Gary Thomas

Pariah's Pariah

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Despite a strong critical reputation and high-profile work with Jack DeJohnette and Pat Metheney, Gary Thomas somehow got left out when '80s M-Base contemporaries Cassandra Wilson, Greg Osby, Steve Coleman, and Geri Allen found some sort of limelight. German producer Steven Winter has by far been the most consistent documenter of the tenor saxophonist's brawny playing and writing and Pariah's Pariah finds Thomas working in a no-nonsense post-bop quartet with Osby as his front-line foil. The nice harmonies on the extended melody of "Who's in Control?" are an early sign of how well Thomas and Osby complement each other. But the loping, quasi-blues groove of "Only Hearsay" really sets the compositional tone, with both saxes playing off Michael Formanek's bass counterpoint lines. The title track (with Thomas on flute) and "Zero Tolerance" are constructed along the same principles, while "Vanishing Time" is built over Formanek's near-Scottish-reel strummed chordal anchor. Between the bassist's knotty clusters of notes and drummer John Arnold's choppy flurries, the rhythm section isn't serving up fluid swing variations. Arnold is busy to the point of clutter -- pushing, prodding, and keeping things moving -- but he doesn't cross the line and become overbearing. Veteran players like Thomas and Osby have no problem working with the rhythmic ebb and flow, negotiating the cross-currents and eddies so each solo becomes an unfolding journey. "Is Everything Relative?" is the only piece where Osby and Thomas engage each other instead of playing the heads together and making separate solo statements. But fans of either saxophonist won't be close to disappointed with Pariah's Pariah, which maintains a consistently high level of musical quality from start to finish.

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