This past Friday, jazz pianist Isaiah J. Thompson released his brand new live recording, The Power of the Spirit through Blue Engine Records. His second live recording behind The Isaiah J. Thompson Trio Live From Exuberance (2018), it is also easily the new number one new live CD released so far in this still very young year. That is due in no small part to its featured liner notes, which set the stage for the songs that make up the concert’s body. Those songs and the performances of said works collectively play their own important part in the bigger picture of the recording. They will be discussed a little later. The recording’s production rounds out its most important elements and will also be examined later. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the recording. All things considered they make The Power of the Spirit the top new live CD recording so far this year.
The Power of the Spirit, the new album from jazz pianist Isaiah J. Thompson, is the top new live CD recording released so far this year. The concert recording, which was captured during three separate performances in 2020, ’21, and ’22 – Jan. 13, 2020; Sept. 2-3, 2021 and April 4, 2022 – at the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy Club, is everything that audiences should hope for from a live CD, beginning with and not limited to its liner notes. The liner notes provided with this recording provide brief but concise backgrounds on each of the featured songs, all of which apparently are new, original compositions crafted by Thompson. The stories that Thompson provides on the songs are so engaging and entertaining in their own right. Case in point is the story presented on the late entry, ‘Thank You Betsy.’ According to Thompson, Betsy is not a person, but a car. He writes of this song, it “serves as a thank you to my mother’s black Volvo, which she had named Betsy. Betsy got me to school, music lessons, friends’ houses, rehearsals, and everything else you could imagine. That car was such a major part of my childhood and I am forever grateful.” Now understanding his love for the car, it deepens the impact of the arrangement because of the relaxed, bluesy nature of the composition. From the beginning to the end of the five-and-a-half-minute opus, Thompson leads the way on the piano, opening it with a sound and style very much in the vein of famed composer Vince Guaraldi. Yes, that Vince Guaraldi. The performance so easily conjures thoughts of the songs that Guaraldi composed for the beloved Peanuts movies and TV specials. One would just think that considering all the happy memories Thompson shares about “Betsy,” the song would perhaps have more energy, but at no point in its run does that happen. That is not necessarily a bad thing, just a surprise is all. The slow, relaxed vibe is perhaps that fond remembrance, just in a simpler mood and mindset. Such a deeper thought patter and understanding makes this song so engaging and entertaining.
On another note, the background that Thompson provides about ‘For Phineas’ is just as interesting as that provided regarding ‘Thank You Betsy.’ He writes here, “‘For Phineas’ is an ode to one of my biggest inspirations, the great Phineas Newborn Jr. I dedicate this song to him but it also serves as an acknowledgement of the importance of the church in jazz and in all Black music.” Thompson also points this out in the recording itself, as audiences will hear when they take in the concert. In researching Newborn, he was a famed jazz pianist in his own right, so the bass solo that opens the song is more a tribute to the likes of Charles Mingus while the controlled chaos that is the soul-infused main body of the song really shows that influence of the church on jazz. It really is interesting to sit back and listen to how the blend of bop and free jazz here works so surprisingly well with the sounds of black churches for its whole. Again, this is another prime example of the importance of any instrumental act including background on its songs in its albums. Having the understanding that yes, the intent here was to show the influence of African-American church sounds and styles on not only jazz but African-American music in whole, it makes for that much more appreciation of this song. In turn, it ensures listeners’ engagement just as much.
As one more example of the importance of the recording’s liner notes, the background that Thompson provides regarding an even earlier entry, ‘The Soul Messenger,’ explains the song is a tribute to those people “who are always where we need them-when we need them-even when unsought.” He adds, “Soul Messengers are people who have touched your heart, whether they’re a teacher, a security guard, a parent, a deacon, a mentor, or even a friend.” We all have those few people in our lives who just seem to be there even when we are not looking for them. They are those true caring, loving individuals that we all need and appreciate so much. Knowing this information helps to understand the mood set through the composition. The flowing performance from Julian Lee that pairs with Thompson’s performance on the piano really helps to exemplify the moods that are sometimes chaotic against the more relaxed, controlled mindsets that we can get thanks to those so-called soul messengers. Once again here is an example of the importance of the liner notes included in any instrumental recording. Those liner notes generate a deeper impact for listeners, and in turn a deeper appreciation for said recording in whole. When the impact of this song’s background and those of the others examined here are considered along with the rest of the songs’ backgrounds, the whole creates such a positive overall general effect in itself. The result therein is a solid starting point for the recording.
Building on that strong foundation formed by the liner notes are the songs themselves and the performances thereof. The songs that make up the concert’s body are apparently wholly new works from Thompson and his fellow musicians. Looking through Thompson’s discography – which is listed on his official website, https://isaiahjthompson.com, none of the songs featured in this concert are featured on any of the records that he has recorded either as a band leader or member. This is important to note because it means that audiences will not have to hunt down the originals and do any extra comparison. That applies regardless of listeners’ familiarity with Thompson and his body of work, which is certain to appeal to audiences even more. Add in the fact that Thompson’s solo works are extremely limited to say the least – he has released one other live recording already noted, a covers collection, and one album of original content, while also taking part in recordings from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Willie Jones III and a movie soundtrack – and that appeal increases even more.
The performances exhibited by Thompson and his fellow musicians of the songs featured here build on that appeal because of the obvious heart put into each work. From the controlled moments throughout to the more energetic moments and even those that are somewhat in between, each musician’s performance in each song brings its own depth to the whole. The talents that are put on display in each song are so wonderful to take in from one to the next. Keeping all of this in mind, the songs featured here and the performances thereof do so much in their own right to make this concert recording even more engaging and entertaining.
Rounding out the most important of the recording’s items is the production that went into the presentation. As noted, the performances put on by Thompson and his fellow musicians are engaging and entertaining in their own right. Thanks to those who were responsible for bringing everything together, the result is an expert sound balance from one song to the next. This is important in that it is a live recording. So much attention had to be paid not only to the balance between the performers’ work, but also their work in regards to the venue. Thankfully the utmost attention was paid to all of this, and as a result the sound is fully immersive throughout the concert. Audiences will feel like they are right there, taking in the concert along with everyone else in attendance. When this aspect is taken into consideration along with the songs, their performances, and the background provided in the liner notes, the whole makes this recording overall a wonderfully enjoyable live offering from Thompson and easily the best new live CD so far this year, regardless of genre.
The Power of the Spirit, the new live recording from jazz pianist Isaiah J. Thompson, is a surprisingly engaging and entertaining addition to this year’s field of new live CDs. Its appeal comes in large part through the information on the songs provided through the recording’s liner notes. The background will allow audiences such a deep appreciation for each song because of the information provided. The songs themselves are apparently new, original works from Thompson, which means this recording could serve as a great introduction for listeners who may be less familiar with his work than others. The performances of said songs make for their own enjoyment because of the obvious heart that each musician put into the songs. That enjoyment can be heard and felt among listeners, and in turn, results in even more engagement and entertainment. The production that went into the recording balances the audio among the performers and their work against the confines of the venue. The result of that attention to detail creates a fully immersive listening experience for everyone, and in turn that much of a positive general effect. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the recording. All things considered they make The Power of the Spirit the best new live CD overall so far this year.
The Power of the Spirit is available now through Blue Engine Records. More information on the recording is available along with all of Isaiah J. Thompson’s latest news at: