Valse Sinistre is one of the year's best records so far and here's the Freedom of Ideas pianist Micah Thomas from the marvellous Billy Drummond record on the classic Harold Arlen ballad 'Over the Rainbow' drawn from Thomas' upcoming Piano Solo.
A standard that you are more or less guaranteed to hear on a regular basis when jazz musicians honed in the classic traditions of the Great American Songbook are gathered together, on recent form Thomas has suddenly accelerated into the A league artistically on the basis of just these recordings and not to forget his dazzling album Tide going back further.
As to why he's so special the study of touch is part of it and for the fact that you can't just say he is a stylist. I hear shards of Fred Hersch perhaps only. Thomas manages to make the ballad timeless without being at all rinky dink and takes the melody for a walk on less travelled paths without being obscurantist.
From Piano Solo a 2020 recording made in Brooklyn's Big Orange Sheep studio out on LP 3 45/Diggers Factory Records on 15 September the ultimate test is to listen in all trepidation to it against Keith Jarrett's version on La Scala (released by ECM in 1997).
There is deft reharmonisation in the Thomasian changes of tempo, echoes of the Harlem renaissance perhaps a little Willie 'The Lion' Smith somehow and ideas in parenthesis snuck in organically and more. Maybe only the unique stillness that Jarrett solely is privy to the entry code for and knows how to uniquely alchemise is absent.
For its in the moment feel, sweep of historical perspective, tenderness and more beyond pure virtuosity Thomas' nevertheless stacks up extremely well.
We are not saying Thomas is the next Keith Jarrett or sounds anything like him. But you have to marvel at what he does here journeying to the heart of the melody like Jarrett and few others can do and realise that in tandem with the key role Thomas plays within the fabric of Valse Sinistre what a significant future the American surely has if the right dice fall into his lap somehow. You still may not know his name. But for how long that will be the case the odds are dramatically shortening. SG
Detail from the Piano Solo art, above