Friday, December 18, 2015

Leon Thomas - 1969 - Spirits Known and Unknown

Leon Thomas 
Spirits Known and Unknown

01 The Creator Has A Master Plan (Peace)   
02 One   
03 Echoes   
04 Song For My Father   
05 Damn Nam (Ain't Goin' To Vietnam)   
06 Malcolm's Gone   
07 Let The Rain Fall On Me   

Leon Thomas: vocals, percussion, flute
James Spaulding: alto saxophone, flute
Lonnie L. Smith, Jr.: piano
Richard Davis: bass
Cecil McBee: bass
Roy Haynes: drums
Richard Landrum: bongos
Little Rock (Pharoah Sanders): tenor saxophone

Leon Thomas (Oct 4, 1937 – May 8, 1999) was an American jazz singer, who made his mark in 1969, singing "The Creator Has a Master Plan" with Pharoah Sanders and showing that even avant-garde jazz can become popular under some circumstances. A fairly conventional singer, the most unusual aspect to Thomas was that he often broke out into yodelling in the middle of a vocal, a device since utilized occasionally by James Moody.

He also appeared as a sideman in many situations, including on a Louis Armstrong 1970 record and with Carlos Santana (who he worked with in 1973-1974). Thomas died of heart failure on May 8, 1999 .

I've got a real love for Leon Thomas' brand of soulful avant-jazz - it's bombastic , highly individualistic (..that yodelly scat-singing he constantly breaks into is hypnotic, makes me wonder if Demetrio Stratos ever gave this one a spin) and on songs like Master Plan, Song for My Father and Malcolm's Gone there's a palpable mood that's deepy involving. Irritatingly underrated.

This album is a less calculated attempt than its follow-up, "The Leon Thomas Album," to showcase Thomas's immense and versatile talents and as a result is a considerably more laid back affair.  The first side of the record is especially calm, with peaceful performances of "The Creator Has a Master Plan" and "Song For My Father" being the highlight.  Thomas does let loose a bit on "One," unleashing his trademark yodeling style and showing off some great scat singing unlike much else in his catalog.

The second side livens things up a bit with the rant "Damn Nam," an anti-war song that spices things up before "Malcolm's Gone," which is presumably the sort of thing people who were listening to this in 1969 would have expected:  an avant-garde collaboration with Pharoah Sanders that sees both men testing the limits of their respective instruments.  The result is breathtaking.  Thomas cools things down on the last number, "Let the Rain Fall on Me," which re-establishes the calm mood of the side's first half.  This is a nice album for a relaxed afternoon, not too challenging but not pure ambiance either.

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