July 29, 2017
This latest release from saxophonist Michael J Thomas, entitled Driven (release date: Aug. 18), opens with a vocal track, “My Love’” that echoes the late Michael Jackson. Thomas’ vocal is the nearest thing to MJ that I have heard in a long while. The track itself is a gorgeous piece of mid-tempo, soulful pop music punctuated with some delightfully breezy horn playing. In contrast, the next track, “Baby Coffee,” is a sultry funk-infused number that features Thomas’ velvet tenor sax playing around a bouncy chorus. That breaks down in true old-school style to roll on out of here.
At times, this album seems to be a real step back in time with chugging funky back beats and synth and drum breaks that really nail that old-school vibe that permeates this very contemporary album. “You Know You Got This,” for example, has a bright and breezy smooth jazz head that breaks into a wickedly bare, deeply funky centre. “Girls Got Moves” returns to that MJ-inspired vocal style of Thomas and has a brilliant funk feel flowing from start to finish.
“Never Gonna Leave You” drops back to a nice soulful two-step jazzy instrumental that will have you grabbing and swaying with your significant other. The only thing wrong with this delightful slab of keening smooth is that it finishes! A real gem of a track, but then I like those old two-step numbers.
The title track is another one of those excellent eighties-style pop-soul tunes that Thomas seems so adept at creating. Guitarist Mark Jaimes really chops this one up, and bassist Eric Lampley ensures that the bounce is in every ounce from start to finish.
For an album with such an old-school vibe, it is amazing how contemporary its creation was. The album features contributions from musicians based both in the UK and the States who contributed via “Cyber Tracking” — a process where the artists send digital tracks to one another for their input. In the UK, keyboardist Oli Silk and ex-Simply Red guitarist Jaimes contributed in this way. While in the States, Gino Rosario and Trammel Starks provided keyboard and piano parts from Mobile AL, and Atlanta, GA, respectively. “It was fun sending tracks back and forth, letting all these amazing musicians do their thing,” Thomas says. “It was pretty amazing sending guys like Oli and Mark some basic tracks to work with and receiving tracks back that took tunes even beyond what I could have conceived. “
This is a great album of old-school-inspired, funk-driven, soulful smooth jazz tunes that never feels dated but pays homage to what’s gone before in a fresh and satisfying way. – Steve Giachardi