Leon Thomas Album
02. I Am
03. Bag's Groove
04. Um, Um, Um
05. Pharoah's Tune (The Journey)
Leon Thomas: vocals, flute, percussion
Ernie Royal: trumpet
Jerome Richardson: alto saxophone
Billy Harper: tenor saxophone
Howard Johnson: baritone saxophone
James Spaulding: flute
Donald Smith: flute
Arthur Sterling: piano
John B. Williams: bass guitar
Bob Cunningham: bass
Roy Haynes: drums
Billy Cobham: drums
Richard "Pablo" Landrum: percussion
Sonny Morgan: percussion
This album alternates between tracks that are on the surface very straight and accessible ("Come Along", "Bag's Groove") and extended tracks that are showcases for the involved jazz musicians as well as Thomas' incredible vocal chords. Some of this may occasionally seem flat, but will almost instantly reveal unexpected depth; some will seem completely out there and will soon turn out to be surprisingly straightforward. Felt all throughout the album is Thomas' almost instinctive ability to excite, at times, such as during "Um, um, um", to a near ecstatic level.
The first three tracks showcase Thomas's talent as a straight-ahead vocalist. All three are top-notch Oliver Nelson arrangements, with the excellent band (featuring Billy Cobham, Billy Harper, Sonny Morgan and Ernie Royal) in superb form on "Come Along" and Thomas giving an especially inspired reading of "Bags' Groove."
It would be unfair to call "Um, Um, Um" merely a teaser for side 2, what with it including an incredible percussion breakdown led by Roy Haynes and one of the most ecstatically powerful vocals of Thomas's career. That being said, the side-long "Pharoah's Tune (The Journey)" is the real meat here, a psychedelic jazz odyssey that ranks among the most tripped-out free music ever. Cobham and Haynes run the two drummer shuffle while Spaulding's flute follows Thomas's voice before busting out into a great solo. The African oboe + bells breakdown is pure bliss and the horn section builds tension until dropping out so John Williams's electric bass can re-introduce the groove and the band can ride it out. Just stunning.
Guest musicians include Roy Haynes, Billy Cobham, Howard Johnson, James Spaulding, Billy Harper and Ernie Royal. Grab this while you can.