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Mad About Thad is a superb homage to the man Charles Mingus once called "Bartók with valves." Thad Jonesmiddle brother of the Pontiac, Michigan dynasty that produced pianist Hank Jones and his younger brother, drummer Elvin Joneswas one of the true unsung geniuses of the trumpet. He was also less frequently recognized as a composer, except among the musical cognoscenti, and his enormous compositional and arranging contributions to the Count Basie Orchestra may be somewhat obscured by those of Quincy Jones and Neal Hefti. Still, Thad Jones was an inspired artist, composer and arranger. Now Rob Derke and the NYJAZZ Initiative may have paid him something of an ultimate compliment with this flawless album of his music, especially as it contains some of his less frequently heard music.
To pay tribute to Jones would need those honoring him to be as sharply aware of the refined and ingenious tones and textures the trumpeter extracted from the instruments that he used in his musical flights of fancy. The brass was rarely merely metallic; it was gilt-edged and reflected the burnished glow of a veritable solarium of light. When trumpets, trombones and woodwinds dance together they are lithe and sinewy and glided around each other as if they are lovers, forever entwined in embrace. And then, as if affirming this glowing affection, they punctuate this shared love with another dalliance; they kiss. And this they do every so often in ecstatic phrases that flow through the soli of saxophone and trombone and trumpet. Not only did they do this when Jones arranged and played his music himself, but here as well, with Derke putting together a superb ensemble.
Jones loved to twist and turn tones and paint his soundscapes in contrasting colors. His complex melodies meant even more convoluted harmonies in the most generous sense of the term. The tonal leaps were daring; sometimes even seemingly suicidal as they came after such periods of relative calmness in the horizontal structure of the composition. Derke has retained this remarkable Jones trait in his arrangements of "Bird Song" and "Mean What You Say." Not only that, his work on the soprano saxophone captures the very essence of Jones' very special instinctive interplay with musical coloration and atonalism. His allowances for Sam Burtis' tuba and trombone (also with Mark Meyers on "Bird Song") are inspired and memorable, and complete the circle of sound with reverence. The inclusion of "A Child is Born" may be de rigueur, but by pacing the song correctlyin the deliciously slow manner in which it was intended to be playedthe true beauty of the song's emotion is wonderfully preserved. The other charts are simply flawless too, as is trumpeter/flugelhornist David Smith, who is in the very big shoes of Thad Jones himself. What a magical experience all of this music is.
Track Listing: Bird Song; Quiet Lady; Mean What You Say; A Child is Born; Lady Luck; Three and One; Evol Deklaw Ni; Elusive.
Personnel: Rob Derke: soprano, tenor saxophone; Ralph Lalama: tenor saxophone; Steve Wilson: alto saxophone; David Smith: trumpet, flugelhorn; Sam Burtis: trombone, tuba; Mark Meyers: trombone (1); Art Hirahara: piano (1, 5, 6); David Bryant: piano (2-4, 7, 8); Carlo De Rosa: bass; Eric McPherson: drums.