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Walt Johnson: Ladies

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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Walt Johnson: Ladies The etymology of the word "troubadour" describes the term as "a singer of songs of chivalry and courtly love." If that is the case, then trumpeter Walt Johnson demonstrates that he is a trumpeting troubadour nonpareil with his marvelous CD, Ladies.

Using a concept thread and a classic feel, Johnson and ensemble deliver ten beautifully performed selections—with each bearing a lady's name and an association to a great singer or musician, such as Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Maurice Chevalier. But, while Johnson is a "womanizer" here, make no mistake: this is not syrupy, commercial schmaltz. He and his mates play with depth of passion and emotion most worthy of the musical "beauties" they salute.

Supported by a complement of outstanding musicians, Johnson (long a standout in Las Vegas and Hollywood) musically adores each of his ladies. His command, robust tone and vibrato on both trumpet and flugelhorn (beautiful and pure on "Stella," "Michelle" and throughout) and his soaring range steal the show. Johnson's phrasing and dynamic approach seem to caress every melodic phrase. While he leaves each lady for the next, each selection is as exciting as, and is performed as beautifully as, the last love.

The Gil Evans-influenced arrangements by pianist Ron Feur are brilliantly orchestrated and texturally innovative. Feur's keyboard playing is divine, offering a subtle touch, keen sense of dynamic nuance and well-delivered solos. Like Johnson, he worked in Las Vegas showrooms and on the road with Elvis Presley, and is now with Frank Sinatra, Jr., who covers his father's mega-hit "Nancy with the Laughing Face." Trombonist Bob McChesney is satin-smooth on "Ruby," as is fine saxophonist Mike Smith on "Louise." Paul Tavenner's drumming is in fine taste.

Johnson's performance of "Maria" soars, drawing comparisons to Maynard Ferguson's classic rendition. Freddie Hubbard's "Brigette" and "Portrait of Jenny" are faux strings-supported gems. And, saving his true Lady Love—his wife, "Mi Lourdes"—for last, Johnson, along with Feur's keyboards and strings, seals his love letter with a musical kiss.

Ladies is a tour d'amour for Walt Johnson and his musicians. It is a magnificent rendering, recognizing some of the most beloved selections in the Great American Songbook and performing them likewise.

Track Listing: Stella by Starlight; Ruby; Nancy (With the Laughing Face); Louise; Michelle; Laura; Brigette; Portrait of Jennie; Maria; Mi Lourdes.

Personnel: Walt Johnson: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ron Feur: keyboards; Frank Sinatra, Jr.: vocal; Mike Smith: alto saxophone; Bob McChesney: trombone; Paul Tavenner: drums

Title: Ladies | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Self Produced


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