Strong musical context with many concise shapes & forms
Playing Time – 79:14 -- With six covers and six original compositions, Tennessee-born Thomas Heflin’s 79-minute debut album “Symmetry” shows a strong sense of balance and clarity. From the crisp opening notes of “Symmetry 1” to the closer “Symmetry 2,” the jazz trumpeter establishes a strong musical context with many concise shapes and forms. With a fairly sparse approach, Heflin has a knack for unifying subtlety with dexterity and fragility with creativity. The genesis of “When it’s Sleepy Time Down South” evolves from the leisurely and dreamy head to the melodious improvisation of piano, vibes and trumpet. While Heflin and his cohorts really show their moves on standards like Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” and Woody Shaw’s “The Organ Grinder,” the energy is also there for more avant-garde pieces like Heflin’s own “Sketch in Blue” and “Sketch in Pop” that give the rhythm section plenty of opportunity to shine. The equilibrium created by the juxtaposition of old and new stylings is largely the result of Heflin’s attention to tones, notes and phrases. The self-penned “Sketch in Pop” sits nicely side-by-side in the set with Stevie Wonder’s expressive “My Cherie Amour.” While the album’s title may have the connotation of some degree of uniformity in the offerings, I was pleasantly surprised by the variation and distinctiveness of each track. If there is a characteristic style that permeates the set, it’s in the youthful exuberance that Heflin exudes in each even arrangement that manages to capture some of his own personality and individualism.
A former member of the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, Heflin calls upon both big guns and rising stars to help prepare the nuances and colors of his thoughtful, coherent sound. They include the late James Williams (piano), Chris Conner (vibraphone), Frank Hauch (bass), Tom Sauter (bass), Louis Heriveaux (piano), and Quinn Blandford (drums). The ballad “Eastern Star” is dedicated to pianist James Williams. I was particularly fond of the inclusion of vibes in the mix of four selections, including Bobby Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem.” To most fully explore the combo’s melodic lyricism, the nearly 12-minute original “Salutation” is an enlivened ballad that perhaps could have used some additional instrumental embellishment like tenor sax for a little tonal variation.
Placing second in the prestigious 2005 Carmine Caruso International Trumpet Solo Competition in Seattle, Thomas Heflin plays with conviction and unity. While some of his riffs in Monk’s “Bemsha Swing” sound a tad cautious, his attitude is certainly not one of complacency. His improvisational skills are polished. “Symmetry” makes a strong and distinctive statement. Great success and fame will certainly be his if he can tap into the fire of his youth and hunger for making a difference with his music. His continued performing, touring, and recording will definitely solidify the reputation and acclaim for this trumpeter who is now also teaching, since 2006, at the University of Texas where he is pursuing his doctorate in music. It may not be long before the name Heflin is as well known in jazz circles as trumpeters Davis, Curson, Terry, Mitchell or Farmer. (Joe Ross, Roseburg, OR. rossjoe [at] hotmail dot com)