Al Thompson Jr. “City Mainstream”

Released: March 5, 2013

Tracks:
1. The Chase
2. Memories of a Moonlit Night
3. City Mainstream
4. A Man In Love
5. From The Beginning
6. The Charge
7. High Speed The Ride
8. One Town One People
9. 8th Ave. Safari

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Improvijazznation Nation Article by Rodcod Zzaj: What this highly energetic 9-song CD does is establishes Al as one of the “timeless” jazz artists we all have to have in our collections… especially on tracks like “From The Beginning” – this kind of jazz takes me back to my earliest days as a fan of the genre! “The Chase”, the opener, is totally high-speed, too… you can almost see yourself careening ’round those city street corners! It was actually the close-out track, “8th Avenue Safari”, that got my vote for favorite track, though… straight-ahead jazz with lots of mystery and feeling involved (just like any big-city street corner these days, I imagine). I give Al & crew a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98.

By John Shelton Ivany: I love the economy, in that blues/jazz beat of Al Thompson Jr.’s album “City Mainstream.” It’s not enough to be a great songwriter, as he is. You then have to turn that song into a stream of great songs into a great album, as “City Mainstream” is.

Critical Jazz Article by Brent Black: Subtle elegance and classic swing seem to have been locked away in the jazz witness protection program for some time. Could it be that there is really not much more you can do with the music itself or could it be modern musicians feel the music may have gone out of style on its own.

A good melody, lyrical direction and a tight band no matter what genre you call your own are the building blocks for any good music and that especially includes jazz and their plethora of sub genres rivaling only a bank where you can always find a Vice President of “something.” There amazing gift Thompson Jr. brings to the band stand would be far reaching influenced from Scott Joplin to Claude Debussy with the end result a contemporary swing for the ages that sound and seems all most timeless in both an approach from a compositional aspect as well as performance.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that co-composer Calvin Thomas played an integral role in bringing the musical vision of Al Thompson Jr. to life. Moving from an out of this world tune such as “The Chase” to the cinematic quality of “Memories Of A Moonlit Night” it would not be too far our of bounds to say that Thompson Jr.’s compositional skills are every bit as formidable as those of his performance repertoire. “City Mainstream” has the sound of a classic tune that came from the small screen. Drake Smith Sr. does a remarkable job on piano and trombone on this tune. Drake Smith Sr. is also responsible for arranging 7 of the 9 tunes here where a collaborative effort is the rule not the exception. An incredible performance is turned in by 15 year old trombonist Drake Smith Jr. also proving the apple does not fall far from the family tree.

Al Thompson Jr. can do what most pianists/composers can only dream of, he can paint vivid imagery with his performance and transcend the norm and the expected into a harmonic journey where the imagination of the listener is the tour guide with the individual simply needing to listen to their inner voice to see where the music will take them. From funk, to straight ahead jazz standards and back Al Thompson Jr. puts the fun back in jazz. When the straight ahead community is up to their eye balls in those pursuing the academic side of jazz theory it is most refreshing to find a talent that follows the zen like less is more when it comes to both theory and composition. The diversity contained herein speaks for itself.

An incredibly entertaining set with 4 solid stars to take with it!

Acoustic Music Article by Mark S. Tucker: The title to Al Thompson Jr.’s ‘City Mainstream’ is something of a bit of tongue-in-cheekery even if it wasn’t intended that way. Yes, the CD’s indeed quite mainstream generically but decidedly unorthodox within those confines. Thompson has taken inspiration from, among others, Miles, Scott Joplin, and even Debussy, the lattermost of which is sometimes surprisingly evident, especially in songs like the title cut, which blends Claude with the Gershwin Bros. Then there’s Eric Massimo’s bass piping up outspokenly amid it all but quite apart from, say, the vocabulary of Bootsy Collins and kindred more unusual four-stringers. The outcome of everything, though, is more in the Gil Evans and Maynard Ferguson vein, with a bit of Mancini at the periphery. Then there are the quotations of Stuff, the echoes of Dave Matthews (the big band guy, not the actor / rock icon), the cops from Quincy Jones, and a wealth of other tasty intrusions. I mention Matthews, but Thompson’s compositions and especially the arrangements by well chosen partners are far more satisfying than Dave’s. Start with The Chase to understand this fully: it’s more ornate, warmer, less clinical, and possesses a more definably adventurous spirit. Then catch Thompson’s piano work in From the Beginning. It’s going to have Bob James sitting up at night, taking notice. Again: mainstream but oh so much more. That may be James’ peculiar genius, but Thompson feels it through the back alleys and sewer gratings, not just the street lights and neon signs. Where James would be melodiously banging away in a swanky uptown nightclub, Thompson would be at home in a smoke-filled git-down in Harlem—and so would I—and probably you too.

