Jazz CD Reviews

Al Thompson, Jr. – City Mainstream – Alcalgar

An unknown keyboardist reveals his penchant for urban music.

Published on April 8, 2013

Al Thompson, Jr. – City Mainstream – Alcalgar 010721, 46:39 [2007/2013] ***1/2:

(Drake Smith, Sr. – arranger (tracks 1-3, 5, 7-9), piano (track 3); Al Thompson, Jr. – keyboard (tracks 4, 6), piano (track 3), vocals (tracks 4, 6); Kris Jensen – saxophones (tracks 1-2, 5, 7-8); Eric Elias – guitar (tracks 1-2, 5, 7-8); David Childs – piano, synthesizers (tracks 1-2, 5, 7-8); Francis Ieraci – acoustic bass (tracks 1-2, 5, 7-8); Roger Post – drums (tracks 1-2, 5, 7-8); Calvin Thomas – keyboard (tracks 4, 6); Chris Herbert – saxophones, arranger (tracks 4, 6); Steve Clarke – bass (tracks 4, 6); Richard Lake – drums (tracks 4, 6); Drake Smith, Jr. – trombone (track 3); Mark Dennis – Flugelhorn (track 3); Jon Saxon – tenor saxophone (track 3); Frank DeMayo and Sean Sheridan – guitar (track 3); Eric Massimino – bass (track 3); Scott Lebish – drums, tambourine (track 3); Addison Thompson – alto saxophone (track 9); Michael Harman – flute (track 9); Jamie Finegan – trumpet (track 9); Robin Simmons – bass (track 9); Doug Simmons – drums (track 9))

There is an unknown quality to pianist Al Thompson’s debut, City Mainstream, which was recorded in 2007 but not released until now. It is not that Thompson’s style of straightforward jazz is obscure, but rather it is Thompson who is unfamiliar. While most musicians work through the ranks of assorted bands before issuing solo records, Thompson apparently studied under a number of music teachers prior to realizing his long-term goal, thus his musical résumé is quite short.

Thompson’s nine originals form a rough concept or theme about a city (no specific one is listed). Each tune has a distinct personality about urban nightlife, driving through neon-lit streets, and the denizens of a small town (it could be in Connecticut, where this album was taped). Throughout, Thompson utilizes different ensembles to bring his detailed music into the spotlight, with various keyboardists, brass sections, bassists and drummers. He also sings on one song (although he’s credited as a vocalist on two). For the most part, Thompson maintains a metropolitan flavor, with cosmopolitan guitar, swinging horns, soulful electric bass which stays in the pocket, and funky synths burbling beneath some arrangements. Two tunes use pursuit as a motif. The erudite opener “The Chase,” has a nimble texture, with an acceleration which evokes one person hastening after another, conceivably someone searching for a fleeing felon, or a wife or husband following his or her philandering partner. The Latin-esque “The Charge” also has a dexterous demeanor, a cinematic characteristic which suggests people moving from one place to another: perhaps a police officer looking for a witness to a crime, or a private detective hired by a shadowy woman to find a particular man. The keyboards, bass and drums have Chick Corea-like attributes (think of his Elektric Band from the 1980s). Pacing is paramount on “High Speed the Ride,” with saxophonist Kris Jensen (who has played with Steve Davis, Mike Dubaniewicz and Richard Boulger) making solid contributions and David Childs providing a groove-inflected electric piano solo. Listeners can almost see two vehicles racing after each other along rain-swept boulevards.

Thompson also can deliver romantic delineations. There is an after-midnight trait during “Memories of a Moonlit Night,” which unhurriedly develops: maybe this is a tribute to a vanished lover seen one evening but lost to view around the next corner. Jensen is given plenty of room to improvise on Thompson’s polished melody, and Childs (on acoustic piano) also offers a memorable solo highlight. An amorous penchant also filters through “A Man in Love,” where Thompson presents his low-key vocals, and his minimal lyrics, which are concise and to the point. Two tunes which stand out are the title track, and Thompson’s lengthiest piece, the concluding “8th Avenue Safari.”  “City Mainstream” has a notable melodic design and a light funk feel, with a noteworthy arrangement by Drake Smith, Sr. (who arranges seven cuts), while his son, the teenaged Drake Smith, Jr., augments the horn section with his friendly trombone. It will be interesting to hear what Thompson comes up with next: possibly a trio outing to showcase his piano; or a quartet setting where he can display some close communication between keys and a single horn.

TrackList: The Chase; Memories of a Moonlit Night; City Mainstream; A Man in Love; From the Beginning; The Charge; High Speed the Ride; One Town One People; 8th Avenue Safari.

—Doug Simpson

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