Puzzle Pieces by Bryant Thompson – reviewed by Chris Mann


You can read the full biography of New Jersey born Bryant Thompson on his excellent website (link below). I’m going to ask you to do just that because I want to get on and talk about what’s on the latest disc from this astonishing composer/musician/producer – “Puzzle Pieces”

I’m already hooked by the easy but relentless groove of ‘Movado’. The bass just does its thing while a muted trumpet doubles the piano. Touches of percussion and some nice synthesizer washes combine with the solid groove and melody to draw you in. Oh wow!

‘Reflections of Time’ is a slower piece, using the muted trumpet in a different way for dramatic effect. The Latin feel to this track comes from the deft rimshots and some subtle acoustic guitar. There are some keyboard touches in here that remind me of some of my favourite contemporary jazz from the late 90’s. The whole arrangement is fabulous, I have to say, with nothing that needs to be added or removed.

‘Selah’ has a more urban feel and a very smoky alto sax sound courtesy of Mike Burton. I enjoy Donna Hairston’s deceptively busy bassline too. Add background vocals, turn up the fire under the sax and the passion really builds towards the end of this ballad.

Crystal clear piano opens the lovely ‘Stargazing’. The doubling of sax and electric guitar lines and the way the soprano sax cuts through on the melody make this song stick in my mind and I think this would be a great choice for a single.

‘Love Notes’ is a slow solo piano piece which unfolds over almost 8 minutes and is reminiscent of pensive pieces I have heard from Marcus Johnson and Joe Sample. It’s spellbinding and allows the listener to appreciate Bryant’s technique. As usual (and I can’t explain why) I keep one ear open for music that would sound great on a film soundtrack – this song is it for me.

Layers of percussion build the basis for ‘Free Your Mind’. The melody is played on bass à la Braxton Brothers by Darrell Freeman. He also takes an adventurous solo as the song’s chord structure suddenly takes a darker turn. A lot happens in this 4 minutes.

Funk-hunters can go to ‘Shadowboxer’ for their fix. The rhythm is funk with a nice smooth edge and the lovely semi-acoustic guitar sound of Eric Essix, of whom I’ve long been a fan. Catchy and melodic in equal measure, again this has all the elements of the best contemporary jazz I’ve been enjoying for the past 15 years.

A step up in pace and some sweet female background vocals make ‘Do You Know You’ instantly appealing. Throw in the guitar of Anthony Papamichael and you have a song you could (and maybe will) have in your head all day.

I love the staccato rhythm of ‘Japonica Avenue’. It’s built from Sam Sims’ sparse bassline, Joey Gonzalez’ light touch on percussion and that innate ‘groove’ that I can’t describe but the nodding of my head as I type this tells me is definitely in the house.

The album closes on as classy a note as it opens with the jazz and funky ‘Perfect Timing’. Ahh yes, I was trying to find a comparison for those brass stabs – Incognito. Some great horn work marks the transitions from peaceful to energetic in this complex composition. I love it because it never throws the listener off track despite its mood changes and the way it jumps off the beat near the end.

I’ve made a number of comparisons with other artists here and I’ve talked about the contributions made by the other musicians on this record, but let me make this quite clear: Bryant Thompson has his own sound. All ten songs were written and produced by him and though he gives his collaborators a lot of the limelight, his touch is everywhere – a fact I’ll become even more aware of as I listen more, and I will be listening a lot more.


BryCel Productions.   Producer – Bryant Thompson