Pianist Richard Doron Johnson has a rich musical pedigree. At the age of five he began piano lessons with his father, a church organist and pianist. Since then, Johnson has honed his skills, earning an undergraduate degree at Berklee, a Masters at Boston Conservatory, and a doctorate at the Thelonious Monk Institute, while also working consistently as a sideman after moving to New York City in 1999. Aside from an early self-produced CD, Battle Grounds marks Johnson's recorded debut as a leader. He is joined by bassist Kengo Nakamura and drummer Jason Marsalis. Johnson's approach to the piano is reserved compared to many of his generation, as in his easygoing yet playful interpretation of the standard "I Should Care," inserting brief runs and showing a sense of humor. His amusing, Oriental-flavored vamp, followed by a brief tango-like vamp, sets up his delicious rendition of Sonny Rollins' "Pent-Up House." The bulk of the disc focuses on Johnson's originals. "Ramsiepamsie" is a quirky, fun-filled bop vehicle dedicated to his niece, with several wild quotes inserted, including George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." There is no missing his gospel roots in the reverent "Hymn-Like," which sounds like it was written for a moving vocal solo. Expect to hear a lot more from Richard Doron Johnson, who is clearly a talent deserving of wider recognition.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden