Phillip Johnston first drew critical acclaim for his work as a saxophonist and composer in the Microscopic Septet. Since the group disbanded in 1992 (though it reunited for a new recording last year and occasional concerts), he distinguished himself leading various groups of his own (often several at the same time), composing quirky jazz that was avant-garde yet accessible, including several scores for films directed by Doris Dorrie, Philip Haas and Paul Mazursky. He was commissioned by the Film Society of Lincoln Center to compose a score for the 1926 Japanese silent film Kurutta Ippeji (A Page of Madness), which was premiered in New York City in July 1998. This obscure movie was a special challenge as it is not available on DVD, nor readily available in restored condition to the public. The story depicts a retired sailor who has taken a job as a janitor in an asylum in order to look after his insane wife, committed after attempting to drown their child. After a decade of searching for a record label to release this compelling music, Johnston finally issued it himself.
Johnston doubles on soprano and alto saxophones, joined by Joe Ruddick (piano and baritone sax), vibraphonist Mark Josefberg and bassist David Hofstra (all members of his group of that time, The Transparent Quartet), utilizing a combination of written and improvised sections, though they were tightly synchronized to individual scenes. He omitted the extended periods of silence, jesting that he might be sued by the John Cage Estate. While most fans of Johnston's music will not have seen this vintage movie, the music stands on its own merits, conveying the sense of loneliness, despair, confusion and other emotions that the character would feel in such a tragic environment. There are only brief liner notes within the CD, but Johnston provides a link to his website for more extensive notes, along with YouTube links to view film excerpts with the synchronized score. This fascinating music will have immediate appeal to anyone familiar with Johnston's earlier CDs.
Track Listing: Prelude; The Dancer; The Mad Wife; The Visit; The Asylum; Parting the Waters; There's a Riot
Goin' On; Home Life; Home Life Ruined; Escape Attempt; The Dream; The Masks; At Peace
With a Mop.
Personnel: Phillip Johnston: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone; Joe Ruddick: piano, baritone
saxophone; Mark Josefsberg: vibraphone; David Hofstra: bass.
The first jazz record I received
as a visiting gift from my
Japanese uncle at his
international division of
Toshiba EMI Tokyo was a
sample copy of Miles Davis'
Bitches Brew. A game
changer redirecting my
browsing habits and collection.