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By James Rozzi
Somewhat of a rarity among younger jazz musicians leading their own groups, pianist Isaiah J. Thompson prioritizes his audience’s capacity to comprehend and appreciate his music. All eight originals on Thompson’s third leader date, recorded live at NYC’s Dizzy’s Club, supply the sophistication listeners come to expect from state-of-the-art jazz while retaining a foot-tapping, bluesy energy that coalesces as a real crowd-pleaser.
With his simpatico, well-rehearsed quartet of tenor saxophonist Julian Lee, bassist Philip Norris and drummers TJ Reddick and Domo Branch (playing separate nights), Thompson displays a knowledge of jazz history throughout his highly emotive original music. “The IT Department,” a play on the leader’s initials, is the perfect opener, an exciting medium-up shuffle with the melody in Lee’s tenor doubled by Thompson’s two-fisted piano. As with every tune, Thompson interjects compositional techniques that create interest and excitement: soloist sendoffs, stop-time, vamps and especially changes in dynamic level — soft passages that strategically crescendo to forte.
“The Soul Messenger” opens with a rubato piano solo, showing Thompson’s affinity for pianist McCoy Tyner when Tyner was playing highly spiritual music in Coltrane’s ’60s quartet. Lee’s riff-based blowing plays right into this groove, emphasizing his unique fusion of full-throated Texas-style tenor with Pharoah Sanders-ish cries of exuberance.
Another of the leader’s inspirations is summoned via the breakneck tempo of “For Phineas,” which namechecks the virtuosic pianist Phineas Newborn Jr. And what better retro-tribute than a tune based on “I Got Rhythm” changes altered with churchy harmonies?
Even with a set list so outstanding, the 16-minute title track stands out as a dramatic and spiritual tour de force. The ghosts of Tyner, Trane and Sanders are beckoned again throughout the tune, its continually evolving segments spurring a level of crowd excitement that surely spilled out onto street level after the final note resounded.