Gary Thomas Punishes the Saxophone

This video is a performance of Gary Thomas alongside Jack DeJohnette and Special Edition performing the tune "One on One" in Burghausen Germany in 1993. The Special Edition consisted of: 

Gary Thomas – Saxophone and Flute

Michael Cain – Keyboard

Marvin James Sewell – Guitar

Lonnie Plaxico – Bass &

Jack DeJohnette – Drums

The thing about this kind of jazz is that it allows the musicians the opportunity to both take care of, and explore the element of space. In other words, they are not bound to the rhythmic and harmonic confines of a chart, and are afforded the oppertunity to stretch out their ideas and interactions among each other. As an audience member this often feels like a journey where the destination is not made clear until you arrive.

Marvin Sewell takes the first solo here and unwraps his prowess and technique immediately. What I enjoy in this solo is that he reinforces the idea that heavy on the guitar does not simply mean loud or distorted. Heavy is a confluence of rhythm, pitch, and innovative thinking – it is the clear exploration of tonality and atonality with direction and dynamics. 

Gary Thomas follows after around the 5:40 minute mark. Although the rhythmic section is not directly featured on this tune, they are the musicians who allow Gary and Marvin to explore the potential of their instruments and ideas as they lay down the rhythmic and harmonic ground work.

Gary's solo here is in a way typical of all my concert experiences with him. You are first struck by his consuming (scary) stage presence, and then immediately afterwards by his sound. His tone is thick, bold, and relentless; it is not a sound to be ignored. Gary also makes exemplary use of direction and arrival point in his solos. This is heard as both crescendo to a sustained high note as well as crescendo to a flurry of scale technique.

Gary Thomas is an athlete of the tenor saxophone, he has to be in order to play this way. Maybe jazz isn't your thing, or maybe your more of a ii V only kind of guy, it doesn't matter. I believe in the virtue of sound, and I believe that when musicians perform with this amount of conviction and sheer talent it speaks across the barriers of genre and directly to the listener.

The original Special Edition was an ensemble featured on an album of the same name. It was released in 1980 and is a command album of forward thinking jazz. It can be found on itunes here. Nevertheless, the band around Jack DeJohnette changed over the years and this is how the great Gary Thomas became part of the group. In addition to this performance, you can find all of Gary's records for sale here