Leron Thomas is Not a Part of Your Clique
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]It’s easy to think of the music industry like a high school cafeteria, with the population divided into various cliques. There are jocks, nerds, emo kids, artsy kids, and more. While these groups, both in high school and the music world, often give people a sense of belonging and shared experience, they contribute to the population’s compartmentalization, erecting invisible walls between people. Every once in a while, though, someone comes along who doesn’t fit into any one category, leaving that rigid mentality behind. Trumpeter Leron Thomas is a musician who makes it very clear through his music and words that he is not part of anyone’s clique. His album Cliquish takes on a life of its own by incorporating influences from all across the music spectrum, making it a brilliantly unpredictable hour of music.
The album’s first song “Extrospection” creeps into our ears from nothingness and quickly establishes an ominous vibe with a pulsing synth. The N.Y.C.-based Thomas then brings in a contrastingly warm, hopeful trumpet tune over the marching synth that showcases his deft touch with melody and dense harmonies. “Extrospection” effectively establishes Thomas’ sense of originality and unpredictability with his music, without sacrificing any of the accessibility.
If “Extrospection” is the introduction to Thomas’ sound and concepts on Cliquish, the follow-up track that shares the album’s name is its mission statement. While the first track is somewhat mysterious and foreboding, the second dives deep into the grittiness of groove. Beginning with a righteous bass line, the track contains many of the elements that comprise Thomas’ sound. The phrasing is unusual but never loses the funk, there is a signature melody in the guitar and synth, and Thomas’ vocals on the track are raw and uncompromisingly honest. There’s a particular phrase that returns over and over again in the song which is, “I’m so glad / I’m not a part of your clique / I’m not a part of your clique, bitch.” The track acts as a not-so-subtle affirmation of Thomas’ unwillingness to cater to anyone else’s expectations. Even though his words are repetitive, his point is made, and it’s a strong one.
Cliquish continues its rampage of deep grooves with “Role Play,” which features funk titans Simon Mavin and Paul Bender of Hiatus Kaiyote on keys and synth bass respectively, as well as vocal virtuoso Bilal. The song’s composition is like a journey, with its initial head-nodding, thumping bass line leading to its dreamy chorus and climactic ending. Thomas trades verses with Bilal to create a message of undeniable sensuality and a yearning for an expanding world of romance. In the chorus, they draw the lover in with the words, “I love the way you are, girl do your thing / You’re makin’ me smile, just like a breath of Spring / and there is much respect but a little role play won’t hurt your pride / if it’s real as you say.” Thomas is creative with his song forms, blurring the traditional lines between verse, chorus, bridge, etc. Even though the aforementioned phrase appears to be a chorus, Thomas follows it with the mantra-like phrases, “I know you love yourself but a little role play won’t hurt your pride” and “You’ve got to play a role” that build toward the track’s end.
One of the more musically adventurous tracks on Cliquish is the warm, nostalgic “Mandy Jo.” Its opening moments are occupied by the sounds of birds chirping, creating a definite sense of optimism. The instrumentation is stripped down more than at any other moment on the album, with just bass and guitar supporting Thomas’ vocals for much of the duration. Thomas describes long lost love while fluctuating between the repeating vocal melody and some spoken word delivery. The accompaniment on the track gradually builds toward the ending, with a new riff in the bass and guitar as well as swelling drums and synth lines sliding into the mix.
The lone cover of the set is the Jan Hammer song, “Don’t You Know,” which couples a driving synth groove with Thomas’ angular vocal melodies. While the song’s beat and lyrics are on the more straightforward end of Thomas’ spectrum, he infuses the track with a good dose of his own musical flair. About halfway through the song, the music breaks down and reassembles around a more dark groove in three. The section is riddled with more riffs and also finds Thomas letting loose on his trumpet. Coming out of the breakdown is a bass solo that introduces yet another groove. So while the track began as a loyal nod to Hammer’s original, it seems as though Thomas was not satisfied with just that, and felt the need to take the song in different, new directions. These elements, along with the lack of a return to the original feel, all contribute to the idea that Thomas doesn’t follow traditional musical rules.
In the album’s bookend “Introspection,” Thomas mirrors the opening track with another instrumental offering. While the former contained a fully realized instrumentation, here Thomas relies only on his horn and some overdubbing to make his point. He builds layers of his Harmon-muted trumpet that contain harmonic pads, melodies, and bubbly textural playing that swell to a climax before dropping out again and then cutting out somewhat abruptly at the end.
It is abundantly clear from Cliquish that Leron Thomas has the chops to play pretty much any music he might choose. The choice he has made, however, has led him to stray from traditional paths in favor of a sound aesthetic unlike any other, and the music world is better off for it. If every musician subscribed to the idea of music as a bunch of separate cliques, the art would never grow, particularly in the ever-evolving world of jazz and its offshoots. Leron Thomas, while perhaps not a household name yet, has certainly done his part in carving out a piece of the music world that is all his own.