Thom Douvan Returns With His Most Eclectic Release, All Over Again
Former Motor City guitarist evokes his ‘70s guitar heroes in his third recording
As a followup to last year’s soulful manifesto Brother Brother, guitarist Thom Douvan stretches into some different territory on All Over Again. Accompanied by such stellar musicians as keyboardist Mitchel Forman, bassist Jimmy Earl, percussionist Luis Conte and drummer Michael Barsimanto, Douvan pushes the envelope on nine original compositions and one well-chosen cover tune. “I see it as a continuum of the jazz, blues and soul music I featured on the last album, with a little bit more rock thrown in this time,” says the former Detroit session man who is currently an in-demand player on the Los Angeles studio scene.
From fusion (“Sephardia”) to smooth jazz (“Deja Vu All Over Again”), swinging jazz (“Wes Coasting”), classical and bluegrass (“Rhonda”) and funk (“Believe in You”), Douvan cuts a wide stylistic swath on his third outing as a leader. And he comes by his eclecticism honestly. “Growing up in Ann Arbor in the early ‘70s, I really came of age musically seeing all the great performers like Count Basie, Miles Davis, Magic Sam, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, The Duke Ellington Orchestra and others at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival,” he recalls. “It really was an era where there were not so many different barriers between different kinds of music. People could go between styles easily. I really miss that freedom, so I wanted to explore that on my own self-produced CDs.” And he does so with impunity while showcasing a variety of different guitars from track to track.
On the opener, “Sephardia,” Douvan plays his trusty 1959 reissue Gibson Les Paul through a Mesa Boogie amp for just a touch of the warm distortion tone that recalls the sax-like sustain of Carlos Santana’s guitar playing. “I dedicated that song to my drummer, Michael Barsimanto, who is partially of Sephardic-Jewish origins,” he explains. “The Sephardic Jews made it as far as Spain in their diaspora, so I tried to capture the feel of Spanish and Moorish influences in this tune.”
“Esthersphere” features another distortion-laced guitar solo by Douvan on a Fender Stratocaster and a brilliant Mini-Moog solo by Forman, a pioneering synth player who worked with only analog keyboards on this outing, at Thom’s request. On the mellow “When Things Fall Apart,” the guitarist affects the singing lines of Larry Carlton. “I love the way that Larry plays searing guitar solos on ballads,” he says. “It’s very soulful to me. I did that a little bit on my last record with the Alicia Keys song, ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ and the Stevie Wonder song ‘Isn’t She Lovely.’ But on this record I really cut loose.”
For “Deja Vu All Over Again,” Douvan switches to nylon string acoustic guitar and blends beautifully with Michael Parlett’s flute on the pleasing melody. “I hear a lot of Earl Klugh in my playing there,” he says. “We used to go see Earl Klugh a lot in Detroit. And people have suggested that this song sounds somewhat like Bob James’ ‘Theme From Taxi.‘ It has that kind of vibe to it. Of course, Bob James played with Earl Klugh a lot, so I hear a little of them both in that song.”
He pulls out his Heritage H-575 Custom for a romp through some agile octaves work on the Latin-tinged swinger “Wes Coasting,” which features Trey Henry on upright bass, Forman on piano and Barsimanto on drums. The lone cover tune here is Kenny Burrell’s “Then I Met You,” which Thom plays on his Bulgarian handmade Orpheus Valley nylon string acoustic guitar. “That’s a beautiful ballad that he wrote for his wife Katherine,” he explains. “I heard Kenny play it live at Yoshi’s jazz club in Oakland and I thought to myself at the time, ‘Here’s a standard that I don’t recognize.’ I thought it might’ve been a Rodgers & Hart or Cole Porter song that I never knew. Then I came to find out that it was a brand new Kenny Burrell composition from the current decade we’re in, even though it sounds like such a throwback to the Great American Songbook. I was just knocked out by it. And he sang on it too. Few people realize that Kenny Burrell is also a wonderful singer with a beautiful baritone voice like Johnny Hartman’s. And we have the great soul singer Lynne Fiddmont singing on our version of that tune.” The string arrangements on this lush rendition were done by Dr. Richard Niles, who co-produced Pat Metheny’s 1979 album American Garage.
Douvan switches to steel string guitars for the affecting “Again Again” and the upbeat ditty “Rhonda,” a bluegrass rondo which has Forman on accordion and features some great Celtic-flavored violin soloing from Mads Tolling, a member of the Grammy Award-winning Turtle Island String Quartet. The closer, “Believe in You,” has the guitarist playing some bluesy licks on a Fender Telecaster on a funky number with a New Orleans second line groove that also features Detroit soul singer Rob McDonald. “I was proud to present Rob because he’s from Detroit and he’s my homeboy,” says the leader of this eclectic session.
“This is a snapshot of some of my favorite influences and music,” says Douvan, who cites Billy Cobham’s Spectrum, Robben Ford’s Inside Story and David Spinozza’s self-titled debut from 1978 as big inspirations for this recording. “I just kind of stood out of the way and let the music happen. And with the caliber of players on this record, I didn’t have anything to worry about.”
He is also quick to point out that his training in Motown from 1985 to 1992 with veteran session players like keyboardist Johnny Griffith and drummer Richard “Pistol” Allen (of the famed Funk Brothers rhythm section) prepared him well for presenting such variety on his own recordings as a leader. “The Funk Brothers were consummate studio musicians. Everybody knows about all the Motown hits that Johnny and Pistol played on, but they also played with Coleman Hawkins, Pepper Adams, Kenny Burrell on the jazz side and John Lee Hooker on the blues side. So the ability to play in different styles and genres, that was something that the Funk Brothers taught me.”
That comes across loud and clear on All Over Again, Douvan’s stellar third release as a leader.