Here's a musician whose career, spanning over twenty years, is a series of dazzling strokes of brilliance alternating with periods of silence. His talent as an un-containable musician, too in love with his freedom to join the ranks of rock, soul, folk or jazz have inspired his peers' admiration. From Marc Ribot and David Byrne to Phillip Glass and Meshell Ndegeocello, in other words the crème de la crème of the New York music scene, all have an unconditional respect for him, whilst in Europe, artists such as Vincent Segal or Seb Martel are equally as full of praise. And yet, when it comes to the influent medias or the crowds, it seems that Marc Anthony Thompson, a.k.a. Chocolate Genius Inc. remains misunderstood. Five long years of silence have come and gone, resulting in Swansongs, his fourth album, and the stakes have been raised. Culminating all the talents of its author in a singularly harmonious form, it seems to prophesise the American’s inevitable projection into the limelight, finally granting him the recognition he merits.
Filled with the musings of a man reaching the middle of his years, Swansongs probes the troubled waters of remembrance, introspection and mourning. Chocolate Genius delivers a sonic and poetic piece of work whose clear beauty is as pure as an outline. It's a sublimate summary of all the writing, playing and singing abilities unveiled since his first album.
Chocolate Genius came to light as a completely free and unfettered singer-songwriter with Black Music in 1998. Born in Panama and raised in California, it was New York, a metropolis swarming with open-minded and unbiased musicians such as mavericks Marc Ribot, Doveman, Cibo Matto, John Medeski or Chris Wood, which enabled him to become a supreme creator. Like Terry Callier or Arthur Lee (Love) back in the day or his contemporaries Joe Henry or Mark Eitzel, he's worked out the secret formula for a subtly universal songwriting, neither white, nor black, born far from the folklore mire and the illusions of every current trend; the kind of songwriting which could collect the multiple constituents of the American identity in its very fibre. Chocolate Genius then attempted to develop this approach in his next records, Godmusic (2001) and Black Yankee Rock (2005), taking the liberty of appropriating Van Dyke Parks' clever mind or Sly Stone feverish prophecies, the dry rage of ancestral blues or the rebellious exultation of New York jazz, the raw energy of indie rock and soul's sensuous growls.
After the exuberant Black Yankee Rock, Chocolate Genius brings back today his wide-spanning art to the proportions of an intimate whisper. Essentially made of ballads, Swansongs is for him the logical follow-up and conclusion of a highly personal triptych started with Black Music and Godmusic. The overall theme of the album – a vibrant farewell to dearly departed beings, places and things that marked the first half of his life – has naturally led him to wring out the essence of his writing. Nine days in a Los Angeles studio were enough for him to record these eleven songs tinged with a serene and pained wisdom, based on the acknowledgement that every life is built on loss, absence and the company of ghosts. Far from Manhattan and his usual sparring partners (Marc Ribot only shows up on Enough For/Of You), Thompson, supported by temporary partners fully in tune with him, reaches a form of weightless gravity, which ideally benefits his intentions. Rid of the scoria that sometimes altered a little the elegance of his previous records, his writing and singing glide from one marvel to another. From the reverberating blues of Enough For/Of You to the piano-and-voice embrace of Like a Nurse and Sit & Spin; from the twisting ramblings of Lump to the salutary surges of When I Lay You Down and Ready Now; from the carnal confessions of Kiss Me to the ghostly lyrics of Mr. Wonderful (where the voice of a dead father disappears in an electronic halo), everything here hangs onto the thread of an inspiration freed from all style and genre limitations. For the last few years, Chocolate Genius has made a name for himself in sound design and original soundtracks for movies or plays; he's also lived an intense experience when he joined Bruce Springsteen's Seeger Sessions Tour in 2006. It's surely there, between these apparently opposite poles, between sonic adventure and traditional writing,
pure plastic research and exploration of the depths of the human soul that the singular beauty of Swansongs can be found. And we have the feeling that, for Marc Anthony Thompson, this balance doesn't only show a beautiful completion, but also a rebirth, full of promises.