Rich Johnson's first solo release delicately meshes acoustic instruments (acoustic guitar, piano and trumpet) with technology (laptop computer and sampling) to create a fascinating collage of sound. Like seminal artists, the New York based musician is adept in both traditional and nontraditional idioms as witnessed on saxophonist Jason Rigby's Translucent Space (Fresh Sound, 2006) and on the music duo Opsvik and Jennings' Commuter Anthems (Rune Grammofon, 2007).
Though Up the Turret Mil follows the evolving electronica ideas, there is nothing experimental about these well thought-out compositions. Yes, there are computerized backdrops and processed rhythms, but Johnson's triumphs in giving the machine a soul by presenting music that has feeling as well technological advances. The surrealistic qualities of the opening "Squinting Skyward" contain static trumpet-speak: mouthpiece whispers and elongated tones, all within a theme that moves like the opening of a door into another realm.
Johnson is like an aural alchemist, providing a careful stroke here, a tonal touch there, the inclusion of real and processed colorschanging mood or tempo as in the jerky sequences that bounce on "Ignite a Noise," while juxtaposing with a muted-processed horn. One of the most moving compositions is "Harvester," a simply gorgeous ballad with acoustic guitar, piano, and an array of noise.
Trying to recognize the intriguing host of sounds that Johnson manipulates can be fun while listening to the recordingtoy-like, metallic, glass, bells, distortion, patched and synthesized, keyboards, or was that a sampled typewriter? All of these are used in a minimalist fashion, fading in and out, non-obtrusive and varied from track-to-track.
The overall tone of the recording is mysterious, similarly traveling into unknown yet mesmerizing locations: the sound of a new India in "The Loves of Zero," with its exotic percussion-like cadence; space travel to an alien planet in "I Trap Totem Pulp"; or one of the strangest hip-hop jazz clubs (most likely not on Earth) in "After a Tectonic Melt Purr," where Johnson delivers some nifty drum-sequencing.
The title track totally rocks out with thrashing guitar synth sound yet without a raging backbeat (subliminal perhaps?), which brings up a debatable point: can a musician create art with just a laptop and few instruments? The answer is, as Rich Johnson proves on Up the Turret Mil: most definitely.
Squinting Skyward; Star Rover; Ignite a Noise; Harvester; The Loves of Zero; Shoreline
Frequency; I Trap Totem Pulp; After a Tectonic Melt Purr; Following Transparency Monodies;
Up the Turret Mil; Last Town Mile.