Jeff Johnson: Seattle Sounds

Elliott Simon By

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Jon Alberts / Jeff Johnson / Tad Britton


Origin Records


Chad McCullough

Dark Wood, Dark Water

Origin Records


Bassist Jeff Johnson is an integral part of a vibrant Seattle scene. His approach is an emotive one and his work as a leader—check out Free (Origin, 1999)—derives its power from a contagious soulful openness. But it is as a sideman, expertly confronting and reacting to his bandmates, that Johnson excels most.

Drummer Jeff Bishop's Origin Records has become the forum for many of Seattle's modern jazz musicians and Johnson's latest appearances on that label provide two different perspectives on goings-on in the city. Apothecary, recorded live at the Fun Kun Wu Lounge, joins Johnson with drummer Tad Britton and pianist Jon Alberts to showcase a trio of Seattle vets while the debut from young trumpeter Chad McCullough, Dark Wood, Dark Water, places him in the context of a sextet of musicians all with ties to the great Pacific Northwest.

This Apothecary is filled with new medicine in old bottles as this very experienced trio presents thoughtful fresh takes on tunes they have more than likely played as a group for over 20 years. Monk's "Bemsha Swing" and "Mysterioso" retain their pianistic quirks but are opened up with an unhurried approach while "Nardis" is given a similar savoring. Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way" is angularized, Bill Evans' "Turn Out the Stars" keeps the original's beauty and intensity while being comfortably deconstructed and the familiar melody in Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" remains obvious but again is allowed to breathe fresh air. Leonard Bernstein's "Some Other Time" is just simply gorgeous and closes out a program that if played again live by this trio would be as fresh and different from this session as it would again be from the originals.

As illuminating as new views of familiar landscapes can be, a vibrant jazz scene is best measured by its ability to foster young artists creating new music. Dark Wood, Dark Water's compositions employ advanced harmonics and are all originals, save for the band's lovely and unique take on Lennon-McCartney's "Blackbird." Joining Chad McCullough and Jeff Johnson are Bishop himself, saxophonists Mark Taylor and Geof Bradfield and pianist Bill Anschell. Both Bradfield (tenor) and Taylor (alto) also take their turn on soprano and these instances make for the most interesting and venturesome three-horn voicings. Anschell's "Dreamscape" is a pretty-yet-whimsical offering that features a lovely two-soprano-and-flugelhorn arrangement. Although McCullough clearly impresses on several burners, his warm textural style, both on trumpet and flugelhorn, is the more moving and endearing. Tunes like "The Oracle," with its relaxed story-telling feel, and the pensive "Lockdown" are compositions that actively engage and at times enthrall the listener.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Green Dolphin Street; Bemsha Swing; Nardis; In Your Own Sweet Way; Summer Band Camp; Mysterioso; Turnout the Stars; Footprints; Some Other Time.

Personnel: Jon Alberts: piano; Jeff Johnson: bass; Tad Britton: drums.

Dark Wood, Dark Water

Tracks: Three Pillars; Blackbird; Nightmare's Dance; Lock Down; Home; Bock's Car; Anatomy of Conscience; Dreamscape; The Oracle.

Personnel: Chad McCullough: trumpet, flugelhorn; Mark Taylor: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Geof Bradfield: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Bill Anschell: piano; Jeff Johnson: bass; John Bishop: drums.

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