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Jay Thomas Quartet: Live at Tula’s Volume 2

I am continually amazed and impressed by the cottage-industry aspect of American jazz. Like an unaffiliated network of modern Mickeys and Judys, musicians from coast to coast have, with gutsy determination, established loyal followings at local clubs and on regional labels. Jay Thomas and Becca Duran are an excellent case in point. Not widely known beyond the Northwest, the gifted multi-instrumentalist (equally impressive on trumpet, sax, flugelhorn and flute) and his skillful vocalist wife are the toast of Seattle’s jazz cognoscenti. As a sideman, Thomas is a veteran of more than 60 albums and has supported the likes of Zoot Sims, Sonny Stitt and Chet Baker. In recent years he’s focused on sessions with his quartet, serving up four first-rate albums reminiscent of the spare West Coast sound at its coolest. On his Quartet’s latest, Live at Tula’s, Volume 2, (as the title suggests, his second outing at the popular Seattle nitery), Thomas divides his time between inspired interpretations of dusty standards-including a lively reworking of Victor Youman’s “Without a Song” that ranks among the most imaginative I’ve heard-and original compositions by bandmates Jon Wikan, drums, and John Hansen, piano. Among the latter, Wikan’s “R Hour,” co-written with Ingrid Jensen, is a spirited sojourn straight out of the Vince Guaraldi school, while Hansen’s intriguing “Belltown” suggests urgency spiced with a dash of urban danger.

When Thomas teams with Duran the results are even more rewarding. If You Could See Me Now, the tamer of their two most recent pairings, is a safe all-standards package that provides an ideal showcase for Duran’s vocal assuredness. Though livelier and less melancholy than Julie London (who numbered among Duran’s earliest supporters), the smoky seductiveness that underscores her superb phrasing is pure Julie. Among the 14 tracks, only the breezy “Trav’lin’ Light,” which sidesteps all of the song’s inherent remorse, seems misinterpreted. Highlights include her introspective treatment of “He Was Too Good to Me,” refreshingly more reflective than regretful, and a celebratory gallop through the too-rarely-recorded “Face I Love.”

Thomas and Duran’s more ambitious Song for Rita will be a welcome surprise for fans of genuine Brazilian jazz who have suffered through too many ersatz efforts. The 13-track collection persuasively fulfills their desire to pay homage to the memory of Elis Regina and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Avoiding such Jobim classics as “Corcovado” and “Desafinado,” now over-exposed to the point of cliche, Thomas opts instead for a trio of the master’s less familiar works, “Antigua,” “Brigas, Nunca Mais” and the hauntingly beautiful “So Tinha de Ser Com Voce.” The album’s title track and “Waltz for Joanne,” written, respectively, by Duran and Thomas for their mothers, prove that even as far away as Washington state the fine art of Brazilian composition is alive and well. Personally, though, I was most taken with Duran’s restless reading of Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss’ “I Haven’t Got Anything Better to Do,” replete with that breathy Julie London suggestion of tear-stained silk sheets.

Originally Published