New Kid Behind the Sax

The Way I Feel (Independent)
Michael Thomas

Tim Roberts

Several times in my "Jazzin'" column I have thrown this question to the universe: why is the music tossed into the subcategory of "smooth jazz" any smoother than regular jazz? To be sure, there is a distinction between, say, Ornette Coleman and Dave Koz. The difference lies in arrangement and instrumentation. Smooth jazz commonly has a sax (most often soprano or alto), a keyboard (cranking out narcoleptic minor chords), a bass that gets slapped more times than Beavis and a drum that didn't seem to make it out of Rim Shot 101. The arrangements don't ask for much attention, sax gets the solos, and the whole thing is wrapped up in under five minutes. The result: vanilla light.

Twenty-year-old saxophonist Michael Thomas, of Cecilia, Kentucky (just outside Elizabethtown) bills himself as a "smooth jazz" performer, and many of the tracks of his debut release The Way I Feel do have that particular sound. Recorded at Falk Audio in Louisville, The Way I Feel has unthreatening song titles ("Go Have Fun,""Last Dance,""Tranquility") and arrangements made for candlelight dinners for two.

But three things make this CD remarkably different:

First, the young man can play and he's not shy about it. He's developed his chops through education and as a member of The Jive Rockets. He nails every note on a run. He's not afraid to slow his own solo tempo and jump back into it. His tone is sharp and sweet, loaded with R&B hooks.

Second, he has a veteran-heavy rhythm section and production team. Thomas's keyboardist and co-producer is Bobby Lanz. His drummer is Darryel Cotton, who rides herd on each song. Anyone who has seen Cotten in action knows nothing can go too fast for him.

Third, he seems like a nice guy. He sampled his grandmother's voice on "Yo, Mister Saxman."

We greet Michael Thomas and The Way I Feel at what looks to be the beginning of a long and productive career. It will be interesting to watch how he grows.