About his performances, Signal to Noise marvels: "It seems beyond the capacity of one human being to contain so much densely-packed creative energy". Terry Riley notes that Thollem ”inhabits a world uniquely his own, rhythmically, harmonically and formally. A true original.”
Thollem observes, “I make music that I hope stimulates the mind and the body, that’s sexy and athletic and revolutionary and spiritual and loving and that will shake people awake, starting with me first.”
(photo by Angela C. Villa)
“During this race relentless style and suggestions have alternated and mixed: the atonality jazz, Middle Eastern influences, stubborn minimalist, blues loaded and powerful expressionism...”
(photo by Angela C. Villa)
"Pianist Thollem McDonas solo piano set touched on virtually every genre of music. Dressed in a t-shirt, cargo slacks, and old work boots, McDonas didn’t have the disposition or attitude of a music virtuoso. He looked more like a skilled laborer. But he constructed a set of improvised music that had all the creativity and energy of Thelonious Monk and Igor Stravinsky playing at a neighborhood jam session."
I DIG JAZZ - Charles L. Latimer's Jazz Journal
Thollem (tall-um) (b. 1967- US) is a perpetually traveling musician, sharing his time between North America and Europe, performing/recording as a soloist and in collaboration with many other individuals and groups, as well as leading large ensemble improvisation workshops, listening meditations/walks and master classes. His music is diverse, approaching each concert and project uniquely, resulting in dramatically new and different outcomes.
Not long after birth, Thollem began studying the keyboard repertoire from the medieval to the 20th century. With degrees in both piano performance and composition, he stepped from the concert pianist trajectory to dedicate his time to grassroots political movements and ecological restoration projects. In 2005, he returned to music as his full focus, incorporating his experiences into his compositions, improvisations and teaching. Thollem has performed piano concertos with symphonies, played in West African drumming troupes, Javanese gamelan ensembles, punk bands, with many free improvisation groups, and as a “comproviser” for modern dance and film. He is the founding director of Estamos Ensemble, a Mexican-American cross border ensemble for musical exchange. As a writer, his essay, Deep Listening and the Peripatetic Life of an Improvising Musician was written specifically for An Anthology of Essays on Deep Listening (Deep Listening Institute, 2012) in honor of master musician Pauline Oliveros‘ 80th birthday.
Besides the famous On Debussy’s Piano And... with the late master contra bassist, Stefano Scodanibbio, new recordings include: The Gowanus Session with legendaries William Parker and Nels Cline, You Are Always on Our Minds (Hand to Man Band) and Polishing the Mirror (Magimc: with Edoardo Marraffa and Stefano Giust).
Writes Massimo Ricci of Touching Extremes:
"Among the principal features of the pianist’s style is the ability of overwhelming without letting one feel intimidated. The massive polychordal cascades, the rumbling (yet never rambling) arpeggios, the perseveration [sic] in trying to locate the keyboard spots in which that roaring creature gathers energy and begins to fly. And then, just like that, the silence falls: the preceding reverberations still floating...depicting the furious beauty and the subsequent sense of relief experienced in front of an imposing natural manifestation."
“McDonas shows many faces, often with humor and irony... [his pieces] all breathe the same atmosphere of adventure and joy...”
Dolf Mulder, Vital Weekly (Holland)
(photo by Peter Gannushkin)
From AllAboutJazz, Italy:
"The pianist from San Francisco gave yet another demonstration of his irrepressible energy and creativity, overwhelming (as we know from before) the barriers between musical categories and between composition and improvisation. His performances are of instantaneous composition, combining extemporaneous improvisation to create a sense of structure and consistency. With McDonas we are faced with overflowing and irrepressible exuberance. His imagination is overwhelming and unstoppable as a flood, as powerful as the fast current, often as red-hot lava. A continuous flow, often turbulent, sometimes stops in temporary pools of calm, the mood sweeter or absorbed."
"Pianist Thollem McDonas is a particularly powerful voice".
David Keenan, Glasgow
“...jump in this exceptional source of musical energy and enjoy it.” Dolf Mulder, Vital Weekly (Holland)
"Thollem has that rare gift of soulful equilibrium, which he alternates with digital dexterities that have few equals on the current scene." Massimo Ricci, TouchingExtremes (Italy)
“Thollem McDonas, an intense and virtuosic keyboard improviser”
“Thollem's keyboard flights unleash cascades of notes of seemingly impossible velocity and no matter where he goes tonally, it always seems right, fresh and satisfying. He should be on everyone's listening list who appreciates great piano music. As an improviser, he inhabits a world uniquely his own, rhythmically, harmonically and formally. A true original.”