It has been three years since Movimento
(Cumulus, 2004), the last album from singer/guitarist Ed Johnson & Novo Tempo, and the wait has been worth it. The Other Road
, from this San Francisco Bay Area ensemble, evokes vivid memories of Brazilian samba and bossa nova music before the Tropicalia Movement introduced rock music into the menu of the first wave of bossa singer/songwriters in the early 1970s. At the same time, despite numerous re-awakenings of acoustic samba music, where does one have to go to hear some examples of this genre?
Johnson & Novo Tempo's music may seem retro to some, but to those who still actively admire the music of artists including Jobim, de Moraes and Powell, that music serves as a springboard for the original compositions of this group. On Movimento, Johnson wrote seven of the ten tunes, but goes the full route with The Other Road, writing all save for one from guitarist Scott Sorkin. Johnson's music is what Sergio Mendes began in the mid-1960s with Wanda de Sah and Marcos Valle, and then plateaued into a world of pop covers.
The album begins up-tempo with a frevo-style samba. On both "Samba 2 Tom" and "Clean Up," Johnson and pianist Jennifer Scott provide harmonized vocalese to keep the infectious melody going, with occasional statements from trumpeter/flugelhornist John Worley and soprano saxophonist Kristen Strom. There are seven English language songs and two that are delivered bilingually in Portuguese and English, as well as some with a repeated Portuguese refrain.
Johnson's high range on Movimento was reminiscent of Milton Nascimento, and is even more evident on much of The Other Road . On several of the English songs it is easy to hear the comparison with Nascimento's soaring style, while Johnson's vocal register on songs including the balladic "Song for my Daughter," accompanied initially by acoustic nylon-string guitar, recalls the range of Jobim and Joao Gilberto. Still, on the title tune, Johnson and Scott again leap into vocalese with Strom's simpatico flute solo.
"Chorar," with additional Portuguese lyrics from Lucy Carter, offers Johnson on a ballad that could be performed successfully in a non-bossa setting. Worley's showcase flugelhorn solo fits perfectly, with Johnson's Portuguese conclusion providing the icing on the cake..
Hurricane Katrina and what came afterwards has provided the inspiration for a lot of music, but recently composed lyrics expressing the frustration of the event and it's aftermath are less common. Johnson's "Katrina" could easily serve as a substitute to Randy Newman's already overplayed "Louisiana 1927." Taken at a misleading midt-empo bounce, the words belie the rhythm with such thoughts as "...No shirts, no shoes, no service/No place for the weak and the poor/No more saints, no more sinners, just losers, some winners/And you wonder why we sing the blues..."
Personnel: Ed Johnson: guitar, vocals; Jennifer Scott: vocals, piano; Kristen Strom: woodwinds; John Worley: trumpet, flugelhorn; Scott Sorkin: guitar; Rene Worst: bass; Michaelle Goerlitz: percussion; Mark Ivester: drums; Jeff Busch: percussion.