George Johnson, Jr.: All Star Tribute (2006)
Drummer George Johnson hails from New Jersey and learned his skills under the tutelage of Art Blakey and Elvin Jones. He began playing professionally in Atlantic City at the precocious age of twelve. Following the 1997 release of his debut album, Turquoise Ocean (Challenge), this is his sophomore followup.
All Star Tribute has indeed crammed so many notable players together (on separate tracks) that a much fuller explanation would be required to tell the whole story. Some of the tracks are from the studio, while others were recorded live in concert. For example, the opening track, "Morgan" (named in homage to Lee Morgan), was penned by organ funkmeister Charles Earland, who also appears on the piece. Recorded live at an undated Montreux Jazz Festival, it is one of the best selections; Clifford Adams (trombone), Jon Faddis (trumpet) and Dave Hubbard (tenor sax) provide the heat, along with Earland. The album continues with "Sleepy," a mid-tempo piece which offers a fragment of the "Flintstones" theme in the melody line. The same group, featuring Shirley Scott (piano), Ed Wiley (tenor sax), Wycliffe Gordon (trombone) and Terrell Stafford (trumpet), continues with the Bird & Diz classic "Shaw Nuff."
Two tracks come from Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (minus Blakey), and based upon the inclusion of Wynton Marsalis, Donald Harrison, Johnny O'Neal and Charles Fambrough, I must conclude that these recordings probably date back to circa 1980. Two other selections feature a fine group (on paper) of Cedar Walton (piano), Curtis Fuller (trombone) and Jimmy Merritt (bass). Unfortunately, these versions of Miles Davis' "Milestones" and the Sammy Fain ballad "Alice in Wonderland" are sunk by bad sonicsthe tracks sound like someone recorded the live date with a wire recorder on their lap.
"Tuang Gura," a trio number with pianist Abdullah Ibrahim and bassist Marcus McLaurine, is also included. The George Johnson original "I Didn't Know What" is is well-served by Ralph Bowen on tenor sax. The album concludes with Johnson pursuing the style of another drummer/vocalist, Grady Tate, when he warbles a version of "Fly Me to the Moon."
In summary, I am puzzled by this album, which appears to have been cobbled together from several different decades and yet offers some valid musical experiences along the way.
Track Listing: Morgan; Sleepy; Shaw Nuff; Scrapple; Little Man; I Don't Know What; Milestone; Tuang Gura; My Break Tune; Alice In Wonderland; Fly Me To The Moon.
Personnel: George A. Johnson, Jr.: vocals, drums, piano; Wynton Marsalis, Terrell Stafford, Jon Faddis: trumpet; Curtis Fuller, Clifford Adams: trombone; Ralph Bowen: saxophone; Ed Wiley, Dave Hubbard: tenor saxophone; Charles Fambrough, Jimmy Meritt, David Phroes, Marcus McLaurine: bass; Rich Budese, Cedar Walton, Johnny O'Neal, Shirley Scott, Abdullah Ibrahim: piano; Donald Harrison: alto saxophone; Charles Earland: organ; Aurell Ray: guitar.