Thomas, a veteran master of brass and reed instruments, teams with Groenewald, the man he describes in his liner notes as "the perfect fit for me as an arranger." With a band that includes ten of the Pacific Northwest's major jazz artists, the two explore the possibilities in a dozen ballads from the past nine decades. In the five years or so that the German-born Groenewald has lived near Seattle on an island in Puget Sound, he and Thomas have developed a personal and artistic relationship whose closeness expresses itself in Thomas's soloing in, through and around Groenewald's writing. On alto, tenor and soprano saxophones as well as trumpet and flugelhorn, Thomas's imagination thrives on the scores fashioned with muscularity and delicacy by Groenewald. He interleaves those contrasting attributes on rarely performed post-bebop pieces like Lee Morgan's "Yama," Chick Corea's "October Ballad," as well as on modern classics including Duke Ellington's "Blue Serge," Tadd Dameron's "Soultrane" and Billy Strayhorn's "Ballad For The Very Tired And Very Sad Lotus Eaters." Groenewald is a member of the Newnet's brass section.
Groenewald's originals "Mrs. Goodnight," with its fluid Thomas trumpet solo, and the title tune, "I Always Knew" could well become part of the rarified company they keep here with such established repertoire items as Mel Tormé's "Born To Be Blue" and Lucky Thompson's "Deep Passion." Not all of the choices have the staying power of "You Don't Know What Love Is" and "Stardust," the pieces that close the album. But then, few compositions in jazz history have. The point in recommending this album is not familiarity, except in the sense of the relaxation, friendship and musicianship with which Thomas and Groenewald inform the music.