Carei Thomas's debut isn't so much a starting line as it is the tip of an iceberg. Although Thomas has been writing and performing for most of his 64 years (30 of them of them in the Twin Cities), Mining Our Bid'ness is his first proper release, having been preceded by a couple of self-released tapes. Though his discography has been sparse, his ideas haven't: The local pianist/composer's user-friendly compositions lighten the theoretical rigor of avant-jazz with playful humor and friendly tunefulness.
Thomas also strives to let listeners use senses beyond the aural in their appreciation of his work. One of his upcoming projects, aptly titled "Fragrances," is a series of musical pieces designed to evoke pleasant aromas. In the case of Bid'ness, visual images come to the forefront: A fine Judith Lindbloom painting graces the cover; a Thomas score that resembles an abstract pencil sketch decorates the disc; and an accompanying booklet features band portraits by Steven Linsner that are worthy of a poster.
Even the music, mostly recorded at Thomas's 2000 Bryant-Lake Bowl residency, manifests itself as vivid pictures in the listener's mind. "Monsieur Dupree (Cartoon XV)," which appears twice on the disc, is a striking sonic rendering of the imaginary man of the title. On the first version, the Monsieur (whom Thomas envisions being played by Charles Laughton, Sydney Greenstreet, or Orson Welles) treads a bit heavily, but he still has a little raffish spring to his step--as illustrated by William R. Lang's quizzical tenor lines and the rhythm section's angularity. If the first "cartoon" seems like a sketch, the reprise is a fleshed-out portrait. The former's whimsy becomes something more measured and desolate, with the shuffle of Dupree's feet conveyed by drummer Alden Ikeda's brushwork, and his anguish underlined by saxophonist George Cartwright's blue tenor musings.
The rest of the disc follows similar patterns, if different paths. "Magicmysticmaestromentor (4M)," dedicated to reedman and instrument builder Douglas Ewart, starts out as a brisk march whose dignity is undercut by a series of quick tempo changes and stormy interludes by Cartwright and baritone horn player Steve Sandberg. "The Awestruck Waters of Antiquity" begins with an elegant theme tinged with melancholy--which, naturally, is an instant cue for it to be swatted around rambunctiously by wild alto sax and tuba, and tickled by brushes. At other times, the images painted by the group don't seem so distorted. While there are a few Albert Ayler-style frayed edges around the lovely ballad "Baby Baby, Home Buddy," the song is more photorealism than caricature, a study in quiet, comfortable solemnity. Quite the picture, I'd say.
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