Bob Thompson plays piano on his new album the way Leontyne Price once could sing, capturing the essence of a song with a power and clarity that involve the listener at a very intense, emotional level. And like opera diva Kathleen Battle, Thompson here performs old spirituals in a classical vein, crystallizing the universal, eternal beauty of early American African-American music.
It is an unusual approach to traditional black music, at least in the mainstream, but Thompson's absolute command of the keyboard both piano and the most soulful organ this side of Count Basie and own emotional investment in the performance make his latest CD a masterpiece.
Thompson's piano stylings here stretch from the stride of James P. Johnson to the modern funk of Stevie Wonder. His readings of such songs as "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" and "Study War No More" show a new side to material worn old and true. And on "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," he eschews obvious approaches, finding fresh nuances through playing the melody on a conch shell over a syncopated rhythm laid down by Nery Arevalo on congas.
The only possible way to improve on this set would be to lose the strings and backing band. Simply place Thompson and a Steinway in the Maybeck Recital Hall and roll tape.
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