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There aren't many jazz musicians who play both brass and woodwinds, fewer still who play them as well as the veteran Seattle-based virtuoso Jay Thomas (the word "virtuoso" is used with due care). On I Always Knew, recorded in January 2018 with German-born trumpeter / arranger Oliver Groenewald 's NewNet, Thomas traverses the ballad form on a dozen mostly undervalued and too-seldom heard numbers, all but one arranged by Groenewald who also wrote "I Always Knew" and "Mrs. Goodnight." Thomas has been a member of Groenewald's well-knit ensemble for the past five years, and his proposal that they team up to record an album of ballads on which Thomas would employ almost his entire repertoire of instruments was met with unreserved enthusiasm.
Even though these are all ballads, there is enough variety in the arrangementsand in Thomas' choice of instrumentsto assure that the listener's interest doesn't wane. For the record, Thomas plays either trumpet or flugelhorn (it's hard to separate the two) on Lee Morgan's "Yama," "Mrs Goodnight," Mel Torme's "Born to Be Blue," Chick Corea's "October Ballad" (arranged by Curt Berg) and Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust." His muscular tenor sax enhances four numbers: Dexter Gordon's "Ernie's Tune," Lucky Thompson's "Deep Passion," Duke Ellington's "Blue Serge" and Tadd Dameron's "Soultrane." Thomas unsheathes his eloquent soprano sax on "I Always Knew," his burnished alto on the standard "You Don't Know What Love Is" and Billy Strayhorn's curiously named "Ballad for the Very Tired and Very Sad Lotus Eaters."
Also for the record, Thomas plays each of those instruments with the sort of mastery and assurance that one generally associates with such consummate multi-taskers as Aussie James Morrison. In other words, no matter what instrument Thomas is playing, he's pretty good at it. As well he must be, as he alone brandishes the solo weapon on every number save for a few brief incursions by pianist John Hansen. While Groenewald's NewNet is admirable, as are his charts, in the end this is Thomas' show, and if the words tour de force spring to mind, that is wholly understandable. Thomas makes every number personal and pleasing, and that isn't easy to do.
Yama; Ernie's Tune; I Always Knew; Deep Passion; Mrs. Godnight; Ballad For The Very Tired And Very Sad Lotus
Eaters; Born To Be Blue; Blue Serge; October Ballad; Soultrane; You Don't Know What Love Is; Stardust.
Jay Thomas: trumpet, flugelhorn, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax; Brad Allison: trumpet, flugelhorn;
Oliver Groenewald: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dan Marcus: trombone, flugabone; Travis Ranney: alto sax, flute, clarinet; Pete Galio: tenor sax, flute; Greg Sinabaldi: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Adam Kessler:
drums; Michael Glynn: bass; John Hansen: piano.