104

Richard Leo Johnson: Language

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
The revival of Blue Note Records has been little short of phenomenal when one considers that the legendary label was moribund by the early 1980's until various believers like Bruce Lundvall applied their resources and genius to the challenge of revival. One part of the jazz juggernaut that Blue Note has become lies in the visionary leadership of Lundvall, as the artists on the label attest. The other part lies in the fact that Blue Note is allowing the music to lead the marketing, instead of forcing the music to conform to the marketing. The result is that Blue Note has been on top of the trends as they develop, such as jazz jam or Cuban jazz. Indeed, Lundvall and associates were responsible for distributing some of the early Cuban recordings by artists like Gonzalo Rubalcaba in spite of U.S. State Department's restrictions on import of the product.

This preamble leads to the fact the Richard Leo Johnson, the latest in a string of astounding Blue Note talent, doesn't fit any preconceived notions of what jazz should be, or what the label should produce. Self-taught, Johnson's love of guitar, rather than his adherence to "correct" technique, has led him to produce two albums that offer innovative use of the instrument—not to mention colorific sounds that evoke events or atmosphere without reference to any identifiable style.

Johnson's first album, Fingertip Ship , introduced his style on a solo and technically proficient basis, as Johnson imitated sounds of nature or combined disparate musical genres such as Middle Eastern modes with kudzu-draped blues. Blue Note now has extended Johnson's languages by combining his energetic guitar leadership with unconventional instrumentation. Even more unconventional is that fact that the accompanying musicians added their tracks after Johnson had recorded the entire album by himself. In other words, the accordionist, say, reacted individually to Johnson's tape separately from the oboe, and the engineer combined the unrehearsed results into a final track of ingenious, but unusual, collaboration, to say the least.

Like drummer Matt Wilson, Johnson is interested in recalling real-life situations through his music. While Wilson evokes memories of Midwestern auctioneers or even a creaky porch swing, Johnson mystically describes primeval spiritual ceremonies or the deeply personal recollection of the suicidal immolation of his great uncle.

Even the familiar tunes are assimilated into Johnson's stringed vocabulary of floating and unceasing motion. Thus, "Happy Talk" sounds like nothing from "South Pacific," but rather it provides a root for the growth of Johnson's flowering elaboration on the suggestions inherent in the tune. "Sketches Of Miles" reminds the listener of Miles Davis' and Gil Evans' mastery of impressionistic jazz, but Johnson's version assumes subdued imagery without the Flamenco flavor of "Sketches Of Spain."

Like all other originals who remain uncategorizable, Richard Leo Johnson will leave listeners in awe even as they scratch their heads in an attempt to pigeonhole his music into a pre-existing category. Go ahead and try. But Johnson follows his own muse, and in the end he must be accepted on his own innovative terms.


Track Listing: Hip Hop Zep; Sweet Jane Thyme; Event Horizon; Music Roe; Chuck Soup; Cheek To Cheek/Dancing In Heaven; Happy Talk/Dream A Dream; Sketches Of Miles; New West Helena Blues; Daddydaughterduo; 1-5-90; Freestone Peach; Ritual Ground

Personnel: Richard Leo Johnson, guitars; Paul McCandless, oboe, English horn, soprano sax; Warren Haynes, acoustic slide guitar; Tess Johnson, cello; Andy Reinhart, accordion; Glenn Moore, double bass; Reggie Washington, electric bass; Matt Wilson, drums; Cyro Baptistia, percussion; James Wormworth, washboard

| Record Label: Blue Note Records | Style: Fringes of Jazz


Shop

More Articles

Read Acceptance CD/LP/Track Review Acceptance
by Tyran Grillo
Published: February 26, 2017
Read The Wild CD/LP/Track Review The Wild
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: February 26, 2017
Read This Is Nate Najar CD/LP/Track Review This Is Nate Najar
by Edward Blanco
Published: February 26, 2017
Read Joy Comes Back CD/LP/Track Review Joy Comes Back
by James Nadal
Published: February 26, 2017
Read Apocalypse CD/LP/Track Review Apocalypse
by Julian Derry
Published: February 26, 2017
Read The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door CD/LP/Track Review The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door
by Edward Blanco
Published: February 25, 2017
Read "Star-Spangled Voltage" CD/LP/Track Review Star-Spangled Voltage
by Mark Corroto
Published: May 5, 2016
Read "Vanheusenism: A Tribute To Jimmy Van Heusen" CD/LP/Track Review Vanheusenism: A Tribute To Jimmy Van Heusen
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: September 3, 2016
Read "Allied Forces" CD/LP/Track Review Allied Forces
by David A. Orthmann
Published: November 13, 2016
Read "Shipwreck 4" CD/LP/Track Review Shipwreck 4
by John Sharpe
Published: August 16, 2016
Read "Miles Smiles" CD/LP/Track Review Miles Smiles
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: July 2, 2016
Read "Apocalypse" CD/LP/Track Review Apocalypse
by Julian Derry
Published: February 26, 2017

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: Jazz Near You | GET IT  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!