Russ Johnson: Working on the Tightrope
AAJ: Ain't that the truth. What I like about the New Math thing is that it seemsin forty minutes, in this improvisational frameworkto include almost every kind of music that has ever existed. It'll sound Romantic, then twentieth-century-composed, then there's this barrelhouse piano thing, then some blues. It's really free music, in the sense that nothing is not allowed.
RJ: Exactly. And I talked about Mick's various musical activities, but I play in contemporary music ensembles as well. I just did this big John Cage piece with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company at Lincoln Center. I'm doing a thing with Philip Glass's MATA Festival, I played the other night with the O'Jaysand I do various other types of gigs as well. And we both embrace all of those things. That record doesn't have distribution, unfortunately. But that's exactly the opinion I have of that record. There's one thing, when I listened back to it, that sounded like Poulenc. It's exactly what you're saying, there are so many different styles represented, and yet it's all completely improvised. There was nothing said. Nothing. I think one of us might have said, "you start. But [laughing] that's it!
AAJ: So you're constantly playing in different groups, and your discography as a sideman is already pretty huge. But what's going on with your own stuff? Save Big was recorded a while ago. Do you have any new stuff written or recorded?
RJ: I'm writing new stuff now. I have two projects in mind. I want to do another record with the Save Big band. I started writing some music for that. And I want to do another project, with a chordal instrument, bass, drumseither piano or guitar. If it were piano, the guy would also have to play Wurli or Rhodes or something like that. And I want to add saxophone to a couple things. I have what I think are the right players in mind; I just haven't written enough music. I go through periods where I write a lot and then I don't write for an extended period of time. Right now, I'm getting ready to, I believe, go into one of those writing phases. And for that project, I want to do something a little more song-oriented. Obviously, it's not going to be standards, but I want to write my version of contemporary songs. And I'm probably halfway through a book for the Save Big band; we'll definitely keep doing that because that's just so much fun.
Visit Russ Johnson on the web.
Save Big (leader) (Omnitone, 2004)
One Block from Planet Earth (Mick Rossi) (Omnitone, 2004)
New Math (with Mick Rossi) (Tone Science, 2004)
Shalagaster (Jenny Scheinman) (Tzadik, 2004)
Histoire du Clochard (Steve Swallow/Olhad Talmor) (Palmetto, 2004)
When It Comes Upon You (Touch Acoustra) (Lost Wax Music, 2003)
Rabbi's Lover (Jenny Scheinman) (Tzadik, 2002)
Sound Stains (Other Quartet) (Knitting Factory, 2001)
Reflect (Curtis Fowlkes & Catfish Corner) (Knitting Factory, 1999)
13 Pieces (Other Quartet) (Knitting Factory, 1999)