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CD Review: Rich Thompson “Less is More” 

Drummer Rich Thompson is no stranger to the Rochester jazz scene. Aside from his main gig, teaching jazz drumming and directing the Jazz Lab Band at the Eastman School of Music, he’s also appeared locally with a broad range of artists including Marian McPartland and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. In the past he’s held the drum chair for the Count Basie Orchestra, and he still goes on the road with Byron Stripling.

Lately Thompson has been active in the recording studio. Last year he released “Generations” with his excellent trio. His most recent, “Less is More,” is a small-group album with a totally different lineup. On most tracks the quartet consists of Thompson with Terell Stafford on trumpet or flugelhorn, Gary Versace on keyboards, and Jeff Campbell on bass. Several of the tracks also feature Doug Stone on tenor saxophone.

While Stone is terrific on “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” it’s Stafford and Versace who really stretch out over the superb rhythms laid down by Thompson and Campbell. Thompson wrote only one tune, the excellent mid-tempo title track. Aside from “Hoot Gibson” by Campbell (which is quite a hoot – the most playful tune on the album, with Stafford and Versace going fairly wild), Thompson has chosen mostly standards.

While there are excellent treatments of songs by Frank Loesser (“I’ve Never Been in Love Before”), Kenny Dorham (“Lotus Blossom”) and others, the standout cover is “Invisible,” a composition by Ornette Coleman. While Coleman is known for his more avant-garde works, this tune – reminiscent of Thelonious Monk – has the advantage of being as accessible as it is intriguing. The rhythm is complex and the chord changes challenging; both Thomson and Stafford turn in excellent solos.

It’s worth noting that aside from some world-renowned players, “Less is More” is a local affair. The album’s executive producer is Tom Hampson, who jazz fans will know from his long-running radio show on WXXI. (And I mean long-running; he’s been doing the show for over 50 years). The session was recorded beautifully at The Studios at Linden Oaks and mixed and mastered by Jeff Gilhart here in Rochester. As for the title, no explanation is given and no explanation is necessary. There’s not a wasted note; less is indeed more.

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