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.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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