Personnel: Leon Thomas (vocals, flute, percussion); Donald Smith, James Spaulding (flute); Jerome Richardson (alto saxophone); Billy Harper (tenor saxophone); Howard Johnson (baritone saxophone); Ernie Royal (trumpet); Arthur Sterling (piano); John Williams (bass guitar); Roy Haynes, Billy Cobham (drums); Gene Golden, Sonny Morgan, Richard Landrum (percussion).
Arranger: Oliver Nelson.
On the follow-up to the mind-blowing Spirits Known and Unknown, singer, multi-instrumentalist, arranger, and composer Leon Thomas decided to take a different track. Far from the sparely orchestrated ensembles of the previous works, Thomas loaded this set with jazz luminaries such as Roy Haynes and Billy Cobham, Billy Harper, Donald Smith, James Spaulding, Sonny Morgan, Ernie Royal, and many others as well as a backing chorus of female voices. Side one is the up-tempo jazz ride, as Thomas and company rip through a host of his own tunes, such as the scatted post-bop of "I Am" and the nearly bar-walking blues of "Come Along." But the side is graced by an absolutely stunning read of Milt Jackson's "Bag's Groove," with Harper leading a five-horn section. The real gem on the album is "Pharaoh's Tune (The Journey)," which comprises all of side two. After setting up a live audience with a narrative laced with sound effects from the vanguard jazzers, the tune develops its groove about four minutes in and the bells and yodel come out, and from here it's Thomas at his improvisational best as both a singer and a bandleader. Everybody here is inspired, especially the two drummers. Harper, Spaulding, and Smith weave snake-charming lines around one another, and the entire thing just lifts off and never returns. It's a breathtaking ride made all the more so by the long, jazzed-out setup of side one. Why this guy wasn't huge is a mystery. ~ Thom Jurek