The Madman's Difference is the first recording by Ben Thomas as a band leader for the Seattle-based Origin Arts Records, and it reflects the struggles of a young musician moving from method to meaning in his music. Thomas, who has completed graduate work in musical improvisation, fails to take advantage of the entire range of texture and emotion available to the jazz form, but nonetheless makes a strong showing with his informed sense of compositional structure and technique. In songs like Melicatu, the first track of the album, precise changes in rhythm and dynamics create a series of fresh backgrounds for alternating solos by expatriate Brazilian pianist Jovino Santos Neto and Thomas. Most of the compositions share this calculating crispness: even though the instrumentation remains mostly the same, the songs vary in structure, dynamics, and feel enough to hold the listener in place. The only drawback with The Madman's Difference is that the dominance of vibes and soprano saxophone may take some getting used to: it's an uncommonly delicate sound that leaves the listener wanting to be moved more forcibly by the music. But even so, the album has enough nuance to offer some new improvisational or compositional virtue each time you put it on.
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AllMusic Review by Nathan Thornburgh