3

Howard Johnson and Gravity: Testimony

Roger Farbey By

Sign in to view read count
Howard Johnson and Gravity: Testimony 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. Plus 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.

Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Tuscarora Records


Related Video

Shop

More Articles

Read Petite Afrique CD/LP/Track Review Petite Afrique
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: April 29, 2017
Read Organ Monk, The Breathe Suite CD/LP/Track Review Organ Monk, The Breathe Suite
by Roger Farbey
Published: April 29, 2017
Read The Wild CD/LP/Track Review The Wild
by Mark Sullivan
Published: April 29, 2017
Read Soul Garden CD/LP/Track Review Soul Garden
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: April 29, 2017
Read The Authorized Bang Collection CD/LP/Track Review The Authorized Bang Collection
by Doug Collette
Published: April 29, 2017
Read Cross My Palm With Silver CD/LP/Track Review Cross My Palm With Silver
by Karl Ackermann
Published: April 28, 2017
Read "Proximity" CD/LP/Track Review Proximity
by Glenn Astarita
Published: August 30, 2016
Read "Supernovae" CD/LP/Track Review Supernovae
by Karl Ackermann
Published: December 14, 2016
Read "Blow + Beat" CD/LP/Track Review Blow + Beat
by Karl Ackermann
Published: April 8, 2017
Read "Fractured Pop" CD/LP/Track Review Fractured Pop
by Jerome Wilson
Published: April 20, 2017
Read "Heritage" CD/LP/Track Review Heritage
by James Nadal
Published: October 3, 2016
Read "Innri" CD/LP/Track Review Innri
by Jack Bowers
Published: September 4, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM RECORDS | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!