Saturday, August 06, 2005

Glottal Stopping

One (1969)
Damn Nam (Ain't Goin' to Vietnam) (1969)

Real men yodel. That makes Leon Thomas a man's man. Thomas got his big break singing with pharaoh Sanders in 1969, that same year Thomas released the album pictured on the left (titled Spirits Known And Unknown). It came out on Flying Dutchman Records, and was subtitled "New Vocal Frontiers." The record stands up to that claim, as Thomas' style is something that cannot be matched by many.

Thomas would scat and sing, but that was not uncommon for a jazz vocalist. What made him unique was that he also yodeled. His knowledge of this ability came about by coincidence. Thomas busted himself up bad in his apartment from a yoga accident (no joke), and needed to get eight stitches. This happened just before a show he was supposed to do with Sanders. Deciding he had to do the gig, Thomas went up in front of the crowd (it was a benefit for anti-police activists) and tried to scat. When he did, the sound that you will hear on his recordings first came out. He is really a very interesting person in jazz history, and a more detailed version of the yodeling story, along with interviews with Thomas, can be found on this website.

Spirits Known And Unknown is an album that makes the voice the primary instrument. In the liner notes of the LP, Thomas says, "We're into a new period. So far the horns have been in the forefront in terms of exploring the new dimensions of sound and expression. But no one has been nearly adventurous enough--for this time [he had earlier referred to music found in ancient Africa and the Himalayas]--with the possibilities of the voice. I feel I'm into that, and I feel it can be unusually therapeutic, for the listener as well as for the singer." While the vocals are the lead instrument, pharaoh Sanders (billed as "Little Rock") and Lonnie Liston Smith, Jr. add some musical muscle to the recording.

"One" and "Damn Nam (Ain't Goin' to Vietnam)" are beautiful songs that are lyrically and musically complex. Thomas continues to make a statement, saying (in the liner notes), "through everything I do now, there's my conviction that you have to be more than an entertainer. It just doesn't make any sense pretending nothing else is happening outside of wherever it is you're performing." Thomas keeps his music a beautiful art while also making social commentary.

A discography of Thomas can be found here. He also worked with another artist in the 70s, one who has much more popular acclaim: Santana. More information on their history together can be found on the previously linked site. Thomas had a great career, one that ended in 1999 when he passed away from leukemia. He left plenty of great music for the masses. You can pick up the reissues of his stuff over at Dusty Groove. Enjoy.


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