Phillip Johnston's unique approach to jazz mixes nostalgic-sounding music with forward-thinking approaches and his ever-present humor, as on his earlier CDs as a leader and compositions when he was a part of the Microscopic Septet. This CD features three separate works written for Keely Garfield's modern dance company, which is appropriately called Sinister Slapstick. "Minor Repairs Necessary" is made up of 11 separate dances, all featuring Johnston's inventive soprano sax with vibraphonist Mark Josefberg, bassist Lindsey Horner, and pianist Jonathan Dryden (Nurit Tilles subs on one track). "Whodunnit," the quirky opener, features Johnston alternating with each of his sidemen in a playful manner. "Jitter Duel" at first suggests the influence of Ella Fitzgerald's old hit "Hernando's Hideaway" in a duet for bass and vibes, then Johnston's mournful yet hilarious soprano sax takes center stage. Dryden suggests early ragtime piano in "Crash," while "Cliffs" suggests a bizarre march, first serious and then comical. "Rub Me the Wrong Way," the centerpiece of this release, is an extended single movement work that substitutes Will Holshouser's accordion for the piano and drummer Barbara Merjan takes the place of the vibes. This many-faceted work exhibits the influence of klezmer music and some tight unison playing. Johnston switches to tenor sax for the last piece, "The Further Adventures of Slap & Tickle," with Josefberg returning on vibes and pianist Joe Ruddick and bassist David Hofstra also on hand. This work easily eclipses earlier attempts by better-known artists to write and perform jazz-oriented dance music. It's a shame that there isn't at least one video clip of the dancers performing to this fascinating music, but that might have excessively increased production costs for this delightful CD by Phillip Johnston.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden