Neil Swainson & Don Thompson – Tranquility – Cornerstone Records

Neil Swainson & Don Thompson – Tranquility – Cornerstone Records DRST CD 141, 58:30 ****:

(Neil Swainson – bass; Don Thompson – piano)

Two well-respected and highly regarded performers on the Canadian jazz scene, bassist Neil Swainson and multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson, have combined for a debut bass-piano recording entitled Tranquility that demonstrates that the accolades they have earned separately over the years were more than justified.

Both these artists began their early careers in British Columbia, moved to the United States for a period with Swainson working with The Paul Horn Quintet and Thompson spending some time with the John Handy Quintet. Additionally they each played bass for George Shearing with Swainson replacing Thompson in 1986. Subsequently both took up residence in Toronto where they have been leading exponents of their craft.

In this session, the nine tracks are a mixture of covers of some familiar and lesser-known compositions, with one original by Neil Swainson, entitled “Tranquil”. It would have been nice to report that this album was a ground-breaking effort, with the music leaping from the speakers, but alas, that is not the case. Although Swainson is a bassist of absolute technical facility, Thompson is a pianist of indeterminate style who, while in full command of the instrument, does not push the boundaries of the keyboard. Be that as it may, the duo starts out with a tricky bit of bebop with Charlie Parker’s “Quasimodo” which Parker originally recorded in 1947 with his sextet for Dial Records. In order to avoid the cliché of opening a tune with a standard reading of the melody for “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and “I Remember You” Swainson and Thompson have opted for oblique introductions rendered in a flurry of notes, with the melody eventually discernible as the composition unfolds.

“Tranquil” by Neil Swainson opens with his bass establishing the framework for the piece, then Thompson picks up the line with some lovely single-note playing that continues the introspective and meditative mood. Swainson then comes back in with an expressive solo demonstrating that he has a solid sense of self. As the album continues to unfold with the musicians displaying their communicative flexibility a couple of tunes standout. Henry Mancini’s “Mr. Lucky” is a sprightly charmer that dances along with a swinging gate which opens up to a bright solo from Swainson. Thompson seems to find a groove that suits his style with some of the best improvisation on the album. The closer “Never Let Me Go” starts with Swainson stating the theme in the bass’s upper register, then Thompson segues with some ruminations on the melody that demonstrates his solid grasp of  the tune’s underpinnings. Swainson then re-enters the piece to establish his profuse technique.

Track List: Quasimodo; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; I Remember You; Tranquil; A Face Like Yours; Time Remembered; Mr. Lucky; Everybody’s Song But My Own; Never Let Me Go

—Pierre Giroux

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