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Russ Johnson Quartet: Reveal

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Russ Johnson Quartet: Reveal
While he has appeared on seemingly countless releases as a sideman, trumpeter Russ Johnson remains chronically under-recorded as a leader. It thus comes as a cause for rejoicing whenever one sees his name at the top of a release. Thankfully, Calligram Records has helped redress that problem with Reveal, Johnson's latest offering featuring a quartet with violinist Mark Feldman, bassist Ethan Philion and drummer Timothy Daisy. Geof Bradfield and Chad McCullough started Calligram with an eye toward showcasing some of the best talent in Chicago's ever-thriving jazz scene, and Reveal certainly qualifies. With a wide gamut of expression and a true spirit of mutuality, the disc is a terrific representation of Johnson and his colleagues' many talents.

Feldman's appearance on an all-Chicago recording is not a mistake, as the longtime New York city denizen has become a Chicago transplant, following the path that Johnson himself took in the early 2010s. He is an unfailingly dynamic and imaginative improviser, but also supremely responsive, as he darts through and alongside Johnson's lines on the crackling opening track, "Skips." With an irrepressible groove created by Philion and Daisy, the tune is propelled forward by the obvious rapport shared by the trumpeter and violinist, who have an uncanny ability to anticipate and echo each other's moves. Their deep conversation continues in a very different vein on "The Slow Reveal," a nine-minute patient excavation which puts a premium on close and subtle interactions, as Philion's arco generates an enticing alchemy with Feldman before Johnson enters the mix to tease out his own carefully measured statements. But with this group there is always energy in reserve, and this track eventually finds it, with an intensity fueled by Daisy's restless vortex.

Reveal's nine tracks, all penned by Johnson, work their magic by oscillating between vigor and reflection. "Long Branch," the group's tribute to trumpeter Jamie Branch, is a case in point, with Johnson and Feldman taking the opportunity to delve into the kind of quiet lyricism Branch could herself explore with aplomb—but with a seething intensity building underneath as the track unfolds. Fittingly, "REM Unit" possesses a dream-like power, with Philion's wide-ranging technique pivotal in shaping the track's trajectory with Johnson and Feldman. And "Veiled Invitation" is another moment in which the quartet moves from a pensive to a demonstrative register, as the track commences in a reticent vein but eventually finds its way toward a surging vitality. "Dog Gone It," on the other hand, allows the quartet to let loose from the outset, as its nod to Julius Hemphill's "Dogon A.D." sizzles with menace. Philion's brooding bass and Daisy's relentless rock rhythm push Feldman into a frenzy, but Johnson also thrives on the track's propulsive thrust, with lines that dance and weave through the piece's closing minute.

After the cathartic force of "Dog Gone It," the album concludes with a welcome reverie—the beautiful "Coda," with Feldman's delicate upper-register playing almost reaching the ether, while Johnson's mournful trumpet announces the end of a terrific recording.

Track Listing

Skips; The Slow Reveal; Long Branch; REM Unit; Agnomen; Veiled Invitation; TRM; Dog Gone It; Coda.

Personnel

Album information

Title: Reveal | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Calligram Records


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