One could argue that “On The Bone” is trombonist Brian Thomas’s eleventh album. However, the collection of soul, jazz and funk arriving January 27 is the first issued under his own name, hence it’s a debut album from a veteran of more than twenty years. Thomas produced the set comprised entirely of original compositions brought to life in the company of an organ trio and rhythm section recorded in the studio live by Soulive’s Alan Evans, who also mixed and mastered the vintage jazz-funk project.
Thomas’s vibrant stage presence and distinctive funky style are on full display whenever he performs, energy that he brought to the “On The Bone” date.
“These songs are an accurate representation of what you would hear if you came to one of my shows. My music is very much inspired by soul, jazz and funk from the 1960s and 70s, and aims to make people feel good, tap their feet, bob their head and/or get up and dance. With the exception of the guest sax player overdubs, all of these songs were recorded live in a very old-school way,” said Thomas who spotlights two saxophonists on the project, alto player Scott Mayo and tenor Mike Tucker.
The core musicians who joined Thomas on the album are Darby Wolf on Hammond B3 organ, guitarist Johnny Trama, drummer Tom Arey, and percussionist Yahubu Garcia-Torres.
“I have been working with this crew of musicians in many different settings for nearly two decades and have formed incredible relationships with them on and off the bandstand. I handpicked this crew to bring these blues-based compositions to life as each of them have spent their lives studying and performing roots, blues, jazz and soul music with the best in the business. Each song on the album delivers a deep groove, funky pocket and space for each musician to share their voice,” Thomas stated.
There’s a hip, smoky nightclub vibe to “On The Bone,” which is heard from the start. “Turn On” sets the stage with gritty and gravely drums, storming organ swatches, crisp and clean electric jazz guitar licks and elastic basslines. While the entire lineup is granted a chance to step forward to solo, the banter between Thomas’s trombone and Mayo’s swinging, soul-powered sax is what captivates. The two musicians knew each other from their hometown, Rochester, NY, and both have a special connection to the composition’s author. Mayo, who has performed on television’s “The Voice” and toured with Earth, Wind & Fire, and Thomas were mentored by the late educator and woodwind specialist Roger Eckers.
A relentless, hyperkinetic beat drives “Orange Tape,” the first of five tunes penned by Thomas. Again, the trombonist sits back to give each member of the unit a chance to rip a solo.
“The song title is inspired from a childhood memory of riding in my dad’s car and seeing him pop in an orange cassette tape that I loved. At the time, I had no idea who it was, but it was so burning! Turns out it was an album from tenor sax player Willis Jackson backed by an organ trio led by Groove Holmes. It is my earliest memory of being inspired by soul-jazz and certainly shaped my playing and composition style. This tune is a way to thank my father for exposing me to all the soulful music that makes me who I am as a musician today,” recalled Thomas fondly.
Thomas wrote the title track in the studio with James Brown & The J.B.’s in mind.
“Brown’s horn players, (trombonist) Fred Wesley and (saxophonist) Maceo Parker, the latter who I had the opportunity to play with a handful of times, have been musical mentors my entire life and this tune reflects that. We jammed on it for a few minutes, and we literally came up with the melody and form during that jam session and hit the record button!” said Thomas, who later invited another longtime friend, Tucker, to play sax on the joint.
Sunny, smiley and laid-back chill pervade the spirit-lifting “Just A Glimpse.” Thomas attributes the feel to listening to South African trumpet great Hugh Masekela. The trombone deftly carries the sweet melody while taking on lyrical qualities.
“The original idea and chord progression for this tune came on a night when we were having a blue moon in the sky. I was messing around on the piano and suddenly remembered to go outside and check it out. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy, and I was only able to catch ‘a glimpse’ so I went back inside and finished writing the melody,” said the Boston-based Thomas who has a busy concert calendar of shows in Massachusetts and New Hampshire over the next couple of months in support of the new album, including a gig in Boston at the Beehive the day the record hits.
Conceived during his 2016 honeymoon, Thomas wrote “Bacudi Blues” at an Aruban resort. You can almost hear the breezy beach ambiance floating luxuriously amidst Wolf’s steamy organ and Thomas’s playful horn leads.
“I sang the melody and bassline into the voice notes on my phone and added it to my set when arriving back home. It is nice to finally get it recorded. It is a blues-based composition featuring solos by each band member.”
Available exclusively as a bonus track remix on Bandcamp, CD and perhaps one day on vinyl, “Check Your Intentions” was released a couple years ago as a digital single.
“The song’s title is a reminder to me - and hopefully the listener - to make sure actions match your intentions, and that your intentions are noble and righteous. It is another blues-based tune that I wrote while jamming with my then thirteen-year-old son during the early stages of the pandemic. In this era of digital distribution, I wanted to make sure this song was documented and shared on a hard copy,” said Thomas.
Thomas studied classical trombone and jazz improvisation at Ithaca College before earning a master’s degree in jazz composition at UMASS Amherst. He cowrote and coproduced albums in assorted configurations, including with Akashic Record, BT ALC Big Band and Duochrome. Passionate about writing, horn arranging and recording, Thomas thrives in the studio where he collaborates with musicians all over the world. Most recently, he contributed to projects by many of the artists on Evan’s Vintage League Music record label roster. Thomas is equally committed to education, teaching at clinics and masterclasses, and serving on staff at Canton High School where he directs four instrumental ensembles. This bodes to be a prolific year on record for Thomas who anticipates the release of BT ALC Big Band’s “Hearing The Truth” album later this year.
“On The Bone” contains the following songs:
“On The Bone”
“Just A Glimpse”
“Check Your Intentions” (Bonus Track Remix)