turn at organ, Dawn’s emotional vocal. This is a gem, and other singers should hear it. "Twos and Threes” has Allmond open; Dawn’s high and pretty, without the sour edge she often has. It muses for three minutes; then Hays bursts in with darting little lines, Wolleson crashing behind him. But this soon subsides, and gentility reigns when Dawn returns. It’s a nice feeling, and a nice ending.

At times the parts don’t jell, but the talent is there. Her tunes are winners, especially “My Only Home”. Force and approach set her apart, and her sidemen do wonders, especially Allmond and Weiss. Happenstance? Unlikely.


Title: Happenstance | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: N. Y. Jam

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