Thoughts on God
Eric Person

No matter one's religious inclinations, the music of saxophonist Eric Person's 12-part Thoughts on God suite will warm the soul and spark the spirit. Person's fifth release on his Distinction Records label, and his first orchestral work, this is probably his greatest achievement to date in a career in which he has performed with the likes of McCoy Tyner, David Murray, the John Hicks Big Band, Dave Holland, the World Saxophone Quartet, and his own Meta-Four and Metamorphosis groups. In formulation since 1984, Person says of Thoughts on God, "The music embodies my creative beliefs--respect for tradition, the spirit of innovation, the spiritual essence, harmonious collaboration and a message that says 'Thank You' to the Most High." Person's arrangements of his 12 diverse compositions are stimulating and inspiring, and the 13-piece band plays their parts--whether streamlined or very often complex--with enthusiasm and relish. Among the soloists heard are Person on alto and soprano, Patience Higgins on tenor and clarinet, Sylvester "Sly" Scott on tenor, Craig Bailey on flute, Scott Robinson on baritone, Duane Eubanks and James Zollar on trumpets, Bryan Carrott on vibes, Adam Klipple on piano, and Shinnosuke Takahashi on drums. (Thanks to the Kickstarter fan-funded program for enabling us to enjoy this wonderful music.)

"All Those with Ears Hear" (from the Book of Revelations) has Klipple's worshipful prelude leading to a surprisingly rejoiceful ensemble theme propelled by Takahashi's backbeat. Person's alto solo simmers and then boils over with bursting, ecstatic phrases. The dynamic harmonic interaction between the sax and brass sections is a key part of this superb Person arrangement. "And Then There was Light" (from Genesis) is introduced by a "Maiden Voyage"-like vamp prior to the forthright staccato theme, again enhanced by the give-and-take between sections. Person's solo is a whirling dervish of exclamations and heated passages. The intricately devised concluding segment is both well-executed and stirring. The stalking opening of "Creation Celebration" dissolves into a riffing melody line from the saxes, with interspersed outbursts by the brass before they join in unison. Bassist Adam Armstrong delivers the next stair-stepping motif, soon amplified by the full ensemble's legato tones. The bustling contrapuntal and unison work from this point on is marvelously conceived and heartily performed.

Armstrong plays the spiritual melody of "Soothes the Soul" with Klipple in harmonious accord. The ballad theme is then repeated with trumpets and flutes on top, in delicate and glowing balance, with a connecting bridge for good measure. Higgins' winsome, understated clarinet solo precedes the glorious return of flutes and muted trumpets in gracious conversation. The saxophones blend sympathetically in conveying the cordially optimistic theme of "Never Far from His Grace," with Robinson's baritone supplying fills and the brass adding counter lines to complete this substantial aural feast. Higgins' tenor improv has a yearning, tender quality and is followed by a final dramatically rousing orchestral section. "Back to Center" is announced by Klipple's scalar passage with ringing chords, and then an Armstrong bass interlude, until the boisterous theme is unveiled by first the saxophones and soon the brass in rich counterpoint. Eubanks' mellow trumpet solo makes way for a compelling outing by Robinson, and Person's alto has the last communicative, summarizing say before the band's bold and bracing reprise.

Person's soprano regales us with the dancing melody of "Song of Praise," while Carrott's vibes provide tranquil asides. The full ensemble joins in smooth harmony for the reiteration, setting up Carrott's surging solo. The subsequent unison passages are persuasively articulated, as are the bristling polyphonic declarations that serve as the finale to this typically eloquent arrangement. Unison saxes present the rising legato melodic line of "Joy Complete," before a more vigorous interval of driving vamps. Nimble and earnest solos by Klipple and Scott's tenor raise the intensity level, with the latter's provoking quick responses from the band. A subdued atmosphere suddenly prevails as Person pontificates on alto with fluent power, a mixture of strength and suppleness. The closing written part is an exalting tempest characterized by swirling arpeggiated lines and fleeting shout outs. Carrott's vibes and a swaying Latin beat build to the serene theme of "The Blessing," as played by the ensemble. Person's soprano statement both maintains and embellishes the pervading feeling of contentment. The band navigates the culminating intricately spun portion of the chart with poise and fire.

Carrott's ringing vibes again play the endearing intro to "The Lighted Way," a melody similar to "The Blessing," and which is brought forth by the tenor of Scott. A potpourri of sparkling motifs ensues, out of which brisk, declamatory improvisations emerge from trumpeter Zollar and flutist Bailey, with Takahashi's drums smartly kicking them along. The reprise expands upon the opening, furnishing additional layers in alluring and intriguing fashion. "Gratitude" has an upbeat, darting melody that the band develops with surging harmonies in 6/4 time. Person's jubilantly buoyant soprano excursion is succeeded by Klipple's more stately but no less entrancing venture. The energized, prolonged reprise is even more riveting than the initial portrayal. Takahashi and Armstrong establish a funky rhythm for the riffing theme of "Faith Forward." Person lets out all the stops for his stratospheric alto solo, shrieking ecstatically at times in celebration. The drummer's invigorating romp is the capper to the last movement of this memorable suite.

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Scott Albin