By: Oluyemi Thomas
Released in: 2006
Catalog No: MW 771-2
Price : 12 EUR
1. Nigeria (After Orie & Benjamin) [15:01]
2. Conversation With Yourself [04:23]
3. Recreated By Fire [11:43]
4. Homeward Bound [01:23]
5. Byrd Song [02:50]
6. Life Long Journey [02:54]
7. Prayer [02:53]
8. Silently Speaking [03:49]
9. The Other Side Of Self [11:35]
Oluyemi Thomas - bass clarinet, musette, bell, voice
Kenn Thomas - piano, electric piano
Eugene Wilson IV - electric bass
Howard Byrdsong - drums
Featuring West Coast mystery man, Oluyemi Thomas on bass clarinet, musette & bells, Kenn Thomas on piano & el. piano, Eugene Wilson IV on electric bass and Howard Byrdsong on drums. This is a departure for our favorite Oakland-based reeds hero, Oluyemi, who most often records with his wife Ijeoma in Positive Knowledge. Oluyemi always finds kindred spirits whenever he goes, so here too he has put together a great like-minded quartet that can follow him anywhere as well as help navigate the rapids with inspired results. Free and focused and pretty phenomenal.
(Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery)
Oluyemi Thomas was born in Detroit, Michigan. He studied at Washtenaw College in Ann Arbor, Michigan where he received an Associate of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. While attending Washtenaw College, he also studied music and the spiritual and physical nature of sound & silence. Great love and respect for the Arts is regarded as a gem to his parents who passed this on to him and his sisters and brothers. In his childhood years his mother & father often listened to the masters Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday. As a creative musician, performer, recording artist teacher and engineer, Mr. Thomas seeks to express his abiding love for the hidden power of Art. Oluyemi’s primary focus is to touch the inner core of individuals, be it in a forum, radio, television, recording or on the bandstand. For two decades he & his lovely wife poet Ijeoma have been members of the music and poetry unit Positive Knowledge. (Bass Clarinet/Saxophone) He may be heard on Music & Arts, Ear Light Records, Eremite, Rastascan & BMG labels. His travels to Africa, the Middle East & Europe are elements he brings to the mix. Oluyemi’s experience in sharing musical language utterance include the great Cecil Taylor, Wadada Leo Smith, Alan Silva, William Parker, Wilber Morris, John Tchicai, Roscoe Mitchell and wonderful conversations with Anthony Braxton and Charles Gayle. Mr. Oluyemi believes “The musician’s art is among those arts worthy of the highest praise”… and “Music should lead to spirituality”…
Encouraged by the recent strong releases on the Polish Not Two label, I took a deeper look in their catalogue and came across this album, led by Oluyemi Thomas on bass clarinet and musette, with Ken Thomas on piano and synthesizer, Eugene Wilson IV on fretless electric bass and Howard Byrdsong on drums. And this record is unusual, if only because it's rare to find free jazz albums with both synthesizer and fretless bass. OK, David S. Ware has done experiments with synth and so did Joe McPhee, but the use here is more sparse, more functional, less intrusive. The album is a kind of suite, without pauses between the tracks, reinforcing the very strong musical unity, and an incredible raw poetic power. From the very beginning the four musicians are into the music, led by drums and piano, with the screeching, howling cries of the bass clarinet soaring through the space, evolving into a very intense and more uptempo moment, just to calm down again and to soften on the tones of the synthesizer, which often acts as the glue between new themes, and - strangely enough - creates a soft warmth throughout. Two long tracks begin and end the CD, with in between some shorter pieces on which each musician gets his solo moment, breaking down the music to its four bare constituents, and each doing a great job with the received time. The last track "The Other Side Of Self", continues in the more subdued, meditative style of the solo pieces, but quickly gains in intensity, counter rhythms while the shrill sounds of the musette tear the peace to pieces, yet ending the whole again in a more meditative duo of piano and drums. Thomas is not an absolute top clarinet-player, but he is extremely expressive, as is his music. Raw poetic power, I can't find any other words for it.
With the exception of the Eremite duo with Alan Silva, Transmissions, I've been somewhat bemused if not underwhelmed by recent appearances on disc of "the magical mystery man from the West Coast", as William Parker once memorably described Oluyemi Thomas, but there's something about this latest outing that keeps me coming back for more. Put it down to the instrumentation as much as anything: free jazz albums featuring synthesizers and fretless bass are certainly thin on the ground, so it's refreshing to hear Kenn Thomas's keyboard work (even if the synth isn't actually credited on the album itself) and Eugene Wilson IV's fat, rubbery bass behind Oluyemi's strangely touching bass clarinet bleats and smears. Fire Music is very much alive and well these days, it seems – see elsewhere in these pages, and witness the explosion of interest in cats like Paul Flaherty and the much trumpeted release on ESP of Frank Wright's Unity (talking of Alan Silva, I had the man on the phone before Christmas fuming about that particular release, but we'll leave Bernard Stollman to field questions of proprietorship..) – so it makes a welcome change to come across a free jazz album that manages to steer clear both of post hardbop stylings and all out neural meltdown. And even if the opening "Nigeria (After Orie & Benjamin)" eventually moves into the kind of harmonic territory you'd normally associate with Masada, the way Wilson's bass prowls around the Phrygian undergrowth is certainly striking. The nine tracks follow on from each other without a break to form a coherent and satisfying suite of pieces. All are credited to Oluyemi, though "Life Long Journey" is a solo piano spot for Kenn (and a curious one too, somewhere between Burrell and Ravel) and the following "Prayer" finds Wilson bubbling and gurgling away Pastorius-like to himself. On the closing "The Other Side Of Self" Oluyemi takes up the musette where the late great Dewey Redman left off (though it should be added that this was recorded back in September 2001), sensitively backed by Byrdsong's deft if discreet cymbal flecks and Wilson's springy bass, while Kenn once more tries to pull the strands together into some sort of modal logic, before giving up altogether and heading out into cluster country just over halfway through. It's an intriguing end to an intriguing album, and there's nothing more intriguing than the photograph of a snowcapped mountain peak with pine forests that adorns the inside of the gatefold. If that's Nigeria, I'm Sonny Rollins.
(Dan Warburton, Paris Trans Atlantic)