An interesting factor to this CD is the fact that not only did Thompson write or co-write everything, not only did he produce or co-produce it all, not only did he mix many tracks, but he also chose several of the musicians to likewise tend to mixing duties and thus ended up with a singular atmosphere. I’ve never come across anything quite like that, and the effect gives us what the musicians wanted and what their ears were hearing. The band size ranges from quartet to sextet, but each track is robust and full blooded, and more than a few listeners are going to be surprised at the trombone chops of 15-year old Drake Smith Jr., whose dad arranged over half the CD.

All About Jazz Article by Edward Blanco: Known for favoring bebop as well as jazz standards from the Great American Song Book, Bridgeport, Connecticut-based jazz pianist/composer Al Thompson Jr. delivers his first album as leader presenting a set of nine original straight ahead compositions recorded with a combination of groups from a quintet to a light ensemble—all nicely packaged on City Mainstream. Don’t be deceived by the art work cover, the name of the album or the “city” theme of the disc, as the terrific music encountered here is not a product of the big city scene. In fact, all of the music was recorded in the small Connecticut towns of Bridgeport, New Haven and West Haven, with a total combined population that would still fall short of the amount of residents living in the smallest borough of New York City. Needless to say, Thompson’s groups could have performed anywhere, if they wanted to leave a big city impression with their muscular sound, they certainly succeeded.

Two people instrumental to the realization of this recording are friend Calvin Thomas who co-wrote four of the original compositions, and producer/arranger Drake Smith who also lends his talents on the trombone and piano. The first sextet does the honors on five of the pieces beginning with “The Chase” followed by the romantic “Memories of a Moonlit Night” featuring David Childs string-like synthesizer behind tenor saxophonist Kris Jensen, who provides a beautiful warm-toned solo lead making this tune a highlight of the album. The up tempo lively title track documents the only appearance of the largest (eight-piece ensemble) cast showcasing the additional instrumental voices of the flugelhorn, guitar and tambourine.

One of the bright moments invoking images of a bustling crowd walking briskly on a downtown Manhattan side walk, comes from the fast-paced “From The Beginning.” The two quintet formats here find Thompson and Thomas joining forces on their original (co-written) “A Man In Love,” and on “The Charge” where the friends share duties with the keyboards. Saxophonist Jensen takes much of the center stage on the soaring, almost funky-like “High Speed The Ride” revealing a change in direction and texture from the majority of the session.

The music comes to a delightful climax on the two last pieces where the first sextet polishes off a gorgeous melody on “One Town One People” only to be eclipsed by the other sextet combo performing the seven and a half-minute mainstream closer “8th Avenue Safari” in a live setting. Bringing a variety of influences to the session, Al Thompson Jr. wanted to evoke images of a city in perpetual motion and whether that comes across here with this music, is uncertain. What is clear however, are the challenging Thompson compositions of City Mainstream shinning bright big city lights on an album well worth illuminating.

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[CITY MAINSTREAM PREVIEW + PURCHASE]
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Personnel:
Al Thompson Jr.: piano
Kris Jensen: saxophones
Eric Elias; guitar
David Childs: piano & synthesizers
Francis Ieraci: acoustic bass
Roger Post: drums
Calvin Thomas: keyboard
Chris Hebert: saxophones, arranger
Steve Clarke: bass
Drake Smith Jr. trombone, piano
Mark Dennis: flugelhorn
Jon Sexton: tenor saxophone
Frank DeMayo: guitar
Sean Sheriden: guitar
Eric Massimino: bass
Scott Lebish: drums, tambourine
Addison Thompson: alto saxophone
Michael Harris: flute
Jamie Finegan: trumpet
Robin Simmons: bass
Doug Simmons: drums
Drake Smith: arranger

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