Mystic Trumpet Man Malachi Thompson

By Turner, Douglas | American Visions, June-July 1994 | Go to article overview

Mystic Trumpet Man Malachi Thompson


Turner, Douglas, American Visions


Malachi Thompson is a modern-day griot. Through his music, his historical research on African music in America, his writings (including a syndicated jazz column, "State of the Art") and his lectures, the trumpeter-educator seeks to be a repository and conveyor of the history and culture of his people.

Thompson's quest for knowledge led him to Egypt in 1992, where he learned that the trumpet played an integral role in ancient Egypt and that the musical scales used by the ancient Egyptians were similar to those of jazz. He also viewed artifacts attesting to the ethnic makeup and the scientific and cultural significance of the ancient Egyptians. "That experience changed my life," he says. "You can buy books on Egypt and look at videos, but once you go over there and see what the black man can do when he comes together in unity, it will just blow you away."

The personal metamorphosis that took place following his expedition to Egypt is reflected in Thompson's latest release, Lift Every Voice (Delmark, 1993), which features both his Freebop Band (a quintet) and Africa Brass (his large brass ensemble). "The theme of the CD is based on that trip," he explains. "It's about bringing together the African and American cultures, and how this music came out of the collision of these two cultures."

Shining examples of Thompson's fusion of the African with the American are "Elephantine Island" and its hypnotic rhythms; "Tales of Ancient Kemet," an ode to Kemet--as ancient Egypt was called--with trumpets heralding; and "Nubian Call," an attempt by Thompson to re-create his experience playing from the west bank of the Nile River.

In keeping with Thompson's sense of tradition, Lift Every Voice covers the black music spectrum, from the New Orleans-flavored arrangement of "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" to the freer sounds of "The Trick of the Trip."

The public and critics on both coasts have responded positively to Thompson's vision. Downbeat's Howard Mandel exclaimed, "Clarion brassman Thompson is the most ambitious and accomplished composer/ arranger among Delmark's new stars."

An impressive addition to Thompson's growing body of work (including Spirit and The Jaz Life), Lift Every Voice made several Best-of-1993 lists and firmly established Thompson as one of the outstanding and exploratory musicians in postbop jazz. He was named Talent Deserving Wider Recognition for trumpet and jazz group in the 1993 Downbeat International Critic's Poll, and he was awarded grand prize honors for the Hennessey Jazz Search Best of Chicago competition.

This fall will bring the release of a new recording, New Standards (Delmark), featuring Thompson with saxophonists Joe Ford, Ron Bridgewater and the late Carter Jefferson playing the music of Wayne Shorter, Booker Little and John Coltrane, as well as originals by Thompson.

Thompson's interest in jazz began at an early age, when his mother, who had an extensive jazz record collection, took him to the original Regal Theater in Chicago to hear giants like Count Basie and Art Blakey. "Everything was right there," Thompson recalls. "Right up the street was the Sutherland Lounge and Ballroom, which had jazz concerts every week."

In 1967 he began an apprenticeship with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Chicago's legendary collective of musicians interested in exploring all aspects of jazz, especially the more experimental aspects of free jazz. …

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