Thoroughly modern doesn't always equate to thoroughly enjoyable and exceedingly complex rarely yields delight. But if the composer is Darren Johnston and the musicianship is of these high standards, the outcome is instantly satisfying.
The Edge Of The Forest is the trumpeter's first Clean Feed disc as leader, but he has been heard on Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra's New Magical Kingdom (Clean Feed, 2007) and No(w) Music (Cadence, 2002). He also leads United Brassworkers Front, an eclectic trumpets and trombones intersection with guitar/bass/drums and a trio of trumpet, accordion (Rob Reich) and Daniel Fabricant (bass). Originally from Canada, he has made San Francisco his home working with the likes of Fred Frith, Rova Saxophone Quartet, and pianist Myra Melford.
The initial reference for this music might be Dave Douglas' work in '90s and, like Douglas, Johnston draws inspiration from everything from the European musical tradition to Billy Strayhorn and Eric Dolphy. Compositions like "Be The Frog" can turn orchestral while remaining intimate. He has an internal mechanism for writing tunes that swing hard like "Cabin 5" and "Broken," the latter which starts off with slurry trumpet acrobatics that motor into a bebop funk. By the time Ben Goldberg's clarinet and Sheldon Brown's saxophone enter it's a knotty stew that makes for a cold sweat blowing piece. Old friend Rob Reich joins the cast on accordion for "Froggy," spreading the textures into a more spacious setting.
Despite a stellar cast, Johnston could carry this entire project on his horn alone, displaying plenty of technique and soul. His compositions rely on Devon Hoff's strong bass to anchor each of these tunes, allowing the players the freedom to move beyond the writingthe trademark of a great leader.
Personnel: Darren Johnston: trumpet; Ben Goldberg: clarinet; Sheldon Brown: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Devin Hoff: upright bass; Smith Dobson V: drums; Rob Reich: accordion (2).