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Luther Thomas plays and speaks from the gut and his unequivocal artistic integrity becomes immediately apparent whether it’s projected through his horn or by way of written word. Add to this that he’s managed to balance a reverence for jazz tradition with freer proclivities and an indication of what’s in store on this disc should begin to materialize. The group assembled is somewhat coarse around the edges, but blemish-free music breeds boredom and Thomas is all about keeping things fresh and provocative. His partners share the same galvanizing sentiment and whether it’s a sure-fire standard their dissecting or an original composition they hold court with equal enthusiasm. Take “Blue Monk” where first McIntyre, then Thomas pull apart the tricky melodic peel of the tune infusing just the right amount of off-kilter phraseology to make the classic Monkian theme seem new. “Bye Bye Blackbird” and “Lester Leaps In” are afforded similar face-lifts and feature memorable expositions from the front-line of Thomas, McIntyre and Thorsen.
McIntyre’s presence as an elder improviser is never overstated and he fits in with the rest of the quintet as an equal participant. Similarly Thomas’ position as group leader is never overwrought with solo and ensemble space shared amiably by all the players. Both saxophonists are showcased to great effect sans rhythm section on “Bop Off the Top.” If there’s one immediately noticeable weakness it’s the discursive looseness of several of the arrangements. Thomas’ sharp-witted contributions to the liner notes written in hustler speak expand on the acumen evident in the truism “Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy,” (especially when you’re an improvising musician), but the statement’s musical personification stammers through a less convincing string of solos. Smith’s beautifully conceived and cryptically-titled ballad “The Estranged Man of Color in the Little Red House” endures a similar setbacks, where the beguiling theme is saddled with somewhat meandering individual declarations. These slips are exceptions rather than rules however, and over the majority of the program the players not only blow heatedly, they also swing like the dickens. One thing’s for certain Thomas is a contender. His skill and confidence embolden his associates and carry the session to a gratifying conclusion and the ride to the trip’s end is well worth the repeated attention.
Tracks: Bye Bye Blackbird/ Blue Monk/ Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy/ The Estranged Man of Color in the Little Red House/ Lester Leaps In (incomplete take)/ Lester Leaps In/ Headless Blues In F/ Bop Off the Top/ Just a Closer Walk With Thee/ Luther’s Amen.
Players:Luther Thomas- alto saxophone; Kalaparush Maurice McIntyre- tenor saxophone; Mads Thorsen- guitar; Brian Smith- bass; Ronnie Burrage- drums.
Recorded: January 5, 2000, Rossie, NY.
CIMP recordings are available directly through North Country Distributors: