Luther Thomas (1950, St. Louis, MO) began living in Denmark in 1998 and our immediacy to one another has been limited over those past 5 years, due to geography and other circumstances. As I wrote in Luther's last CIMP release (#214), Luther's presence is "an occasion for elated confusion." And at the time it was symptomatic to me of Luther's methodology, one not easily coordinated with a company whose recording schedule is often booked up six months in advance. However, Luther and I have kept in contact over the years and, in fact, agreed on a couple of interesting projects only to have them canceled due to, shall we say, elated confusion.
Earlier this year Luther said he was coming to the States to visit, and we talked about documenting some of his work. Unfortunately, other than acouple of vintage issues from 1973, there has not been any new Luther issued in over 3 years. In that period I detected a change in Luther's focus as well as a different sax tone: less vibrato but still with the immediacy and directness which distinguished his earlier work. So we set up the date and Luther worked out the group.
The group had, aside from Luther, one familiar face: Brian Smith (1946, Chicago, IL), the veteran bassist who has recorded with a number of his fellow Chicagoans (Henry Threadgill, Muhal Abrams, Fred Anderson, etc.) and was part of Luther's last CIMP session. EthanMann (1962, Montepelier, VT) and drummer Cliff Barbaro (1938, NYC, NY) make their Spirit Room debuts. Cliff, the veteran of the group, made his recording debut in 1973 on Charles Tolliver's fine Tokyo recording (Strata East) and since then has worked and recorded with Sun Ra, Betty Carter, and theNY HardBop Quintet, among others. Ethan Mann is a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, accomplished (check closely his work on this disc) but as of yet unheralded. His first CD, Central Park North (Petunia Records), came out in 1999 and, until recently, he and Brian worked together for about18 months as part of a regular NYC club gig.
For a number of reasons, things were not musically productive the first night and much of that time and the next morning were given over to acclimation and working out some of the written music while Brian rehearsed the band. By noon the group was in place and together and recording began. They opened with Brian's Leave It to Luther, a piece with enough structure to set a stage for some nice improvisatory counterpoints from the members of the group before it breaks pace and redirects the listener's emotional involvement while adding the elementthat change is in the future. That evolution is nicely set off by the contrast of Ethan's circuitousness and Luther's straight arrow declarations. Cliff balances the levity of the whole while Brian navigates and drives his composition. Very nice. Nice was further complemented by Belona, then Nova Zembla, then Tatjana, and the music—of pain and passion and pleasure worthy of a listener's attention and time—emerged and fell into place as easily as it had been elusive the day and moments before; all with vibrato intact.
Robert D. Rusch - April 15, 2003