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Anthony Wonsey: The Thang

Mark F. Turner By

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Anthony Wonsey's latest disc finds the pianist coming into his own creative voice. Wonsey has been at the center of some very notable works over the past few years, including recordings by trumpeter Nicholas Payton, songstress Carmen Lundy and others. The Thang, his fifth disc as a leader, continues in the straight-ahead format of his label, Sharp Nine Records. While others artists his age are dabbling in freer modes, make no mistake that Wonsey is a skilled artisan who plays with fire, regardless of the genre.

A luminous presence fills the music with soulful overtones, an airy bopping vibe, and music that feels right. The eight selections are split evenly between a trio (with bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Joe Farnsworth) and a quartet (with the ever-strong horn of saxophonist Eric Alexander). The key is that Wonsey and his group know the art and language of the groove, and they speak it well.

Wonsey's playing is like melting butter: smooth. On the bossa-cadenced "Pamela his keys are sophisticated and cool as the rhythm section floats the melody like a gentle wind, with sweet drum work by Farnsworth. Alexander is an understated but powerful saxophonist and he brings the heat on the title selection and "The Paper Chase with fluttery notes, skronks and quick runs.

The record could easily have been a demonstration of rapid solos and hard bop bravado, but instead the music casually entices with a song-like charisma. Enticing numbers like the funky struttin' blues of "The Thang and Stevie Wonder's R&B classic "Overjoyed linger long after they are finished. Even the time-weathered standard "Billy Boy is given a fresh, totally swinging facelift, ending this enjoyable recording.

Track Listing: All The Things You Are; The Thang; Pamela; Hey Jimmy; The Paper Chase; Speak Low; Overjoyed; Billy Boy.

Personnel: Anthony Wonsey: piano; Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone (2,4-6); Nat Reeves: bass; Joe Farnsworth: drums.

Title: The Thang | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Sharp Nine Records

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