Jeff Johnson

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by Dave Nathan

Recorded live at the Old Town Ale House in Seattle, WA, Jeff Johnson and his cohorts have fashioned almost an hour's worth of artistic modern music. Expertly performed by these Northwest jazz artists, the play list is well crafted and balanced with four originals by the trio and one each of a jazz and a classic standard. This CD is a set of six cerebral and intense performances that require a commitment on the part of the listener matching that of the performers. While at first blush the pieces may be unabashedly avant-gardish, there are many subtleties that require close attention to enjoy -- for example, Johnson's rumbling basslines underneath the rather meditative saxophone of Hans Teuber on "Chariots for Anthony." This track is also the occasion for lengthy stand-alone drumming by the third member of the group, Billy Mintz. Whether or not Mintz's stark drum rhythms are your cup of tea, he gets high marks for staying within the motif established for this song, without wandering off on the kind of extraneous stretches that are the bane of too many drum solos. A similarly absorbing drumming excursion takes place on Randy Weston's "Hi Fly," adding to the improvisational tone set for this jazz classic. An important part of the extemporizing comes from a dissonant bowed bass by Johnson sliding over Mintz's drum shots. Some might call this musical drama moody, others solemn and deep. The Glenn Miller warhorse "Moonlight Serenade" gets a fresh and modern coat of paint, with serious conversation between Teuber and Johnson as Teuber soberly expresses the melody and Johnson a countermelody. This is not "Moonlight Serenade" the way your parents or grandparents heard it. The CD is an interesting set of music, off the beaten track and recommended.

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