Michael Thomas, The Illusion of Choice, Criss Cross ***1/2

Updated with Spotify link, above, on release day 8 March I had been dying to listen to this for weeks and just got a listening copy today. Two reasons why, you know what you are getting with a Criss Cross release and recent releases including Lage …

Published: 15 Feb 2024. Updated: 44 days.

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Updated with Spotify link, above, on release day 8 March

I had been dying to listen to this for weeks and just got a listening copy today. Two reasons why, you know what you are getting with a Criss Cross release and recent releases including Lage Lund's latest have been impressive - the Dutch label provides connoisseur-level small group hard bop and beyond nearly always with a very American sound given that the records are generally recorded on the East Coast. That means even if you don't know the artist you can work out roughly what the environment of the record is going to be which is handy when you want to hear new generation new kids on the block. Secondly, it sounds trite but I liked the title of this album. I don't know why thirtysomething alto saxophonist Michael Thomas, who owes strong lineage to Lee Konitz in some aspects of his craft, and unknown to me before this recording, chose the title. But it's a great notion - I understand it only as a cognitive bias that causes people to believe they have more control over their lives than they actually do. That's a seriously interesting if scary concept and Thomas gives us his hard boiled tunes which perhaps are his own uncontrollable creations just having to get out from inside him. Nearly all originals, the only track I didn't like was the cover of 'It Could Happen To You' although I do like the Jimmy Van Heusen tune from the 1940s a lot.

Check out Lee Konitz's beautiful version with Stefano Bollani on Tenderlee (for Chet) [Philology, 1999] and how different that is when you hear the record to compare Thomas' sound although he has more affinity to it timbrally than the fatter, ringing tone of Charles McPherson's also ace 1970s version with Duke Jordan no less, who made history with Bird, on piano.

Here in Thomas' band are fine pianist Manuel Valera - his recording called Vessel last year was good - double bassist Matt Brewer and Monty Alexander drummer Obed Calvaire. Recorded in September 2023 in New York State the line-up was brought together specially for the recording session. The tough sounding strongly contrapuntal flavour often percolating through the tunes and against the improvisations is very flavoursome and isn't for softies at all. Thomas original 'Darkness and Light' is one of my favourites but all the originals make sense. SG. Out on 1 March

Tags: reviews

Jakub Klimiuk Quintet, (un)balanced ****

l-r Simeon May, Adam Merrell, Jakub Klimiuk, Kinzan, Cody Moss. Thrilling, pun intended: the first thing you hear on (un)balanced is the trilling of saxophonist Simeon May on the very brief call-to-listen opening snippet track 'Study 1.' …

Published: 15 Feb 2024. Updated: 45 days.

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l-r Simeon May, Adam Merrell, Jakub Klimiuk, Kinzan, Cody Moss.

Thrilling, pun intended: the first thing you hear on (un)balanced is the trilling of saxophonist Simeon May on the very brief call-to-listen opening snippet track 'Study 1.'

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Mark Lockheart, above - the Perfect Houseplants and Polar Bear legend is a guest on (un)balanced. Photo: Edition

Then on 'Illusion' it's the majestic sound of Polar Bear legend Mark Lockheart who guests on two tracks of startlingly accomplished newcomer electric guitarist Jakub Klimiuk's album. (Mark's own 12-piece album Smiling incidentally is out on 29 March.) Klimiuk's solo on the same track is full of a jazz-rock swagger landing in a Phil Robson type of sound and very convincing it is too. Later, sexagenarian Lockheart pops up pitting his fabulously throaty sound against the drums of relative whippersnapper age-wise Adam Merrell in an invigorating free-jazz Interstellar Space-type workout, the sort of sound popularised in recent years by Binker and Moses.

Overall beyond the sturm und drang you get far more a monastic sense of being in the woodshed up close and personal hearing stuff develop by the incorporation of these ''study'' tracks but not just these. There's also an ''acoustic'' guitar side to the album on a track like 'Wait' where Klimiuk is more in the territory a player like Tom Ollendorff, boffin of the pristine new-melodic, likes to explore and where May's soloing is more fully fledged.

Dive into Klimiuk's EP from last year Reluctance above first with the same line-up for a good taster of what to expect on the new album out in May

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Who is this Klimiuk chappie I hear you ponder? Polish born, from Gdańsk, the spiritual home of Solidarity, the independent trade union illegal at the time that inspired so many of us teenagers struck by the sheer bravery and rightness of the cause on the flickering TV screens in the 1980s when Lech Wałęsa, future president of the nation, and the shipyard workers rose up against the undemocratic regime of the day, he studied at the Stanisław Moniuszko Academy of Music in the Baltic seaport and graduated from London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama last year.

'Study 2' gives us a chance to hear a little fragment of sublimated, carefully hinted at only but essentially veering towards Jason Moran-like stride piano by way of James P. Johnson from Cody Moss. Highlights also include bassist Kinzan (aka Harry Pearce)'s subtle accompaniment on the ballad 'Dualism' and his veritably dancing comping to Moss' engaged piano line on 'Wait.' The Jakub Klimiuk Group, top. Photo: press. Gigs coming up incude the Vortex, London on 1 May

07.03.24 'Sceptical' Spotify link added