Well, last night was election night, and I went to a speculation party. While the rest of the country was arguing over which of the candidates they dislike less, I was driving up the local interstate with some great sounds coming out of my car stereo. If my hands weren’t clutching the steering wheel, I’d be taking my hat to the Chris Thomas Band of Jacksonville, Florida for the release of their debut recording, “Only The Beginning.” I was only two songs in, and I was quite captivated by the sound of this unique southeastern United States ensemble.
I first learned of Chris Thomas and his swinging aggregation through the social media juggernaut known as Facebook. Thomas and his group were still in the process of raising the necessary funds needed to get their project off the ground whilst giving well-received performances across Florida when I first became aware of them, and any group that claims to be dedicated to preserving the sounds of Sinatra among other classic vocalists has said enough to warrant my undivided attention.
Thomas and company utilize the medium of Facebook well, and they make sure to have the camera rolling live during many of their live gigs. I consider myself fortunate to be among the fans who got to watch the band record parts of their album live in studio via tablet ; it has always fascinated me to watch musical material being built and perfected, and Chris put his fans in the passenger seat next to him as they laid down some magic on tape. With the technology available today (overdubbing and such), Thomas and Co. take it old school, recording vocals and instrumentation simultaneously live.
Titled “Only The Beginning,” the album gets off to an exciting start with the sound of some rhythmic cymbals signaling the beginning of a great chart written for the Count Basie Orchestra way back in the mid-1960s. Touting itself (and proving itself) as a tribute to the sounds of Sinatra, Count Basie, and Joe Williams, the album blasts off with a rip-roaring version of “Come Fly With Me,” identical to the version performed by Sinatra-Basie in the Sands Hotel at their famous 1966 stand, captured by Reprise Records in the live album “Sinatra At The Sands.” “Fly Me To The Moon” and “Where or When” are also featured in their respective arrangements from this landmark release, with arrangements by Quincy Jones and Billy Byers.
Following “Come Fly With Me,” the album detours slightly into the land of Ellington by featuring an arrangement written by Billy May in 1967 for a collaboration between the Chairman and the Duke, the rolling “All I Need Is The Girl,” from the musical “Gypsy.” Returning to Basieville, the tribute theme changes vocalists with a nod to the talented Joe Williams with the classic arrangement of “Alright, Okay, You Win,” long considered a definitive performance by the late (severely underrated) African-American singer.
While Thomas pays tribute to these singers and arrangers, he doesn’t try to mimic or imitate these vocalists or their notations, instead putting his own original spin on the readings of the lyrics. The only word I can come up with is a simple one: soulful. While he has a style all unto his own, the closest singer I can compare him to is another vastly underrated (jazz heavy) vocalist, Mark Murphy.
While the first five tracks feature the broad sounds of the full big band, the remaining two songs depart slightly from both theme and instrumentation by broaching the sounds of current pop as well as Motown, first with a racy, exciting Latin-inspired arrangement of DNCE’s recent 2015 commercially successful single “Cake By The Ocean,” followed by an interesting medley of two great seventies classics, “Just My Imagination” and “The Walk.” Although my main forte is normally in the orchestration of the first five tunes, I believe this last fused track to be the best of the lot in both voice and arrangement. You’d think a few minutes into this song that Thomas was a member of the Temptations who decided to strike out from the group and cut his own solo recording. Either way, the sounds are a treat.
With several high-profile performances ahead as the band begins a full-force promotion campaign for the album, indeed, this is “only the beginning” for the Chris Thomas Band. Order your physical compact disc at www.thechristhomasband.com or digitally download the tracks to your iPod for your on the go pleasure. You’re in for an enjoyable time!
Highly recommended. 5/5.
Until next time, music lovers!
Jerry Pearce is an amateur singer in the vein of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and Dick Haymes and has released two discs of standards music, Crossroads in 2010, and One Summer Night in 2016. Samples of his music can be heard on his YouTube Channel. To purchase his CDs use the form box below.
Comments or questions are welcome.