Press Reviews and Comments

Photo by Melissa Morano

Thomas doesn’t limit himself jazz. He also composes orchestral, choral and chamber works, and that aspect of his work seeps inevitably into his jazz offerings—the polish and the exactitude. “First Frost” has a orchestral feel—with, again French horn and cello included in the mix. The highlight, “Abraham and Isaac,” includes French horn and trombone, producing a sound that can be compared to that of composer/arranger Gil Evans, or perhaps Herbie Hancock’s overlooked Speak Like A Child set. The disc’s title tune rides a swirl of spiritual mystery, with Frahm’s tenor and Swana’s EVI circling each other in the updraft of the beautifully-crafted arrangement, on a set that represents a forward leap for David Bennett Thomas.

Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz

Thomas writes in harmonically and rhythmically complex styles, requiring a high level of virtuoisty. He tailors each work to the idiom of the medium for which it is written. His music is intense, yet ingratiating. An overview of his works reveals stylistic and artistic integrity. The artists, all highly successful in their respective fields, perform with passion, commitment, and great skill. Thomas has a distinct, effective musical voice that deserves to be heard.

American Organist Magazine

His music is concise and comprehensible, though he doesn‘t talk down to the listener or subscribe to any particular isms. This is a composer with an individual voice.

David Moore, American Record Guide

David Bennett Thomas is a bit of a Renaissance guy when it comes to music. A gifted composer of classical and choral, chamber and orchestral music, he also veers on occasion into the jazz world. He brings to jazz a cerebral approach that is also engaging on a purely kick-back-and-listen level. It is with repeated listenings that the music reveals its depth…the sound made by the six musicians playing Thomas’ forward-looking compositions with precision and verve-and some funkiness-sound like an offshoot of pianist Chick Corea’s Elektrik band of the late 1980’s, soaring off to the stars.

Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz

Thomas’ pacing is deliberate, leading him to introspective exposition. The composer’s voice is not without brightness, and even some sprightliness, but he is most eloquent in the shadows, especially when he is exploring the textures of the instruments.

Peter Burwasser, Philadelphia City Paper

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.

Kile Smith, WRTI CD Review Broadcast

Thomas’ comping behind Micah Jones’ fluid bass solo is economical and understated, leading to his own intricately lovely solo… James Joyce represents serious literature. Using the author’s classic novel as a jumping off point for a jazz recording, Thomas has come up with a superbly crafted, accessible and nourishing work of art.

Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz

While Paganini‘s Caprices for solo violin tend to be odysseys in violin technique, David Bennett Thomas (who studied with Lukas Foss) created an intense emotional journey, similar to an operatic recitative and aria, in Whim for solo flute.

David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer

The program included two pieces for solo flute that could become popular items for future flute recitals. David Bennett Thomas’s Whim dispenses with time signatures and most bar lines – an arrangement that lets him create long phrases without worrying about standard rhythmic patterns. The result is a dazzling flute display that would be a good choice for flutists who‘d like to open a program with a solo that‘s less familiar than Debussy’s Syrinx.

Tom Purdom, The Broad Street Review

The opening work was the one which gave the concert its name: David Bennett Thomas’ poignant setting of a brief but effective poem by Dickinson (Chanting To Paradise)… gorgeous work.

Sarah Bryan Miller, St. Louis Post

One can note with pleasure the flexibility of Thomas’ musical language, and his determination to respond to poetic texts in an individual way. Each piece calls forth a different vocabulary from Thomas, defined most of all through intervallic emphasis. The psalm settings, with their lyrical language of faith, rely on open fifths, for example. In the “November-December” section of the title Songs of Seasons, Thomas evokes winter‘s gray not with the usual cloud of impressionistic harmonies but with an insistent and growing repetition of a single chord. Throughout, he succeeds in deriving novel programmatic effects from simple materials. The Gregg Smith Singers continue their long mastery of small-scale contemporary choral music with assured, sympathetic performances that will make many choristers want to rush out and try these pieces themselves.

James Manheim, All Media Guide

For two bass clarinets we also have the “Conversation Pieces” by David Bennett Thomas. Ten short to very short pieces (the title of song four is: “The title is longer than the piece” and takes about 5 seconds), with a total time of eight minutes. The “Conversation Pieces,” written in 2009, are particularly well written for the bass clarinet, sometimes challenging, always surprising and very effective.”

Harry Sparnaay’s book, The Bass Clarinet

The piece [Piano Sonata #2] convinces on both structural and emotional levels…. [Sonata for Cello Solo is] an invigorating cocktail of style and technique…. [on Juliet] after a moving, almost Messiaenic introduction, the violin traces the voice exactly in the vocalize of “O serpent heart…,” using repetition of a melodic loop to a powerful climax – easily the most impressive moment on the disc. The directness of David Bennett Thomas’ communication with the listener should be noted, for he makes music that speaks with no pretension, and makes for a rewarding listening experience.”

Ben Hogwood, The Classical Source, February 11, 2006

Thomas is a highly gifted and interesting composer who has his own distinct voice. His music is very well written for voice or instruments, and presents a real challenge to the performers. He is very musical, prolific, hard working, motivated, intelligent. I have great confidence in his future.

