Howard Johnson started his first tuba ensemble in New York City in 1968, named it Gravity a few years later, and recently released this, Gravity's first recording. Why the long delay? Because the tuba has its place in music: the rhythm, the pulse, the bottom harmony. But in the hands of 55-year-old Johnson and his five tuba-mates, plus rhythm section, the instrument becomes a melody-maker; with the easily-recognized themes of "Round Midnight," "Stolen Moments," and "Yesterdays," as well as other well-known jazz pieces like Don Pullen's "Big Alice" and Jackie McLean's "Appointment In Ghana," the tuba expresses as well as any other melodic voice.
A necessary staple when jazz was born, the tuba was replaced by the string bass about the same time that jazz began to appear as recordeds. It reemerged in the 1950s with melodic roles in recordings such as Miles Davis' "Birth Of The Cool" and later in the Gil Evans collaborations; in fact, five of Gravity's present tuba line-up worked in the Gil Evans Orchestra: Howard Johnson, Dave Bargeron, Joe Daley, Earl McIntyre, and Bob Stewart. The sixth tuba master is Carl Kleinsteuber, primarily a classical performer, who Johnson aptly describes in the liner notes as one of the best tuba virtuosos around.
Light on their feet, each of the tuba masters takes solo spots that swing hard show their individuality. On "Stolen Moments," Johnson uses the F tuba, which is much higher than the standard model and enables him to traverse the familiar melodic passages normally associated with Freddie Hubbard on Oliver Nelson's 1961 "Blues And The Abstract Truth" album. "Be No Evil" is a gospel-inspired piece composed by Johnson that recalls the familiar rhythm and swing of Ray Charles. Pianist Paul Shaffer introduces the piece with a stirring Gospel chorus, and the tuba ensemble backs leader Johnson on his "Give Me That Old Time Religion" kind of deep-voiced solo. Others who add variety to the recording include tubaist Marcus Rojas, tubaist Tom Malone, tubaist Nedra Johnson, electric guitarist George Wadenius, pianist James Williams, pianist Raymond Chew, bassist Melissa Slocum, bassist Bob Cranshaw, drummer Kenny Washington, drummer Kenwood Dennard, and percussionist Victor See Yuen. Recommended.