Knoxville-based Trumpeter, arranger and band leader Vance Thompson formed The Marble City Five quintet over a year ago and when thinking about recording their first album, decided to augment the band by adding a six-piece horn section comprised of some of the city's younger rising talent. The resulting new Knoxville, TN-based group is now known as Five Plus Six and their audacious debut is appropriately titled Such Sweet Thunder, for there are a lot powerful sounds emanating from this light ensemble and the thunder, is quite exciting to hear. Founder and director of the renowned Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, Thompson is a veteran of the big band sound and so the addition of an expanded horn section helps produce the large ensemble orchestrations experienced on this album.
Staying within the traditional jazz camp, Thompson draws on music from Thelonius Monk, Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington performing familiar selection from the songbooks of these giants. There is however, one surprising exception to the main theme here and that is the inclusion of Dolly Parton's "Little Sparrow," rearranged and reimagined as a jazz number and the most ambitious track of the album at a hefty ten-minutes plus in length.
The sweet thunder begins to command attention right from the opening "Pannonica," the first of three Monk tunes (the other two being "Ugly Beauty' and "Four in One) all honoring original arrangements and packing a serious punch. Strayhorn's oft recorded "Isfahan" follows with delicious tenor solos from Greg Tardy and a Thad Jones-esque section for trombone. After the Parton piece and Monk's "Ugly Beauty," it's the Duke who is up next with the band performing the title track, an Ellington/Strayhorn suite offering sweet bass lines from Taylor Coker as well featuring pianist Keith Brown and the leader on trumpet.
The other two Ellington compositions included here are the Brown arrangement of "Prelude to a Kiss," and the bouncy "Rockin' in Rhythm" that rocks with torrid saxophone solos and drum rumbles from Nolan Nevels. The album closes on another composition from outside the jazz spectrum with the traditional Appalachian Folk song "He's Gone Away," the obvious soft spot of this disc and rightly so as the band reprises a beautiful recording by the late bassist Charlie Haden to whom this rendition is dedicated.
Though the music ends with a warm humbling tribute to a great jazzman, the theme throughout this marvelous recording is overwhelmingly bop and swing and to this end, Vance Thompson's Five Plus Six adds up to numerous moments of pleasure and excitement in an impressive debut and a compelling musical statement from this new ensemble. Thompson seems to affirm the familiar saying "The more, the merrier," while five may be good enough, eleven is even better and the music on Such Sweet Thunder, proves it.
Pannonica; Isfahan; Little Sparrow; Ugly Beauty; Prelude to a Kiss; Rockin’ in Rhythm; Four in One; He’s Gone Away.
Vance Thompson: leader, arranger, trumpet, flugelhorn; Michael Wyatt: trumpet; Joe Jordan: trumpet; Jamel Mitchell: alto, soprano sax; Greg Tardy: tenor sax, bass clarinet; David King: soprano, baritone sax; Tylar Bullion: trombone; Sean Copeland: trombone, bass trombone; Keith Brown: piano, Fender Rhodes; Taylor Coker: bass; Nolan Nevels: drums.
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