Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Tom Lellis: Avenue of the Americas

Tempting as it is to label Tom Lellis the “next Mark Murphy,” the epithet is triply inappropriate. First, Lellis is already more than a quarter-century into a stellar career and far too advanced to be considered the “next” anything. Second, though his sound often mirrors Murphy, his style is distinctly his own. Third, as demonstrated through his entire recorded oeuvre and particularly on the vibrant Avenue of the Americas, singing represents just one thread of the intricately woven Lellis cloth.

In the effervescent lyrics Lellis grafts to Toninho Horta’s “Olinda Wind,” he rightly insists there’s “a party going down.” Americas is a transcontinental affair, one that twines influences from the northern and southern hemispheres as it shifts from the buoyant samba optimism of Pat Metheny’s “For Better Days Ahead” (also fitted with fine Lellis lyrics) and the pulsating sway of the Yellowjackets’ “For Wisdom” (again, words by Lellis) to the intimate sensuality of “Baubles, Bangles and Beads.” To suggest that the festivities are being led by a one-man band would be a disservice to Lellis’ accompanists, a sterling ensemble that variously includes pianists Kenny Werner, Gary Fisher and Dave Kikoski, drummers Cliff Almond and Tommy Campbell, percussionists Jorge Amorim and Frank Colon, flutist Jeremy Steig, bassists Tony Marino and Richard Bona, and Horta himself on guitar. Still, Lellis is the dexterous force at Americas’ hub, augmenting his quadruple-threat talents as vocalist, arranger, composer and lyricist with turns at piano and keyboards, guitar and percussion. Returning to the “Olinda Wind” lyrics for a moment, when Lellis sings of “celebration [and] syncopation gone a little wild,” the sentiment can easily be perceived as autobiographical.

Originally Published