Norman Johnson

If Time Stood Still

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In a bio that Pacific Coast Jazz sent out to the media with guitarist Norman Johnson's If Time Stood Still, the song "As It Is" (one of 11 tracks) is described as "an interpretation of smooth jazz as if done by Wes Montgomery" -- which is an interesting choice of words, because one could argue that Montgomery, for better or for worse, invented smooth jazz guitar playing with the pop-saturated albums he recorded during the last few years of his life. Those 1967 and 1968 albums were a big departure from the straight-ahead hard bop and post-bop that Montgomery had been known for, and they had a major impact on George Benson, Lee Ritenour, Earl Klugh, and many other guitarists who played smooth jazz in the '70s and '80s. Clearly, none of that history is lost on Johnson, whose fondness for Montgomery -- as well as for Benson, Ritenour, Klugh, and Pat Metheny -- comes through on this 2010 release, which falls into the smooth jazz/crossover jazz category but isn't the sort of album that goes out of its way to be as senseless and mind-numbing as possible. This is mellow, laid-back easy listening -- If Time Stood Still doesn't pretend to be hard bop, post-bop or fusion -- but it is mellow, laid-back easy listening that has a brain. It's no secret that a lot of truly bad elevator music has come out of smooth jazz over the years; If Time Stood Still, however, isn't elevator music. Johnson's material may not be terribly challenging, but at least originals like "Unforgiven," "Midnight Sun" (not to be confused with the Lionel Hampton standard), "It's Time to Fly," and the Brazilian-flavored "Starting Tomorrow" have a brain. So does Johnson's interpretation of Pat Metheny's "Always and Forever," which is the only thing on this 49-minte CD that he didn't write. Sure, If Time Stood Still could have been more adventurous -- Johnson no doubt has it in him to record a killer soul-jazz album -- but this generally pleasant, if derivative, effort does have more substance than much of the smooth jazz that came out in 2010.

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