Puzzle Pieces by Bryant Thompson – reviewed by Chris Mann


You can read the full biography of New Jersey born Bryant Thompson on his excellent website (link below). I’m going to ask you to do just that because I want to get on and talk about what’s on the latest disc from this astonishing composer/musician/producer – “Puzzle Pieces”

I’m already hooked by the easy but relentless groove of ‘Movado’. The bass just does its thing while a muted trumpet doubles the piano. Touches of percussion and some nice synthesizer washes combine with the solid groove and melody to draw you in. Oh wow!

‘Reflections of Time’ is a slower piece, using the muted trumpet in a different way for dramatic effect. The Latin feel to this track comes from the deft rimshots and some subtle acoustic guitar. There are some keyboard touches in here that remind me of some of my favourite contemporary jazz from the late 90’s. The whole arrangement is fabulous, I have to say, with nothing that needs to be added or removed.

‘Selah’ has a more urban feel and a very smoky alto sax sound courtesy of Mike Burton. I enjoy Donna Hairston’s deceptively busy bassline too. Add background vocals, turn up the fire under the sax and the passion really builds towards the end of this ballad.

Crystal clear piano opens the lovely ‘Stargazing’. The doubling of sax and electric guitar lines and the way the soprano sax cuts through on the melody make this song stick in my mind and I think this would be a great choice for a single.

‘Love Notes’ is a slow solo piano piece which unfolds over almost 8 minutes and is reminiscent of pensive pieces I have heard from Marcus Johnson and Joe Sample. It’s spellbinding and allows the listener to appreciate Bryant’s technique. As usual (and I can’t explain why) I keep one ear open for music that would sound great on a film soundtrack – this song is it for me.

Layers of percussion build the basis for ‘Free Your Mind’. The melody is played on bass à la Braxton Brothers by Darrell Freeman. He also takes an adventurous solo as the song’s chord structure suddenly takes a darker turn. A lot happens in this 4 minutes.

Funk-hunters can go to ‘Shadowboxer’ for their fix. The rhythm is funk with a nice smooth edge and the lovely semi-acoustic guitar sound of Eric Essix, of whom I’ve long been a fan. Catchy and melodic in equal measure, again this has all the elements of the best contemporary jazz I’ve been enjoying for the past 15 years.

A step up in pace and some sweet female background vocals make ‘Do You Know You’ instantly appealing. Throw in the guitar of Anthony Papamichael and you have a song you could (and maybe will) have in your head all day.

I love the staccato rhythm of ‘Japonica Avenue’. It’s built from Sam Sims’ sparse bassline, Joey Gonzalez’ light touch on percussion and that innate ‘groove’ that I can’t describe but the nodding of my head as I type this tells me is definitely in the house.

The album closes on as classy a note as it opens with the jazz and funky ‘Perfect Timing’. Ahh yes, I was trying to find a comparison for those brass stabs – Incognito. Some great horn work marks the transitions from peaceful to energetic in this complex composition. I love it because it never throws the listener off track despite its mood changes and the way it jumps off the beat near the end.

I’ve made a number of comparisons with other artists here and I’ve talked about the contributions made by the other musicians on this record, but let me make this quite clear: Bryant Thompson has his own sound. All ten songs were written and produced by him and though he gives his collaborators a lot of the limelight, his touch is everywhere – a fact I’ll become even more aware of as I listen more, and I will be listening a lot more.

BryCel Productions. Producer – Bryant Thompson


Buy it here: CDBaby


Born in Jersey City, NJ, Bryant Thompson has chosen since several years the Atlanta area as his working field. He is President of SFC Records: a production and recording company in the Atlanta region. Here he is supporting many musicians with his skills as musician, producer and engineer. Maurice Rogers, Kurt Carr, Darrell Freeman, Paulis Sanchez, Ron James, Candi Staton and Jeremy Haynes are among the artists Bryant has worked with.

It's only natural that his greatest wish was to record his own album. Finally he presents this year his debut Puzzle Pieces, a fine collection of jazz art. The first piece of Bryant's puzzle is entitled after the luxury clock Movado. Prosperous fragments of melodies embedded into a precise rhythm scheme featuring Joe Grandsen on trumpet and Dan Baraszu on guitar. Dan and his group Planet Zu have just released the album In The Light Of Day.

