"(She) has her own vocal sound, which is beautiful by the Grace of God."
Yusef Lateef, legendary jazz artist, Grammy award winner
Jazz vocalist, Michele Thomas releases her sophomore album, MESSENGER in early 2010. (Along with a digital release which is currently available from her website.) The much-anticipated album -- by the singer whose background includes over a decade of teaching as gospel choir conductor and private music instructor -- showcases Thomas at the top of her game. Her dazzling versatility in song interpretation is unequaled; a talent, which is richly on display in each and every song.
The project emerged following a period of intense soul-searching for Thomas. Creatively revitalized after years of working to establish her name in the Chicago jazz scene with her debut album, I’LL TAKE ROMANCE, as well as serving a prosperous term as the founder/conductor of her alma mater’s gospel choir at North Park University (For which she was recently awarded an “Up and Coming” Alumni award for her work there…) -- she announced the desire to collaborate on her next recording project featuring what she considered some of the most profound works of Stevie Wonder – a project that would illuminate the spiritual side of this secular artist and expose what Michele has always felt Stevie Wonder to be – a “messenger” of social and political change in our world.
Michele’s unique mixture of musical influences comes through in this newest album which takes on some of Stevie Wonder’s finest pieces—songs carefully hand-picked by Thomas—that demonstrate the spiritual but also provocative nature of what was a great portion of Wonder’s body of work.
MESSENGER sheds light on the introspective mind and spirit of Stevie Wonder—these reinterpreted pieces are transported through the contemplative soul-tinged and energized vocals of Michele Thomas. For this project, Thomas enlisted her most trusted and long-time collaborators: arranger Neal Alger, noted guitarist and member of Patricia Barber’s quartet – and musical director, drummer & percussionist Darren Scorza, who also debuts his role as producer of this album.
Michele also puts together a new group of musicians to perform on the album, including some of Chicago’s finest such as bassist Bob Lovecchio, pianist Chris Mahieu, saxophonist Matt Shevitz and trumpeter Joe Lill. Classics such as “Higher Ground” are given a “Shaft-esque” treatment of epic proportions with lilting horn sections, while more obscure tracks like “They Won’t Go When I Go” and “Big Brother” explore the most contemporary sounds of the Afro-pop movement. But the exploration does not stop there, as Michele displays the works of two other jazz composers -- Hal Galper and Enrico Pieranunzi, of which she lends her lyrical supplementation to their instrumental originals, “Triple Play” and the lovely bossa, “Dee Song”.
Moreover, Michele has a deeply vested love affair with the improvisational spirit in music--the one that drives not only jazz but all its’ multiple infusions of gospel, R&B, blues, and rock—all of which have been at the bedrock of true American classical music, but that also spoke to Michele’s many musical influences ranging from gospel greats such as Vanessa Bell Armstrong and BeBe & CeCe Winans, to singer-songwriters like James Taylor and Sting, on to the soul-stirrers like Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye, all the way to the definitive jazz singers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn.
For Thomas, creating and recording MESSENGER was truly a labor of love. Michele reflects of her song choices that, “I’ve always appreciated that Stevie Wonder challenged the status quo when it came to social justice and religion as it relates to spirituality.” I was both amazed and unsettled with how directly relevant the messages in his music are, even in our current times. Seems to me those messages bear repeating…”.