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Aaron J. Johnson: Songs of Our Fathers

Woodrow Wilkins By

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Aaron J. Johnson serves as a reminder that the trombone is still a relevant member of the jazz family of instruments. In addition to being well-suited to larger ensembles, it can be a powerful lead instrument as well.

A Washington, D.C. native, Johnson studied piano and drums before turning to the trombone. He performed with area funk bands and later became a member of the University of Pittsburgh Jazz Ensemble. Since then, he has worked alongside such artists as Jimmy Heath, the Mingus Big Band, the Count Basie Orchestra and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. His debut as a leader, Songs of Our Fathers, features Johnson with sidemen Victor Lewis on drums, Robert Sabin on bass, Onaje Allan Gumbs on piano, and saxophonist Salim Washington, who also plays flute and oboe on selected tracks.

A trombone and tenor duet carries "A Fuller Life." At times in unison, at times in harmony, Johnson and Washington play with vigor. Johnson then solos, with Gumbs, Lewis and Sabin effectively supporting him. Washington then performs an intense solo on tenor. Gumbs and Lewis also solo.

After a muted introduction, Johnson leads the band on a tribute to one of the fathers, "Cannonball," a Sunday-drive groove that features Washington on flute. Sabin also solos over the drums, and trombone and sax carry the melody at the beginning and end. Johnson goes it alone to set up the closing sequence, which has the air of a stirring sermon.

Sabin leads the rhythm to open "Shamba," one of the longer tunes. Piano and drums paint a subtle background as trombone and tenor carry the lead. As the song progresses, Gumbs adds some elegant fills between lines. This track exemplifies the idea of a laid-back groove. The piano enjoys an extended solo, backed by bass and drums. Johnson and Washington follow with solos. Sabin and Lewis keep the piece moving throughout.

The concept of Songs of Our Fathers is to honor the type of music created by hard bop icons who emphasized melody, groove, the blues and swing. Johnson composed all but the closing track, "Our Thing," which was penned by Joe Henderson. Johnson accomplishes his mission of honoring the tradition while creating new music.

Track Listing: A Fuller Life; The Message; Cannonball; So Long / I Can Wait; Folk Forms; Reconstruction (Minus 1); Yes, You May (Ded. to U.K.); Big Fun Blues; Shamba; Our Thing.

Personnel: Aaron J. Johnson: trombone, shells; Salim Washington: tenor sax, flute, oboe; Onaje Allan Gumbs: piano; Victor Lewis: drums; Robert Sabin: bass.

Title: Songs of Our Fathers | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Bubble-Sun Records

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