Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Leron Thomas – Around You

Trumpeter/composer Leron Thomas’ new cd is an album of beautiful ballads: it’s tempting to ask, is this a joke? Thomas has a distinctive, sometimes brutally sardonic sense of humor, and a vastly more diverse sensibility than he lets onto here. To see him go in such a traditional jazz direction, so effortlessly and unselfconsciously, it only makes sense to wonder if he has something up his sleeve. This is Blue Note stuff, Newport stuff, accessible yet brimming with inspired contributions from a well-chosen supporting cast: Lage Lund on guitar, Frank LoCrasto on acoustic and electric piano, Burniss Earl Travis on bass and electric bass and Jamire Williams on drums. From the photo on the album cover, Thomas doesn’t look any happier than he would if he was opening for Chris Botti (somebody he’d blow off the bandstand: then again, so would a whole lot of good jazz players). But when he picks up his horn…wow. Vividly lyrical and expressive, the melodies jump out and linger memorably: you can hum this stuff to yourself in the street.

The opening track, Doc Morgan works its way methodically into a slow triplet rhythm which Williams tosses playfully, the rest of the band in turn echoing Thomas’ terse, distantly bluesy explorations with a similar purist touch. The suspiciously titled Conformed Retro mines a subtle, tuneful bossa vibe for all the balminess Thomas can muster, yet for all its trad overtones, the playing isn’t cliched, particularly when he picks up the energy. The contrast between Lund’s eighth-note flights and Williams’ terse, solid snare-and-cymbal is awfully compelling too, as is LoCrasto when he introduces a brisk tectonic shift and the band has no choice but to follow. Wordless Fable, for all its unassuming warmth, hints at a resolution but won’t go there – and then it’s over.

So what is Paycheck Players about? Dudes who are broke all week because they bought so many drinks for girls on Friday night? Or is it a stab at mercenary musicians? LoCrasto’s spritely, tongue-in-cheek electric piano offers a hint. The album closes with the title track, a gorgeous, contemplative song without words that reminds of Harold Arlen, particularly at the end: somebody should give this one lyrics. Who is the audience for this? Your typical Newport/Blue Note jazz crowd. It’s almost as if Thomas is saying, “I can do this as well as anybody in the business, almost without trying.” No joke.

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July 20, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Leron Thomas – Improvsensation

This one is over the map stylistically, which is actually a strong point for Houston-born trumpeter/composer Leron Thomas since he so defiantly resists categorization. The hilarious rant on the cd booklet’s liner notes is worth the price of the cd by itself, Thomas railing knowingly and aptly against the incompetence and shortsightedness of the dying major labels, band managers who are no more than glorified groupies, and the rigid groupthink that pervades so many of the various New York music scenes, from jazz to pop. As with the liner notes, there’s a lot of anger here, tempered with a disquieting sense of humor that nonetheless is often laugh-out-loud funny. There are a couple of indie rock songs here, the best being the opening cut, an insistent indie rock song with raw, eerie harmonies on the chorus by Thomas’ frequent collaborator Michael Severson. Another, Cut & Paste shares a sarcasm with much of the rest of the album: “I just cut and paste my life.”

Sandmen is sardonically minimalist hip-hop, obviously dating from the days of the Bush regime: “When you see that girl’s ass what you thinking about? Oil, baby!” The next cut, Sanitation Truck is more hip-hop, a bizarre early-morning urban tableau. The inscrutable Kitchen blends an early 80s Midnight Starr proto-hiphop feel with Kool Keith-style weirdness. A couple of instrumentals, When Zelda Replaced GI Joe and In the Silence match lo-fi, clangy guitar with Thomas’ balmy, pensive trumpet. Pearly Whites is sarcastic, Beatlesque pop that grows unabashedly menacing toward the end, a feel echoed earlier by the completely bizarre What’s Done Happen.

Time Travelin’ Love is a funny funk/rap number, a broke guy trying to pick up a girl; EnVino is a drinking song – if Bob Marley’s drug of choice was wine instead of weed, he would have sounded like this. The cd winds up with Fashion, lo-fi Prince-inflected funk bemoaning shallowness all around him; the wee-hours rant 2:34 AM and the sly empowerment anthem Spoils. This is a very strange yet a very honest and straightforwardly compelling album. Whatever direction Thomas wants to go in – he may want to bounce between all of these, which is perfectly ok – this cd is a very entertaining way to get to know him.

July 2, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment