PAT THOMAS piano
1 - NUR - 26:11
2 - MUBARAK - 18:01
3 - VARIATION ON TWO THEMES - 11:35
4 - THE ANALOGY - 8:32
Digital concert recording by Chris Trent at
Cheltenham & Gloucester College of Higher Education Chapel
1999 December 10
Total time 64:38
All previously unissued
It is generally accepted that three factors are important for a performance to be successful. The first is time. The time of year was significant especially for me, since December coincided with the Holy month of Ramadan, a month of reflection and fasting. I felt the music I played that night, especially the first piece, certainly had a very reflective quality about it. The second is the place, and the acoustics of the chapel were a delight to play with, and I found myself using the pedals of the piano more to generate overtones created in that space. The third is the people, and the audience though small was a very receptive one, and were there for all the right reasons.
I played four pieces that were completely improvised. I came to the concert with no paper, and had not made any predetermined plan about what areas to cover. Both performer and audience were in the same boat. This is one of the great qualities of improvised music which help to sustain my interest in this form of music making. It is unlikely the music I played could have been made in any other way. The titles I ended up giving these improvisations reflect significant moments I felt occurred while playing. Nur is an Arabic word meaning light, a very intense light that illuminates everything. Mubarak is also Arabic and means a very blessed person or occasion which the month of Ramadan is. Variation on Two Themes, is a title that came to me, because the first theme I play is very well known in the West, while the second theme is very well known in the East. The final title, The Analogy, reflects my debt to the music of Thelonious Monk, which I feel is found throughout the music I played that night.
PAT THOMAS (2000)
Pat Thomas (b. 1960) has been making his mark on the Oxford and London scenes (and elsewhere) for some twenty years now, both as a pianist and as a performer of electronic keyboards and other electronic gadgetry. This CD concentrates entirely on his piano playing, whereas his previous, entirely different, solo CD ("New Jazz Jungle: Remembering" newjazz.com NJC 003) featured his electronics. He has been heard in numerous groupings, ranging from the London Improvisers Orchestra to duos with Derek Bailey and Lol Coxhill.
"Pat Thomas is most often heard playing electronics in free improvising settings but his approach to the acoustic instrument is equally rewarding. His electronic work tends to be of a very abstract nature, so it might come as a surprise to some people to hear just how firmly his piano playing is rooted in jazz and other tonal musics. The influence of Thelonious Monk never seems to be far away from free jazz but one can also here elements of Tatum, Ives and Nancarrow. Thomas is less concerned with the piano as percussion instrument than many pianists and it is gratifying to hear him revel in the sound of his instrument. This impressive offering has been a long time in coming and one hopes it will be the first of many such releases."
BRUCE COATES - RUBBERNECK 2002
"A solo piano disc on Emanem, from a past participant in Derek Bailey's Company Week: think you can guess what it sounds like? Guess again. Pat Thomas approaches his in-the-moment compositions with unexpected deliberation. Nur begins meditatively, with much upper-end tinkling, as Thomas slowly permutates his way through a sequence of sparkling chords; by the piece's midsection, the steady flow starts to hit shards of rock, and grows increasingly angular by the end (although never chaotic). On Mubarak, he enters with sharp, jazz-inflected runs that build to a peak before tapering off into left-hand pensiveness that drags out a wee bit too long. The disc closes with The Analogy, in which Thomas gives a nod to Monk by quoting Misterioso. Thomas never attempts to bowl the listener over with extended techniques, obvious Taylorisms, or blunt force, opting for a sublime experience over a visceral one."
JAMES LINDBLOOM - OPPROBRIUM 2001
"Pat Thomas sits in the front rank of British improvisers. In the early 1990s he participated in Derek Bailey's Company Week, though he might be best known for his work with Tony Oxley, Lol Coxhill and Steve Beresford or his quartet Scatter with Phil Minton, roger Turner and Dave Tucker. NUR is his first solo piano recording.
And NUR is a revelation. Four extended improvisations, independently inspired and drawn. Landing mid-set, one might hear Samuel Barber or Charles Ives or Erik Satie. Or even Robert Schumann. Pat Thomas embraces tonality and coherence, the simple, lyrical line. Often the right-hand, fashioning a game of cat and mouse, will unravel basic ostinato figures coming from the left-hand. And Thomas is also informed by the Jazz tradition: be it the blues, or the melodic and rhythmic sensibilities of Thelonious Monk.
Extended techniques just aren't in play: he's simply, attracted to the sound of the instrument. Never self-conscious of excessively cerebral, Thomas remains fixed for vast spaces - Nur runs over 26 minutes - turning joyous, high-spirited spells into tempered meditations. NUR is a sublime session of improvised piano music."
GREG BUIUM - CADENCE 2001
"The release of NUR reveals previously undocumented facets of Thomas' sensibility, not only by establishing him as a skilled pianist, but someone who is well versed in both jazz and contemporary music literature lexicons. Both characteristics are potential liabilities in improvised music, but Thomas makes valuable assets of them in this Cheltenham concert.
Commencing with a 26-minute piece has real risks, most of which Thomas circumvents. He solves the problem of establishing mood and structure with chiming chords that decay with Feldmanesque delicacy. Within minutes, he elongates the chords into rhapsodic contours, which repeatedly hinge on a Taylorish motif. Thomas tirelessly reworks the materials, veering from impressionistic tranquillity to almost Gershwinesque pyrotechnics, and from churning clusters to pristine arpeggiations. Thomas quickly identifies nearly all of the inevitable lags in pacing and variety in an improvisation of such length, and rarely loses traction.
The remainder of the programme holds up well, arguably due to the three pieces' more overt connections to the jazz tradition. Mubarak begins with flinty boppish musings, which crop up thoughout the pieces. The rendering of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot contained in Variation on Two Themes has a combination of bluesiness and orchestral gravity that is traceable through Call Cobbs and Bobby Few. And The Analogy should perhaps be retitled The Appropriation for its use of Misterioso. In each case, these connections give Thomas free reign while providing something akin to a Monopoly get-out-of-jail-free card when he hits a rough spot. Quite unexpecedly, Pat Thomas confirms jazz's usefulness in freely improvised music."
BILL SHOEMAKER - JAZZREVIEW 2001
"Nur is a striking and wonderful piece. Avoiding all free jazz cliches, the piece sounds like a contemporary piano work. Parts of it could have been written by Charles Ives! Thomas' approach is surprisingly tonal here, the piece resting on dynamics, carefully-placed chords and a serene mood. The first minutes share strong similarities with the music of Ernesto Diaz-Infante. On Mubarak, the pianist reverts to more traditional free jazz playing. Relying on speed and groove, this one evokes Cecil Taylor mostly, but also Keith Tippett (Thomas spends the last four minutes on the instrumentıs lower octave, a technique Tippett uses). Variation on Two Themes comes back to more tonal serenity, while The Analogy pays tribute to Thelonious Monk, even though the pianistıs style here is more Taylor-esque. NUR: SOLO PIANO 1999 offers a different look at free improvisation on the piano. Thomas' alloy of tonality and contemporary classical melodrama is more listener-friendly than what one might expect, while retaining the vital immediacy of free playing. Recommended."
FRANÇOIS COUTURE - ALL-MUSIC GUIDE 2001
"Pat Thomas is probably best known for his exquisite radical electronics as part of the London avant-garde scene. This live performance finds him brilliantly performing four freely improvised pieces on acoustic piano, with surprisingly tonal roots. The keyboardist is full of surprises, which helps to make the abstract portions accessible. A full range of emotions is explored, from flowery, romantic fluttering, to two-handed fist pounding, to lullaby sonorities, to the African-American spiritual. Thomas remains highly focused through it all, following his ideas to their conclusions without devolving to pastiche. The pianist sports a classical, though spontaneous, technique and style that owes little to Cecil Taylor - not always an easy feat for a free-style pianist at the turn of the century. Thomas may stick to a single note and explore its vibrations, or engage in pounding repetitions. There is a confidence to his playing that lures the listener into his den. While there is an overt Islamic connection through some of the song titles, and while religious sentiment inspired the pianist's improvisations, the music stands on its own as some of the best of its genre. Those looking for new perspectives on playing the piano should find Thomas' approach enriching, and at times even thrilling. A heavyweight who appears to have absorbed the tradition of jazz piano without being enslaved to it, Pat Thomas offers new perspectives on improvising that look toward the future without ignoring the past. 4 ½ stars (best of genre)."
STEVEN LOEWY - ALL-MUSIC GUIDE 2001
"NUR is an unexpected little gem - a set of solo piano improvisations, all executed with a lightness of touch and an air of beatific calm. It is introspective but never overly melancholic. Rather it feels like a music of acceptance. Thomas takes his time, often going back and recasting sections again and again; moving ever closer to phrasing it exactly right, his monomaniacal trilling becomes increasingly hypnotic. The closing The Analogy reflects his debt to Thelonious Monk, with beautifully romantic lines sent careering with strategically placed 'wrong' notes."
DAVID KEENAN - THE WIRE 2001
"Pat Thomas may be best known for experimenting with electronic instruments, but he performs with nothing but a piano on NUR. The result is startling, beautiful and imperfect music where Thomas charts his own course even while tipping his hat to the work of Gershwin, Monk, and Taylor.
The mellow title track opens the disc with Thomas playing in a slow fashion while creating slow patterns that are both pleasant to the ear and slightly dark. At a little before the 11 minute mark, the music smoothly but unmistakably becomes choppier, louder, and faster. Thomas plays around at that level for roughly 10 minutes before unleashing a torrent of very heavy and ominous chords which lead to a couple of minutes of scattershot playing before a cooling off period that ends the track. This isn't easy material to listen to - appreciating and enjoying this music will take work - but it does offer many rewards.
The remaining three cuts, which like Nur are all completely improvised, don't have quite the same stature but certainly do have their moments. Mubarak begins with scattershot playing but towards the end becomes an exercise in heavy-handedness. Listeners will want to note Thomas uses one hand to imitate a bass and the other to be a pianist having a rollicking good time. Variation on Two Themes begins slow and ballad-like before the standard heavy flourish at the end - which by this point in the recording seems to be a played out concept. Fortunately the final track, The Analogy, charts a different course and stays whimsical for its duration. The music here is like a drunken nursery rhyme. It wants to be sweet and bring joy when sung but Thomas won't let it, by way of constantly changing rhythms and plenty of off notes.
Hopefully NUR will earn Thomas wider acclaim as these four cuts show him to be a player deserving far more attention and documentation than he is currently getting."
MICAH HOLMQUIST - ONE FINAL NOTE 2001
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