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Johnson is a prime example of the what I like to call the Iceberg Theory, the unwritten phenomenon in jazz which states that those who are recording the music regularly are only ‘tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to the sheer numbers of musicians who are actually playing and performing jazz and usually go unnoticed. Johnson’s been blowing tenor since the 1940’s (beginning with an enviable stint in Louis Jordan’s band), but this recording marks his first compact disc and the first session he’s cut in decades. His absence from the studio however does not mean that he hasn’t been regularly playing over the years.
Johnson’s tone is smooth and rounded and might be considered a derivative of the Turrentine Texas sound if his development on his horn hadn’t predated Stanley’s by over a decade. The sometimes surly bite of Turrentine’s sound is absent from Johnson gilded style but his melodic lines are no less meaty in their conception. For his propitious return to the studio the graying saxophonist has convened a highly sympathetic rhythm section. The four strike a pleasing balance when it comes to an engaging ensemble sound and show off heartily what their six-year tenure together has produced. “I Love You Madly” serves as a vehicle to get the group’s juices flowing and finds both Johnson and Young feeling out the tune’s mellifluous recesses through strong solos. “Gravy Waltz” has the simple loping groove of a Bacharach tune and it’s here where Johnson’s similarities to Turrentine first come to the fore with a deep throaty assurance. “Easy to Love,” another elegant ballad, is an archetype of convivial swing. Johnson’s arrangements on all of the tunes emphasize the importance of a relaxed approach to improvisation when it comes to playing standards. His charts generate plenty of room for thoughtful solos and encourage each of the players to stretch out and luxuriate in the simple beauty of the songs. Listeners looking for a solidly conceived and implemented session of small ensemble jazz should seek out this fine offering by Johnson, a seasoned veteran who is only now getting his just due in the recording studio. Thanks are due to Delmark for rescuing an otherwise forgotten player from the obscurity that can accompany the absence of discography.
Track Listing: I Love You Madly/ Gravy Waltz/ Eyes of Love/ My Buddy/ Trombonio-Bustoso-Issimo/ Wanderlust/ This Love of Mine/ Whirley Bird/ Who Can I Turn To?/ You Dirty Dog. Recorded: January 6 & 7, 1999, Riverside Studio, Chicago, IL
Personnel: Eddie Johnson- tenor saxophone; John Young- piano; Eddie De Haas- double bass; George Hughes- drums.