. An iTunes search found only two other recordings besides this one, both as a sideman for Danish tenor man Christian Winter, and Johnson's blog has not been updated since 2008. Self-promotion is clearly not Johnson's bag.
However, Battle Grounds is worthy of some serious listening. All but two of the nine songs are originals. At a time when musicians can pour all of their technical virtuosity into making music that is impressive but not necessarily appealing, Johnson has created something noteworthy: an album of music that is a genuine pleasure to hear.
This isn't to say Johnson lacks any technical chopsquite the contrary. These songs impress by being well-crafted, sophisticated, and emotionally rich, all at the same time. This is a record that would be expected from an artist in his later years, with maturity and taste trumping exuberance and bravado.
Of course, Johnson can cook; the title track gives ample evidence of that. But the album offers so much more, with a broad range of tempos, rhythms and styles. Some of the melodies are just downright catchy; the kind of jazz tunes you might actually find yourself humming the next morning, on your way to work.
The bouncy "Rhythm to Run" features improvisation utilizing a single key melody line, recalling the sparse statements of Count Basie
baroque overkill on this date. Johnson even pays homage to his musical ghosts with a few sly quotes. A fragment of "Rhapsody in Blue" floats past during the Latin tinged "Ramsiepamsie." Th record covers a lot of ground, with bits of stride, Latin, hymns, blues and hard-bop, but it hangs together remarkably well as a whole, and there's not a single throwaway track..
Steeplechase CDs are not always the best sounding digital albums out there, which is a shame because, based on their vinyl, most are very well-recorded. Happily, Battle Grounds is an exception, sounding as good as any other piano trio album heard over the last few years. If this debut is any indication, Richard Doron Johnson is a pianist with a bright future.
Track Listing: It's Been a Long Hard Road; I Should Care; Ramsipamsie; I Sit and Then I Wonder; Pent-up House; The Green Room; Battle Grounds; Dreams From My Father; Rhythm to Run; Hymn Like.
Personnel: Richard Doron Johnson: piano; Kengo Nakamura: bass; Jason Marsalis: drums.