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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Max Johnson Quartet (Not Two, 2012) *****

With the onset of fan donation pages all over the Internet, artists, musicians and inventors of all sorts can now speak directly with their fans and solicit funds for all types of projects. Some are fantastical like 'help me turn into a cat' fund or 'help make my paper clip rocket ship a reality', but more often than not it is a musician with a book of songs that means the world to them and are looking for a way to make their vision a reality. There are even added perks to sites like these. They come in the form of incentives for the public's donations, such as a copy of the completed album or even executive producer credits.

The Max Johnson Quartet is a success story born from this new artist driven way to produce music. From a business model to recording and art work, (fantastic by the way if you can get a close look at it) to getting Not Two Records to back the recording.

Track 1 entitled 'Elephant March', is as close to a perfect track as I have ever heard. It has an accessible opening jazz structure and not just one designed to get to the solos quickly. It is full of youthful abandon and it sounds like it could fall apart and moment in a good way, a very good way. Tyshawn Sorey (drums) is tasked with a very complicated chart as the rest of the quartet; Max Johnson (bass), Steve Swell (trombone), and Mark Whitecage (saxes and clarinet) try everything in their collective power to shake him. They are sometimes ahead of the beat and sometimes behind it. Part pebble tossed in a clear pond, part tsunami but always on the verge of disaster yet still gorgeous to look at (listen to).

Part of what makes a leader great is the ability to be humble when needed to be, be genuine and confident in their decisions and have the skill and ability to perform when the finger eventually gets pointed at them. A perfect audible explanation of this is 'Lost and Found (for Henry Grimes)'. Johnson studied under Grimes during his stay at New School University and this track reads part final exam and part pride in what was passed from master to student. Johnson travels through many bass techniques without ever sounding like a warm up exercise. The track is a well thought out and very personal dedication indeed.

'60-66' is one of those tracks that start out as a good idea in theory but ends up being a great track in reality. It develops into a track of duos as Swell and Whitecage build a sound to give way to Johnson and Sorey who also develop their own sound. Each time the duos change it gets better until the finale where both duos are on fire.

Johnson releases a sigh as the album comes to an end on 'Iset-Ra'. A joyous melody leads to a bass solo where all the pressure of making an album and the realization of why people do it in the first place all gets released through his fingers and the wood and steel responds.

So follow your musicians closely and donate to get their albums released. It could mean the difference between getting them recorded or not.

Available from Instantjazz or bandcamp

© stef


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Great review! Went to Bandcamp, listened and bought this great album! Thanks for the heads up.

(Oh, this review is linked to from the Max Johnson website under the Press heading! Congrats!)