223

Jef Lee Johnson (and the Wordy Mimes): Hellion

Phil DiPietro By

Sign in to view read count
A 2002 AAJ interview with Jef Lee Johnson, who can virtuosically play anything with strings on it, showed that in conversation and in music, he's an eclectic, ripping headlong through a gamut of free-associations and precise distillations. Here's one capped with an analogy musicians should swear by: "I have to put these records out myself. The music is to be heard, not just me sitting around and improving upon what's been done. It's like having paintings hanging in the house. People have to see them—or in my case, hear them."

The man has made good on his word since that statement, releasing five recordings under his own name and guesting on the three-disc acid-funk opus Minneapolis We Insist by Michel Portal and Ben Schachter's ultra-taut combo Nothingman.

Although Jef Lee could and should make a recording of jazz standards, and he's also known as a Downtown experimentalist, his solo releases feature his vocal, pop-rock-funk side, spurring writers to reference Hendrix, then go beyond. Funny, that's just what he does. It's not just the sometimes uncanny similarities of the vocal style and the guitar pyrotechnics—it's that soul, that utter rootedness to the earth, that comes through in even the most unlikely, far-out places.

"Disconnected, for example, most strongly recalls Steely Dan's plush vocal harmonies and airy altered chords. But there's a church-full more gospel and grease in his self-made chorus of vocals than Becker and Fagan could ever hire at triple-scale, let alone the badass blues inflections of his slippery strat that frankly, leaves the Dan's army of guitar sessioneers in the dust.

For a more direct Jimi reference, check the title track, the eleven-minute psychedelic closer, ..."revolutionmumbojumbo, or "Children of the Sonic Soul. The latter is a sprawling six minutes featuring lyrics of allegiance to a cosmic alliance over a sonic solar system of his own creation, pierced with laser-like, frizzle-fried, fluent improvisations. How is this the same guy who follows with a pristine two-minute pop song containing rhyming couplets drenched in existentialist philosophy?

I been gone so long
that far is here to me
if I keep keeping on
what will I see
But I'm okay with that
jump back begin again
cause where you dropped me off
this is where I came in.
The crystalline snap-and-pop chicken-pickin' solo that follows is every bit as compactly erudite as the lyric.

While Jef Lee Johnson may not yet enjoy broad-based recognition, his willingness to share his most personal and painful experiences should go a long way to getting him there. He humorously summarizes the yin and yang of existence by singing:

What happened to what's his name
I should know 'cuz I'm the same
not his brother but some other me
Half not so half-crazy
my memories a bit hazy
but don't bother, it's just some other me.
This analogy could be applied to his musically split personas as well. The thing is, all of them are amazing.

Track Listing: 1. it usually slides open, 2.NONE FOR NONE, 3.Heavy Rain, 4. Children of the Sonic Soul, 5. this is Where i came in, 6.Some other me 7. Hellion, 8.Sizzlean, 9.CAKE, 10.Disconnected, 11.Perfect Peace, 12. MADE YOU LOOK, 13.people talk, 14. this is not jazz,too, 15.Six inches, 16.i like, 17. Y'allness, 18. Go Down, 19. Here She Come, 20. own little world, 21. hurt, 22. This is not jazz/the tarzan precept/ revolutionmumbojumbo

Personnel: Jef Lee Johnson- everything

Title: Hellion | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Dreambox Media


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read The Study of Touch CD/LP/Track Review The Study of Touch
by Karl Ackermann
Published: October 20, 2017
Read Another North CD/LP/Track Review Another North
by Roger Farbey
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Gledalec CD/LP/Track Review Gledalec
by John Sharpe
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Flux Reflux CD/LP/Track Review Flux Reflux
by Glenn Astarita
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Christmas With Champian CD/LP/Track Review Christmas With Champian
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Harmony of Difference CD/LP/Track Review Harmony of Difference
by Phil Barnes
Published: October 18, 2017
Read "My Head is Listening" CD/LP/Track Review My Head is Listening
by Glenn Astarita
Published: February 2, 2017
Read "Organ Monk, The Breathe Suite" CD/LP/Track Review Organ Monk, The Breathe Suite
by Roger Farbey
Published: April 29, 2017
Read "Kind Of New 2: Blue Is Paris" CD/LP/Track Review Kind Of New 2: Blue Is Paris
by Jeff Winbush
Published: August 3, 2017
Read "Evolution - Seeds and Streams" CD/LP/Track Review Evolution - Seeds and Streams
by Phil Barnes
Published: December 19, 2016
Read "Triplicate" CD/LP/Track Review Triplicate
by Doug Collette
Published: July 24, 2017
Read "No Favorites!" CD/LP/Track Review No Favorites!
by Troy Collins
Published: November 27, 2016

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.