Charles Thomas influenced a number of important hard bop pianists who lived in Memphis, including James Williams, Donald Brown, and Mulgrew Miller, but he made relatively few recordings (most of them very late in his career) prior to his death in 2000. This studio session from 1992, titled Legend of Charles Thomas, wasn't released until 2003, so jazz fans who have marveled at the sound of younger Memphis pianists can finally have a chance to appreciate their influential mentor. With two extraordinary musicians joining him, drummer Alan Dawson and bassist Ray Drummond, Thomas takes a fresh look at a number of classic jazz compositions, standards, and a few pieces not played often at all. Thomas kicks off his with a playful take of "Con Alma" with a disguised introduction before settling down to a brisk reading of Dizzy Gillespie's gem while inserting a number of hilarious quotes. Dawson's imaginative percussion provides the fire for Thomas' delightful approach to Charlie Parker's Caribbean-flavored blues "Barbados." The pianist's daredevil arrangement of Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" is amazing, while the loping, waltz-time treatment of Rollins' lesser-known "Paul's Pal" is every bit as enjoyable. Thomas adds an original of his own, "Pamela," a bluesy number which suggests "Angel Eyes" as its inspiration. The leader's interpretations of standards also merit high praise. His rapid-fire takes of "Have You Met Miss Jones" and "The Way You Look Tonight" are thrilling, while he proves himself to be a masterful ballad interpreter as well with his elaborate scoring of "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most." In addition to Ray Drummond's solid bass work, his warm remembrance of the contributions of Charles Thomas and Alan Dawson (who died in 1996) are an added bonus. All of Charles Thomas' recordings are worthwhile investments, with this CD being among his very best.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden