Pan Amsterdam ‘Elevator Music, Vol. 1’ (Def Pressé) 4/5

“A jazz musician died, Pan Am was born” – these are the now infamous words of Pan Amsterdam that have resonated so strongly with fans the world over. The “jazz musician” in question is trumpeter Leron Thomas who didn’t just go through a reinvention, but something more akin to an actual reincarnation.

Starting life as a trumpeter in New York, Leron Thomas’s musical journey saw him struggle to fit into the city’s jazz scene like the proverbial square peg in a round hole. There were successes, like the featured spot as part of the ensemble on Bobby Watson’s ‘From The Heart’ album, released in 2007 through Palmetto Records, but Thomas was aiming higher. The first stage of his evolution came when Thomas set the trumpet aside and claimed centre-stage as a lead vocalist, releasing his solo effort ‘Cliquish’ in 2015. Released through the revered Heavenly Sweetness label, Thomas’s desire to re-engage with his music and re-engage with his initial passion for creation led to the R&B/disco front man with an album backed by leading names including R&B vocalist Bilal and music from Hiatus Kaiyote’s Simon Mavin and Paul Bender, and Florian Pellissier of the Florian Pellissier Quintet.

Collaborating with Scott Moncrieff – better known as the prolific producer thatmanmonkz – helped set Thomas on to a new path all over again resulting in ‘The Pocket Watch’ in 2018. thatmanmonkz’s style of 90s style hip-hop production was the blank canvas Thomas didn’t know he was looking for. “A jazz musician died, Pan Am was born.”

And while ‘The Pocket Watch’ had been warmly received, the 2019 release of ‘Elevator Music, Vol. 1’ has really attracted widespread attention and acclaim. Intended as a trilogy of ‘Elevator Music’ releases, all due for this year, this six-track EP serves as a jaw-dropping combination of backpack-era hip-hop production while still wholly embracing of Thomas’s initial jazz aesthetic, providing the perfect sonic backdrop for Pan Am’s witty lyricism like “To get into my bars, you must first learn to parallel park your car” and references on topics ranging from WWE to the 1980s Karate Kid. After Pan Amsterdam and thatmanmonkz, Leron Thomas himself almost serves as the third member of collective with his subtle trumpet contributions really adding a fascinating dimension to the production.

Further contributions come from rapper Open Mike Eagle who trades verses with Pan Am on the fun opening ‘No Snare’, and in one of the most surprising on-paper collaborations ever, the “Godfather of Punk”, Iggy Pop, guests on the sparse production of ‘Mobile’. Thomas’s trumpet blowing over masterful Monk production while Iggy Pop repeats the words “Two scratches, beef jerky and a Powerball” for the final minute and a half of the song is the single best advert for this project there could be.

Expectations are high for subsequent ‘Elevator Music’ volumes but also for perhaps further cycles of evolution for Leron Thomas.

Imran Mirza