150

Luther Thomas: Leave it to Luther

Derek Taylor By

Sign in to view read count
Luther Thomas: Leave it to Luther One of the most appealing attributes of jazz is its diversity. Stripes and colors in the music rival the vistas of twirling domed canopies in that classic French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. But with individuality comes an accompanying spectrum of method and quality. Certain players impress with their studied and accomplished techniques. Others emphasize emotional import over superlative prowess. Alto saxophonist Luther Thomas sits comfortably in the latter camp. He’s an energetic player whose enthusiasm occasionally eclipses the scope of his abilities in the hoisting of his own umbrella.



Thomas often steeps his improvisations in stream of consciousness flights of fancy. So much so that the mechanics of music-making sometimes seem of secondary importance. His catalog is consequently a motley assemblage, pocked by extended temporal lapses and veering stylistic jumps. CIMP stepped in several years ago, and since then the label has served as a mouthpiece for his work, in much the same way that the Eremite label has rekindled Jemeel Moondoc’s career. Thomas trods terrain that is at once familiar and invitingly revamped.



Previous CIMP sessions have touched on Thomas’ reverence for jazz history through his clever readings of bop standards. A trio of evergreens graces the current program, starting with an economical jaunt through “Body and Soul.” The piece pairs Thomas’ lushly-toned sax and Mann’s ghostly guitar in a contemplative tandem. Smith adds upright bass to the action on a trio rundown of “Round Midnight.” Dizzy’s “Groovin’ High” completes the triology and the full quartet has obvious fun sculpting the classic chord changes in their own image and at a surprisingly relaxed tempo.



Very little of the funky R&B Luther of the '70s floats to the surface on most of the disc’s tracks. His tone and method of voicing on alto sound different as well, emphasizing a more fluid sense of phrasing and a markedly pared down vibrato. His approach is so lithesome in places that it almost sounds like a freer equivalent of the Cool stereotypes ascribed to '50s west coast jazz white guys. There are also moments where emotion outlaps precision and his lines spill out with obvious insouciance toward clearly defined harmonic structures. It’s a tendency that is particularly noticeable on “Leave it to Luther,” a fifteen-minute plus excursion that wriggles through a variety of tonal tributaries without much regard for thematic resolution.



There’s also a curious nature to the program in that three of the pieces are attributed to one Hugh Steinmetz (an alias of Luther’s?) while bassist Brian Smith contributes two more that directly reference the leader in their titles. “Up South,” the lone credited Thomas composition, makes up less than a tenth of the disc’s total running time. These mysteries are most likely just facets of Thomas’ eccentric persona and his desire to keep his listeners guessing. Enjoyment rests in part on a willingness to embrace these peculiarities. Those willing to do so will likely find this disc worth returning to on a regular basis.



Visit CIMP on the web.

Track Listing: Leave it to Luther/ Belona/ Tatjana/ Body and Soul/ Groovin

Personnel: Luther Thomas- alto saxophone; Ethan Mann- guitar; Brian Smith- bass; Cliff Barbaro- drums. Recorded: April 15, 2003, Rossie, NY.

Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: CIMP Records | Style: Modern Jazz


Shop

Extended Analysis
CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles

More Articles

Read Pathways CD/LP/Track Review Pathways
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: April 30, 2017
Read Landing CD/LP/Track Review Landing
by Mark Sullivan
Published: April 30, 2017
Read Words And Music CD/LP/Track Review Words And Music
by Roger Farbey
Published: April 30, 2017
Read Faces CD/LP/Track Review Faces
by Glenn Astarita
Published: April 30, 2017
Read Nor Sea, nor Land, nor Salty Waves CD/LP/Track Review Nor Sea, nor Land, nor Salty Waves
by Duncan Heining
Published: April 30, 2017
Read Petite Afrique CD/LP/Track Review Petite Afrique
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: April 29, 2017
Read "Prick of the Litter" CD/LP/Track Review Prick of the Litter
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: January 28, 2017
Read "Ready Take One" CD/LP/Track Review Ready Take One
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: February 13, 2017
Read "Eos" CD/LP/Track Review Eos
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 28, 2017
Read "Xabregas 10" CD/LP/Track Review Xabregas 10
by Glenn Astarita
Published: November 19, 2016
Read "Real Talk" CD/LP/Track Review Real Talk
by Edward Blanco
Published: May 23, 2016
Read "Miniatures" CD/LP/Track Review Miniatures
by Mark Sullivan
Published: July 20, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM RECORDS | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!