Russ Johnson

Save Big

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A member of the collective the Other Quartet, trumpeter Russ Johnson delivers an impressive debut as a leader with Save Big. He puts together a sympathetic and dedicated team that achieves a focused effort. The opening "Saguache" sets the tone with its unpretentious melody, which slowly builds intensity to reach an exhilarating climax. After such a brilliant introduction, the band doesn't lose any steam, executing quality material with a remarkable consistency. The musicians never rush, but avoid sounding static. Both the compositions and improvisations are carefully structured and articulated, and although they nod to tradition, they share a progressive spirit. While some cuts include Eastern sonorities, they all follow an unpredictable path and show a real sense of purpose. Johnson is a thoughtful player who can produce a large range of tones and textures through his masterful use of mutes. He has found a perfect foil in alto sax John O'Gallagher, whose versatility is a definite asset. The rhythm section features the ubiquitous Kermit Driscoll on bass and the lesser-known Mark Ferber on drums. They play with a welcome economy of notes, apply all the right touches, and place adequate punctuation. All those qualities make for a promising debut by a musician to keep under close watch.

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