Vance Thompson’s Five Plus Six – Such Sweet Thunder – Shade Street Music, 64:15 ****:
(Vance Thompson – trumpet & Flugelhorn; Michael Wyatt – trumpet; Joe Jordan – trumpet; Tylar Bullion – trombone; Sean Copeland – tenor & bass trombone; Keith Brown – piano & Fender Rhodes; Jamel Mitchell – alto & soprano sax; Taylor Coker – bass; Greg Tardy – tenor sax & bass clarinet; Nolan Nevels – drums; David King – baritone & soprano sax)
Five Plus Six is a little big band that swings with grit, musicality, and verve to produce an album that is a clever earful. Such is Such Sweet Thunder. The members of the band are from Knoxville Tennessee and were so entrepreneurially inclined that they raised the money for this project through a crowd-funding site called PledgeMusic. A tip of the hat is deserved to the band on this initiative.
Working from a set list of compositions mostly by Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn and Thelonious Monk, plus a ringer from Dolly Parton, the group commands the arrangements, principally from Vance Thompson, to terrific effect. The band leads off with the first of Monk’s three distinct compositions namely “Pannonica” which was written for the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswater who became one of Monk’s musical patrons. It is given a sprightly rendition here compared to the original ballad intention. Tenor saxophonist Greg Tardy is featured to good effect. “Ugly Beauty” is done with a waltz lilt which takes advantages of the composition’s intricate structure again showcasing Tardy’s tenor sax. The final offering, “Four In One,” is way out of the usual Monk dynamics as it runs in a funky groove with drums, bass, and Fender Rhodes taking the lead.
A surprising entry here is the Dolly Parton tune “ Little Sparrow” on which the band delivers an opening that has some Charles Mingus flourishes and then settles into a more classic but not mundane style. The busy arrangement by Vance Thompson explores a number of harmonic angularities and time signatures that maintain interest in the number. Pianist Keith Brown and tenor-man Tardy do the solo honors.
As for the Ellington/Strayhorn pieces, the four are readily recognizable beginning with Strayhorn’s “ Isfahan” taken from The Far East Suite. Delightful in concept and fastidious in execution, Thompson’s chart utilizes all of the composer’s harmonic ingenuity and tonal magic to bring the number to life. Ellington wrote “Such Sweet Thunder” as part of his concept album by the same name based on the plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare. It was originally dedicated to the Shakespearean Festival at Stratford, Ontario, where Ellington introduced the suite. Here swing is the theme, with plenty of solo space scattered throughout the piece. Accordingly Greg Tardy gives his tenor sax a workout, and pianist Keith Brown evokes memories of the Duke.
This is available as a digital download from Amazon, and there are other vendors carrying the physical CD. In any event it is worth looking for regardless of format. A video about the group’s raising money to make the CD is here.
TrackList: Pannonica; Isfahan; Little Sparrow; Ugly Beauty; Such Sweet Thunder; Prelude To A Kiss; Rockin’ In Rhythm; Four In One; He’s Gone Away