Gabriel Johnson: Fra_ctured (2010)
Gabriel Johnson seemed anointed for jazz greatness: A New England Conservatory prodigy who served as musical director for Blood Sweat & Tears when he was merely 24, and was personally recruited by Clint Eastwood to serve as trumpet soloist for Eastwood's films Changeling (2008) and Invictus (2009).
Then a friend hipped Johnson to electronic music and music software, and all musical hell broke loose. "For so many years now, the trumpet has been confined to a specific spot in music: jazz," Johnson explains. "One of the goals that I set for myself when I started this album was to destroy those preconceptions."
"This is about breaking free from that jazz status quo, where you put out an album with ten standards and hope Wynton Marsalis notices."
Which makes Fra_ctured a trumpet album but not a jazz album, or at least not a jazz album in any standard sense. This also makes it difficult to compare Johnson's trumpet style to others' because those comparators (mostly) play in the jazz tradition while he does not.
"No Words" opens this set in surging, grandiose electronic chords and thunderous beats, with the melody of Johnson's trumpet shifting these crests of sound. A simple series of piano chords builds the similar but sadder mood for "And Then It Was Over"; Johnson samples, cuts up, then reinserts only pieces of this trumpet solo so that it "skips some beats" while it dashes through these thick chords.
In other tunes, Johnson warps the sound of his trumpet with twisted glee. His production on "Be Serious," which he calls "tweaked-out dance music," makes his trumpet sound like computer blips and beeps sampled, cut up, and re-sequenced in disjointed pieces. His trumpet in the midst of "Confusion" sounds like a raw, frantic squeal bouncing inside a pinball machine stuck on "tilt."
Even so, Fra_ctured's last two tunes return to a more traditional trumpet sound. "V.F.T.O." spreads a murky sonic carpet like thick damp moss which cushions Johnson's beautiful ballad style, the "let's get lost" sound of deep inner space, and then just drifts away. "Lullabye" ends these Fra_ctured tunes in a surprisingly and profoundly tranquil place, with solitary guitar strumming acoustic chords like a banjo behind Johnson's soft and sweet trumpet melody, as if to demonstrate that he can play even when not walking his conceptual tightrope.
Johnson has even made raw elements of Fra_ctured available to DJs and remixers through free downloads on his own website.
Track Listing: No Words; Be Serious; And Then It Was Over; Charisma Machine; You Get What You Deserve; Confusion; V.F.T.O.; Lullabye.
Personnel: Gabriel Johnson: digital, electronic, and acoustic instruments.