Leron Thomas ‘Cliquish’ LP/CD (Heavenly Sweetness) 4/5

leron-thomasHouston, Texas born, singer Leron Thomas is a graduate of the Performing Visual Arts in his native city and a multi-instrumentalist. He moved to New York in order to develop both as a trumpeter and composer. This new recording follows on from both a series of acclaimed EPs and a full-fledged album, ‘Take it’, that was released on French label On Point as well as featuring more recently on one of DJ Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label ‘Bubblers’ compilations, the latter being a consistent champion of Thomas’ work. Another Parisian label, Heavenly Sweetness, is in charge here and the result is an extremely well balanced and diverse recording that spans soul, funk, jazz and more contemporary hip-hop and R & B influences, much in the same way that Erykah Badu did some fifteen years ago and, hopefully, with a similar degree of commercial success.
Currently one of the most in-demand artists, Leron Thomas performed at London’s Jazz Café in November and at the Paris-based MAMA festival the previous month. Funk fans will most likely revel in the groove-laden ‘Snicka bar’, but arguably the strongest number of all in this particular vein is the mellower funk of ‘Role play’ which is a contender for strongest song and there are definitely elements of George Clinton here. While it is true to say that the combination of trumpet and vocals is an unusual one, Thomas’ jazz credentials are impeccable insofar as he has already recorded with the likes of Billy Harper and Roy Hargrove in addition to Robert Glasper and Charles Tolliver, and surely a jazz oriented album will surface at some later date. The singer’s jazz roots are most evident on a number such as ‘Ambitious ways and no sex today’ with electrified horns while additional diversity emerges with the contribution of vocalist Bilal who had recently recorded as a leader in his own right. Elsewhere, in a more soulful quiet storm format, he excels on ballads such as ‘Mandy Jo’ and ‘Don’t you know’. Indeed, there is even a soulful duet with Zara Mc Farlane on ‘Angie La La’. For many, in comparison to the formulaic nature of much neo-soul, this album will prove to be a revelation and it is most certainly worthy of contention among the best contemporary albums of the year.

Tim Stenhouse