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Russ Johnson and Sean Jones: Save Big and Gemini

Brian P. Lonergan By

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Russ Johnson
Save Big
Omnitone
2005

"Saguache, the opening tune on trumpeter Russ Johnson's album Save Big, might be called a "WPA track—"worth the price of admission. It's a laid-back groove that evolves beyond feel-good into a feel-great exchange between Johnson and his partner-in-sublime, altoist John O'Gallagher. Along the way, Johnson deftly wields a mute to speak, cry, and sing through his trumpet.

Save Big is as auspicious a leader debut as they come. Along with O'Gallagher, bassist Kermit Driscoll, and drummer Mark Ferber complete the pianoless quartet. It's a format that allows the horns to concentrate on interacting with each other, often over solid grooves laid down by the rhythm section.

Johnson likes different styles and Save Big has hard bop and free passages and unison horn lines that lead to jarring harmonies. Driscoll's composition "Reveille is a highlight, a reflective piece that builds to some more fantastic interplay between Johnson and O'Gallagher, while "Indonesian Folk Song is a haunting arrangement by the altoist, with the horns chasing each other around a minor-key theme. With several tracks close to ten minutes long, Save Big also allows the quartet to stretch out and showcase extended solos by all the members.


Sean Jones
Gemini
Mack Avenue
2005

27-year-old Sean Jones is the newly minted lead trumpeter for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (LCJO). His second album as a leader, Gemini, is, appropriately, more like two albums, or one record with two personalities.

The first half of the album shows why Jones was picked for LCJO—he's thoroughly absorbed the bop trumpet tradition, evident from the rapid-fire opening of "Gemini (Phase 1) to the soulful playing on "Blues for Matt B, backed by Mulgrew Miller's in-the-pocket piano. Jones' original "BJ's Tune is an exceptional composition, with a beautiful song-like melody and interesting chord progression. The group rightly gives the tune the most attention (ten minutes), including a gorgeous Miller piano solo and understated trumpet phrases.

Then Gemini shows the other side of its personality: electric bass and synthesizers are ushered on stage in a nod to the fusion tradition, and Jones shows a pop sensibility on tunes like the smooth-ballad "Chillin' at da Grill. And just for good measure, Jones closes the album with an affirming, gospel-drenched duet for trumpet and piano.


Save Big

Tracks: Saguache; Figuratively Speaking; Reveille; Duo; Indonesian Folk Song; Rapid Comfort; Constantinople; The Loper; Sympathetic Mildew.

Personnel: Russ Johnson: trumpet; John O'Gallagher: alto saxophone; Kermit Driscoll: bass; Mark Ferber: drums, percussion.

Gemini

Tracks: Gemini (Phase 1); In Her Honor.; Rain of Patience; Blues for Matt B; BJ's Tune; Mission Statement; Gemini (Phase 2); Into the Sun; Chillin' at da Grill; T.V. Land; Momma's Groove; Gemini; Gemini (Phase 3).

Personnel: Sean Jones: trumpet; Mulgrew Miller: piano; Kenny Davis: acoustic and electric bass; Tia Fuller: alto saxophone and flute; Orrin Evans: keyboards; Ron Blake: tenor saxophone on 9,10; Walter Smith III: tenor sax on 4,6; Andre Hayward: trombone on 10; E.J. Strickland: drums on 1-6; Corey Rawls: drums on 7-12.


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