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Vance Thompson's Five Plus Six: Such Sweet Thunder

Jack Bowers By

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For the mathematically challenged, Vance Thompson's Five Plus Six equals eleven. In other words, it's Thompson's working quintet, the Marble City Five, amplified by half a dozen horns. On its debut recording, the Knoxville, TN-based ensemble performs music by Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Thelonious Monk and—brace yourself—country singer Dolly Parton. In fact, Parton's "Little Sparrow," the album's longest-playing track at 10:21, lends itself surprisingly well to the jazz idiom, thanks in part to Thompson's engaging chart, as does the Appalachian folk song "He's Gone Away" (dedicated to bassist Charlie Haden who died July 11, 2014).

The session opens brightly with Monk's "Pannonica," the first of three urbane compositions by the anomalous pianist (the others are "Ugly Beauty" and "Four in One"). Strayhorn wrote "Isfahan" and co-wrote "Such Sweet Thunder" with Ellington whose "Prelude to a Kiss" and "Rockin' in Rhythm" round out the program. "Kiss" was arranged by pianist Keith Brown, "Four in One" by Brown and his father, the well-known pianist / educator (and former Jazz Messenger) Donald Brown, to whom the album is dedicated. Thompson, founder of the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, arranged everything else.

"Thunder" hurries along in a lightly swinging groove, while "Kiss" rests comfortably in a straight-eight framework and "Rockin' in Rhythm" does exactly that—indeed, it may even be a tad too busy for some tastes. "Isfahan" nods to the blues, "Four in One" to contemporary funk accentuated by bass and drums. Among the soloists, Thompson, Brown and tenor saxophonist Greg Tardy, another member of Thompson's quintet, are most often heard, but there are nice turns by bassist Taylor Coker on "Such Sweet Thunder" and alto James Mitchell on "Four in One." Brown's solos, especially, are models of acuity and taste, and he moves effortlessly from piano to Fender Rhodes to add color on "Kiss" and "Four in One." A player to watch. Tardy, perhaps the best-known member of the group, has something interesting to say whenever his he is asked to step forward and make his sentiments known.

Thompson's idea to expand the quintet was a good one, and Such Sweet Thunder proves a splendid way in which to introduce his Five Plus Six to listeners beyond the Knoxville area. Well done.

Track Listing: Pannonica; Isfahan; Little Sparrow; Ugly Beauty; Prelude to a Kiss; Rockin’ in Rhythm; Four in One; He’s Gone Away.

Personnel: 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.

Title: Such Sweet Thunder | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Shade Street Music

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