Reflections Of Time is a musical moment and rumination about this physical unit which is so important for life and development. Bryant's atmospheric thoughts in frames and bars. Selah, a meaningful word with a great sound and a huge mystery. Mike Burton on sax fills the song with love and soul. No wonder that his new album is entitled Soulful.

It's the time for Stargazing, watching the stars with your beloved one. Listen to Mace Hibbard's mesmerizing dream catching soprano sax. Based in Atlanta Mace is an accomplished saxophonist with a jazz heritage. He is a professor of jazz studies and saxophone at Georgia State University.

Bryant showcases his romantic side with the intimate solo piano piece Love Notes. Melodious, sensitive and long-winded in many details. Free Your Mind surprises with a complex jazz fusion composition featuring Darrell Freeman with an outgoing bass performance. The funky Shadowboxer features Birmingham's bass hero Eric Essix, who received high accolades with the tribute to his hometown. But Steve "Left-Hand" Lewis is the musician, who spurs the track with his Wah guitar.

Do You Know You presents singer Tracy Hamlin, best known for her longtime association with Pieces of a Dream. The significant instrumental factor of this tune is Anthony Papamichael's guitar. Walk along the Japonica Avenue and follow the rhythm. Contemporary jazz rocks! Perfect Timing is the essential part of music. When all members of the group suit each other, then you can listen to the magic.

Bryant Thompson's album Puzzle Pieces offers compellingly listenable tunes for all serious lovers of contemporary jazz.

© Hans-Bernd Hülsmann

Title: Puzzle Pieces
Artist: Bryant Thompson
Year: 2011
Length: 0:49:36
Genre: General Jazz
Label: BryCel


01 Movado [4:47]
02 Reflections Of Time [5:03]
03 Selah [4:37]
04 Stargazing [4:30]
05 Love Notes [7:43]
06 Free Your Mind [4:12]
07 Shadowboxer [4:38]
08 Do You Know You [4:07]
09 Japonica Avenue [4:10]
10 Perfect Timing [5:48]

Review by Denis Poole


Bryant Thompson - Puzzle Pieces

Keyboard player Bryant Thompson is located in the Atlanta area and has worked in several different areas of the music business. ‘Puzzle Pieces’, which is a commendable collection of predominately understated contemporary jazz, realizes a long held ambition to produce and release an album of his own music. Not only does it achieve this and then some but also provides an indicator of the depth of undiscovered talent that is out there and searching to be heard.

Thompson’s style is rooted in a fusion which sometimes appears at the contemporary end of the jazz spectrum and at others is positioned in a way that will satisfy the purists. At the smoother extremity of this musical rainbow is the delicious vibe of ‘Reflections Of Time’ which proves to be a mellow delight and although Thompson’s solo piano performance on ‘Love Notes’ is quite simply beauty personified, a change of gears moves him into the easy grooving ‘Shadowboxer’ for which Eric Essix on guitar is in excellent form.

‘Selah’ is flecked with subliminal vocals from G. Wright and enriched by the considerable contribution of Mike Burton on sax. It’s the sort of sultry song that epitomizes much of the collection while later, when Thompson eases up the tempo for ‘Japonica Avenue’, the result is something both jazzy and melodic. In similar vein is the closing track, ‘Perfect Timing’ that carries a big band swagger which Thompson underpins with a jazzy vibe and he uses another technically complex tune, ‘Free Your Mind’, to showcase the talents of bass-player Darrell Freeman.

Despite the feeling of the 5th Dimension that ‘Do You Know You’ undeniably has, the vocals of Pieces of A Dream regular Tracy Hamlin leaves this silky number sounding delightfully fresh and another track right up there with the album’s best is ‘Movado’. This brassy cut is in the best traditions of bands such as The Rippingtons and features cool muted trumpet from Joe Grandsen plus fine guitar from Joe Baraszu. However, that said, another Smooth Jazz Therapy favourite is ‘Stargazing’. Driven smoothly along by Ron James on alto sax; this melodic gem checks most every smooth jazz box imaginable.

‘Puzzle Pieces’ is available now from CD Baby and is worth checking out.

Puzzle Pieces reviewed by Harvey Cline.


I'm honored that O's Place Jazz Magazine has chosen "Puzzle Pieces" as one of it's favorites.