Is it possible to think of jazz trombone without the artistry of J.J. Johnson coming to mind? His death in 2001 brought closure to a career covering a half-century, and there are few major figures in bop/ mainstream jazz that didn't share concert billing with him. His recorded output graced a number of labels: Blue Note, Prestige, Concord, and Verve. In a perfect world, a career retrospective would be a multi-disc, multi-label affair. In this imperfect world, thank Fantasy Jazz for this single disc retrospective from its family of labels.
Johnson's trombone style remained remarkably consistent throughout his career, and you can hear that constancy in this well-culled collection. The opening cut finds Johnson in the good company of an aggrssively boppish Coleman Hawkins, navigating the tricky changes of Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You." The closing selection finds him in the stylish company of fellow trombonist Al Grey and empathic pianist Kenny Barron. The fourteen other cuts share with these opening and closing tunes Johnson's large lyrical tone: smooth, stately, serene, always with somewhat of a bluesy undertone. Never overtly dramatic, he could still manage to communicate through his trombone a smolding emotional intensity, as is richly evident in the two duets with guitarist Joe Pass included here, a longingly romantic version of "Misty," and a sharply keening rendition of "Nature Boy" bringing to mind Coltrane's, not Nat King Cole's, cover. This collection is a worthy monument to a jazz titan.
1. I Mean You, 2. Elysee, 3.Blue Mode (take 1), 4.Chazzanova, 5. Blue 'N'Boogie, 6. Bag's Groove,
7. Laura, 8. Hymn to the Orient, 9. Horace, 10. Pinnacles, 11. Jaylock, 12. Concepts in Blue, 13.
Misty, 14.What's New, 15. Nature Boy, 16. Soft Wings.
Nat Adderley, Kenny Barron, Count Basie, Louis Bellson, Ray Brown, Ron Carter, Paul chambers,
Kenny Clarke, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Miles Davis, Willie Dennis, Kenny Dorham, Harry "Sweets"
Edison, Tommy Flanagan, Benny Golson, Al Grey, Coleman Hawkins, Percy Heath, Joe Henderson,
Billy Higgins, Freddie Hubbard, Hank Jones, John Lewis, Charles Mingus, Fats Navarro, Joe Pass,
Niels H-B Pedersen, Oscar Peterson, Sonny Rollins, et al.
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