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Kile Smith Recommends: David Bennett Thomas, Paths

Listeners look for categories, but artists freely create, and David Bennett Thomas is, first of all, an artist. Neo-this, post-that, or fusion-with-something-else may be of interest to others, but the artist is interested only in creating.

David Bennett Thomas works in jazz and classical music, but he doesn’t put one foot in one and one in the other. He’s a professional, so he commits to either, depending on his purpose. He’s an artist, so he’s true, regardless of what he’s composing. He laughs and loves life, so his music is filled with humor and, perhaps what is most revolutionary in our earnest age, happiness.
These facets are plainly evident in Paths, this collection of some of Thomas’s latest solo and chamber works. The Duo for Cello and Piano is a genial introduction to his music. There’s a narrative itching under the just-so title, and that’s part of the attraction. His writing is exact, compact, and smart.

Thomas wrings lyricism from every phrase as if he can’t help it.

For flute, viola, and cello is Deseo. Thomas took the title (Spanish for “desire”) from a poem by Lorca. The music is all butter and spice. Off in multiple directions it runs, returning always to a languid gaze, as if a window has been opened onto a warm breeze. The window is open, but not the door. Its emotions are unanticipated, but Deseo convinces in the tale it tells.

Paths is so attractive that it is easy to overlook the rhythmic hiccups and metrical shifts that bubble gloriously underneath. Seemingly throwaway lines pick out bop harmonies, but overall, a French classicism pervades the music.

Artistry at the service of communication is the hallmark of the music of David Bennett Thomas. This kind of artistry never struts, and might better be called “authenticity.” When music is authentic, as Thomas’s is, there’s no need for neo- or post- or any categories. When there’s artistry, there’s commitment and truth, and even, in the case of David Bennett Thomas, happiness.