One can fault this CD for having brief playing time (a dozen selections totaling less than 33 minutes) and for not including the alternate takes, but the music is beyond criticism. When trombonist J.J. Johnson burst on the scene in the mid-'40s, his speed, fluency and quick ideas put him at the top of his field, where he remained for over a half century. This 1992 CD has the trombonist's first three sessions as a leader, music that qualifies as classic bebop. Johnson is matched with either altoist Cecil Payne, baritonist Leo Parker or tenor great Sonny Rollins (on one of his first dates) in quintets that also include Bud Powell, Hank Jones or John Lewis on piano; Leonard Gaskin, Al Lucas or Gene Ramey on bass; and Max Roach or Shadow Wilson on drums. Other than the ballads "Don't Blame Me" and "Yesterdays," the repertoire is comprised of originals (including Rollins' "Audobon") containing lots of tricky lines, concise but heated solos, and virtuosic playing. Until a more complete reissue takes its place, bop fans not owning the music (plus the alternates) on earlier LPs will definitely find this CD valuable.
AllMusic Review by Scott Yanow