Phillip Johnston

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Phillip Johnston's roots go back at least to the early '80s, when he led the Microscopic Septet, a group that built a deserved reputation as a slightly offbeat saxophone quartet, with rhythm. (John Zorn was the group's original tenor saxophonist.) The lineup for this recording features tunes and arrangements written for the septet by Johnston in the late '80s and early '90s that were never previously recorded. Other than Johnston, the players are new, but the instrumentation remains the same. There is an upbeat, slightly kooky spirit to it all, and the mix of genres adds to the delight. Johnston tends to reach back to his roots, so many of the 13 pieces bear the influence of swing. Fortunately, though, the arrangements never stay still, and the saxophonist weaves unexpected syncopations and tempo changes throughout, keeping the listener a bit off guard. All of the players here are competent soloists, but excellent readers, and it is ultimately the writing that takes the cake. Good fun, splendid creativity, and more than a touch of originality prevail.

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