Lukas Foss

Thomas’ work is a refreshingly fresh flowering of a sensible a-historical approach to our musical art… The Impromptus for Flute and Piano move effortlessly between irony and profundity, and even between sight-gag slapstick and the mournfully langorous…. every phrase and every event in Thomas’ music displays a perfectly conceived application of the proper scale of time and density for those events with regard to the weight and the tone of the musical ideas he is using. Perhaps this is the greatest lesson the great masters have to teach us about composition. David seems to know how to deploy his forces in such a way as to bring about this ‘classic‘ balance.

Ron Thomas (from the liner notes to, The Music of David Bennett Thomas, Vol. 1)

Elegy for Tu Fu makes use of plucked and damped piano strings with a limpid bass flute melody which is repeatedly drawn to, absorbed in, and deflected from the piano‘s pitches, occasionally recalling Takemitsu. Here, and in Moment, where bass flute and Sarah Watts’s bass clarinet interweave, with occasional delicious trompe l‘oreille ambiguities, Thomas begins to explore a language where timbre and articulation are as considered as pitch and rhythm.

Simon Waters, Pan Magazine

The rewarding vocal works on Songs of Seasons provide yet more evidence that David Bennett Thomas is a composer who is capable of virtuoso writing, but opts to keep unnecessary flashiness reined in for a deeper, more thoughtful approach. The Gregg Smith Singers lend great feeling and technical precision to Thomas’ music, while pianist Thomas Schmidt handles his role with warmth and dexterity… Beginning with the serenely beautiful harmonies of O Magnum Mysterium for mixed chorus, the disc remains consistently engrossing… A setting of excerpts from three of the Psalms for baritone and piano is a major highlight of the disc. Jared Stamm offers soulful readings of Thomas’s strong melodies as Schmidt traverses intriguing harmonic territory…

Brad Glanden, Sequenza 21

…immediately engaging… meticulously structured works… a natural organicity, and fluidity of expression… Thomas’ material is playful, soulful, technically dazzling, and acutely communicative.

Andrew Quint, Philadelphia Music Makers, Spring 2006

The chamber works of David Bennett Thomas may be categorized as neo-Romantic, neo-tonal, or even as a kind of sophisticated “fusion classical,” but these terms by themselves are inadequate to describe the complex mixtures of elements in his music. His strongest pieces reveal both modernist influences and contemporary applications, though blended to sound original and whole, not like self-conscious parodies or pastiches. Thomas is shrewd enough not to wear his influences on his sleeve, and these presumed sources are reworked with jazz harmonies and influences in an idiosyncratic but distinctive post-modern approach.

Blair Sanderson, All Media Guide

If one takes the title of this disc [Moment] to heart and interprets it as a series of moments, connected less by an adherence to orthodox structures and more by an intuitive compositional approach, one is impressed by how well it functions as a whole. This cohesiveness owes much to rarescale, the ensemble that performs the eight pieces included here. With some decidedly uncommon instrumentation grouped in combinations as rare as the moniker suggests, rarescale have a sound all their own, and David Bennett Thomas has composed some beautiful chamber works for them to perform.

There‘s an undercurrent of unconventional soundmaking throughout the disc that reaches beyond rarescale‘s commitment to promoting the alto and bass flutes. For example, Thomas asks the performers to blow into tuned wine bottles (Recalled to Life), play inside the piano (Elegy for Tu Fu), and imitate bird calls a la Messiaen (Short Suite). This is not obtrusive experimentation, but is worth mention given the approachability of the music. The presence of bass flute and bass clarinet gives some of the works a decidedly darker quality; the duo Moment sets the two instruments on paths that are closely aligned rhythmically and harmonically, making for a bewildering and fascinating listening experience. With Edifice for bass clarinet and piano, one is struck by both Thomas’s unique musical language and the expressiveness with which the work is performed.

A jazz pianist, Thomas brings both spontaneity and an awareness of jazz harmony to his concert music. The latter is especially apparent on Evocations, a work with particularly impressive piano writing. Sketches for Flute and Guitar finds another traditionally chordal instrument treated as one of two melodic voices on equal standing.

Donald Chittum‘s impressive liner notes give the attention, thorough analysis, and sense of pure enjoyment that a recording like this one merits. The disc is a success both for Thomas and for rarescale flutist and founder Carla Rees, who is featured on the solo flute piece Steeples in My Soul. One could not make a stronger case for the alto and bass flutes than the one Rees makes on this disc.

Brad Glanden, Sequenza 21

The Dawning, for unaccompanied men‘s chorus, manifests Thomas’ exceptional ability to choose texts with great potential for musical elaboration…the shape and direction the music takes is exactly right, seeming to derive spontaneously from the verse… Psalms captures the peaceful, lyrical essence of these ancient songs… Especially affecting is “Old War Dreams” (WARSONG), where a sweetly memorable melody seems decidedly out-of-sync with the gruesome scene described, a reflection of the emotional distancing that can occur in the face of overwhelming trauma. “Dirge for Two Veterans,” picturing a father and son being buried together, is a sad march saturated with an aching sense of loss.

Andrew Quint, Philadelphia Music Makers, Spring 2008

While all the works represented here are accessible to even the most casual listener of classical music, there is an undercurrent of complexity and texture that is uncommon in many newly composed pieces. That added structure gives a new dimension to Thomas’ recordings and is what makes his writing so honest and completely convincing.

Sean Hickey, The Daily Local, January 6, 2006