Pittsburgh-based guitarist Jimmy Ponder strums with his right-hand thumb, a somewhat unorthodox way of approaching the guitar even though it did anything but hold up the late great Wes Montgomery. The bottom line, however, is that it's not so much about how a musician plays, but what he plays. And here, in the presence of bassist Dave Pellow and drummer Cecil Brooks III, Ponder amply demonstrates what he can do musically on Thumbs Up, his first-ever trio recording.
On funky tunes like the title track and "Centerpiece," Ponder grooves hard and gets down with an organic combination of stinging blues licks and satisfyingly sleek, soulful phrases. But he also can make his instrument speak eloquently. His knack for spinning out beautifully shaped melodic lines is evidenced by the sensitive work on the ballads "Body and Soul," which finds Ponder spontaneously interjecting hip chords throughout, and "Angel Eyes," with its healthy serving of tasty octaves. Other highlights include "Watch What Happens" and "Funk Wit Dis."
And while it's anybody's guess as to why Ponder isn't better known, rest assured that the reason doesn't have anything to do with the quality of his playing, which is top flight from start to finish.