All About Jazz

Home » Articles » CD/LP/Track Review


Howard Johnson and Gravity: Testimony

Roger Farbey By

Sign in to view read count
Howard Johnson really should need no introduction. He's played with many of the greats including Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp, Hank Crawford, Jack DeJohnette and Gil Evans (his solo on "Voodoo Child" was a highlight of Evans's Jimi Hendrix tribute album). He also appeared on Carla Bley's seminal 1971 album Escalator Over The Hill. Throughout his career, Johnson has been a trailblazer in the acceptance of the tuba in modern jazz, not merely as an oompah substitute for the bass but as a proper soloing instrument in its own right. Johnson has assembled a veritable clutch (if that's the appropriate collective noun) of tuba players including another tuba pioneer, the renowned Bob Stewart. The album is a belated follow-up to Johnson's Gravity and Right Now! from 1995 and 1998 respectively, which included several of the same tuba players featured here.

The opening title track is worth the entrance fee alone just for its astounding, albeit brief, collective ascending glissando at the very end of the number. But it's also a strong piece with a robust and inventive tuba solo from Johnson. The succeeding track "Working Hard For The Joneses" is an infectious and upbeat blues, written by and featuring daughter Nedra Johnson on lead vocals. McCoy Tyner's affecting fast-paced "Fly With The Wind" again features Johnson and also Dave Bargeron on tuba solos. This lengthy and memorable track is something of a showpiece for the album and sounds all the better for its heavy yet deft brass treatment.

A sensitive interpretation of Carol King's "Natural Woman," with the tuba melody and improvisation played by Velvet Brown, is followed by another Tyner composition, the ebullient "High Priest" which benefits from some quirky Thelonius Monk-ish swing with Johnson soloing here on baritone sax. Johnson display even more versatility on "Little Black Lucille" when elegantly leading the number's melody on penny whistle, and providing some nifty soloing on the instrument too. Could there be any greater contrast between that pocket-sized instrument and the gargantuan tuba?

One important factor of this recording, as confirmed by the closing numbers "Evolution," enhanced by Johnson's nimble soloing, and the foot-tapping "Way Back Home" is that despite the challenges posed by the sheer immensity of the instrument, the tuba is more than capable of successfully executing both lead and improvisational roles. When these staggeringly proportioned brass instruments perform in an ensemble arrangement as heard here, confounding all expectations and maybe even the laws of physics, the effect is like a veritable modern-day nuclear-powered Birth Of The Cool.

Track Listing: Testimony; Working Hard for the Joneses; Fly with the Wind; Natural Woman; High Priest; Little Black Lucille; Evolution; Way Back Home.

Personnel: Howard Johnson: tuba, baritone saxophone, penny whistle; Velvet Brown, Dave Bargeron, Earl McIntyre; Joseph Daley, Bob Stewart: tuba; Carlton Holmes: piano; Melissa Slocum: bass; Buddy Williams: drums. Guests: Nedra Johnson: vocals on track 2; Joe Exley: tuba tracks 1,5,6,7,8; CJ Wright, Butch Watson, Mem Nahadr: backing vocals tracks 2.

Title: Testimony | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Tuscarora Records


Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles

Related Articles

Read The Questions CD/LP/Track Review
The Questions
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: March 20, 2018
Read Meerkat Parade CD/LP/Track Review
Meerkat Parade
by Geno Thackara
Published: March 20, 2018
Read The Poetry of Jazz CD/LP/Track Review
The Poetry of Jazz
by Mark Corroto
Published: March 20, 2018
Read The Unknowable CD/LP/Track Review
The Unknowable
by Glenn Astarita
Published: March 20, 2018
Read Like A Radio CD/LP/Track Review
Like A Radio
by Doug Collette
Published: March 20, 2018
Read Live In Healdsburg CD/LP/Track Review
Live In Healdsburg
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: March 19, 2018
Read "Organ Monk Blue" CD/LP/Track Review Organ Monk Blue
by Jerome Wilson
Published: January 13, 2018
Read "Sing House" CD/LP/Track Review Sing House
by Karl Ackermann
Published: July 30, 2017
Read "Tangents" CD/LP/Track Review Tangents
by Karl Ackermann
Published: August 28, 2017
Read "Země" CD/LP/Track Review Země
by Friedrich Kunzmann
Published: March 12, 2018
Read "Numbers" CD/LP/Track Review Numbers
by Mark Sullivan
Published: May 30, 2017
Read "Amour Cruel" CD/LP/Track Review Amour Cruel
by Peter Jurew
Published: July 29, 2017