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Michael Thomas Quintet: The Awakening

Michael Thomas, a pillar of the Washington, D.C. jazz scene, leads a fierce quintet on The Awakening (Jazhead), offering five originals, three jazz covers and an alternate take. Joined by Zach Graddy on tenor, Darius Scott on piano, Kent Miller on bass and Frank Williams IV on drums (with baritonist Whit Williams on two tracks), Thomas leads off with a stunningly accurate reading of Wayne Shorter’s “Hammer Head”-a gem from the Jazz Messengers’ Free For All album. One also hears Thomas’ historically impeccable approach to hard bop on Hank Crawford’s soul-jazzy “Sherri” and Lee Morgan’s prescient “Search for a New Land” (although Thomas interprets the latter in a much faster 3/4). Of the originals, the ballad “Tender-Lee” and the midtempo “Stanley & Freddie” again make the early Blue Note influences explicit, while the title track, heard in two takes, posits a more modern, off-kilter funk feel before breaking into flat-out, minor-key swing. “No Time to Wait” and “Blues #9” stir the pot with uptempo drama and greasy shuffle, respectively. Every band member is strong, but Thomas leads the pack with a piping-hot, Hubbard-esque horn. The recording is bone-dry and immediate, without a hint of studio atmospherics.

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