Puzzle Pieces by
– reviewed by Chris Mann
You can read the full biography of New Jersey born Bryant
Thompson on his excellent
website (link below). I’m going to
ask you to do just that because I want to get on and talk
about what’s on the latest disc from this astonishing
composer/musician/producer – “Puzzle Pieces”
I’m already hooked by the easy but relentless groove of
‘Movado’. The bass just does its thing while a muted trumpet
doubles the piano. Touches of percussion and some nice
synthesizer washes combine with the solid groove and melody to
draw you in. Oh wow!
‘Reflections of Time’ is a slower piece, using the muted
trumpet in a different way for dramatic effect. The Latin feel
to this track comes from the deft rimshots and some subtle
acoustic guitar. There are some keyboard touches in here that
remind me of some of my favourite contemporary jazz from the
late 90’s. The whole arrangement is fabulous, I have to say,
with nothing that needs to be added or removed.
‘Selah’ has a more urban feel and a very smoky alto sax sound
courtesy of Mike Burton. I enjoy Donna Hairston’s deceptively
busy bassline too. Add background vocals, turn up the fire
under the sax and the passion really builds towards the end of
Crystal clear piano opens the lovely ‘Stargazing’. The
doubling of sax and electric guitar lines and the way the
soprano sax cuts through on the melody make this song stick in
my mind and I think this would be a great choice for a single.
‘Love Notes’ is a slow solo piano piece which unfolds over
almost 8 minutes and is reminiscent of pensive pieces I have
heard from Marcus Johnson and Joe Sample. It’s spellbinding
and allows the listener to appreciate Bryant’s technique. As
usual (and I can’t explain why) I keep one ear open for music
that would sound great on a film soundtrack – this song is it
Layers of percussion build the basis for ‘Free Your Mind’. The
melody is played on bass à la Braxton Brothers by Darrell
Freeman. He also takes an adventurous solo as the song’s chord
structure suddenly takes a darker turn. A lot happens in this
Funk-hunters can go to ‘Shadowboxer’ for their fix. The rhythm
is funk with a nice smooth edge and the lovely semi-acoustic
guitar sound of Eric Essix, of whom I’ve long been a fan.
Catchy and melodic in equal measure, again this has all the
elements of the best contemporary jazz I’ve been enjoying for
the past 15 years.
A step up in pace and some sweet female background vocals make
‘Do You Know You’ instantly appealing. Throw in the guitar of
Anthony Papamichael and you have a song you could (and maybe
will) have in your head all day.
I love the staccato rhythm of ‘Japonica Avenue’. It’s built
from Sam Sims’ sparse bassline, Joey Gonzalez’ light touch on
percussion and that innate ‘groove’ that I can’t describe but
the nodding of my head as I type this tells me is definitely
in the house.
The album closes on as classy a note as it opens with the jazz
and funky ‘Perfect Timing’. Ahh yes, I was trying to find a
comparison for those brass stabs – Incognito. Some great horn
work marks the transitions from peaceful to energetic in this
complex composition. I love it because it never throws the
listener off track despite its mood changes and the way it
jumps off the beat near the end.
I’ve made a number of comparisons with other artists here and
I’ve talked about the contributions made by the other
musicians on this record, but let me make this quite clear:
Bryant Thompson has his own sound. All ten songs were written
and produced by him and though he gives his collaborators a
lot of the limelight, his touch is everywhere – a fact I’ll
become even more aware of as I listen more, and I will be
listening a lot more.
BryCel Productions. Producer – Bryant Thompson