Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Aaron J. Johnson: Songs of Our Fathers

Bubble-Sun Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 6.3.09
Buy CD: Songs of Our Fathers

Aaron J. Johnson is another of the many artists well known in musician circles, but not to the general public.

He was born in 1958 in Washington, D.C., and began playing piano at age 12. He switched to drums, but by the time he hit grade school had discovered the trombone. He attended both Carnegie Mellon Institute and the Georgia Institute of Technology, and earned degrees from both; one of those degrees is in electrical engineering!

Johnson played with countless college bands and funk groups in the D.C. and New York City areas. By the 1990s, he was established as an experienced sideman, composer and arranger.

This, his debut album, features a quintet consisting of his trombone, tenor sax/flute/oboe, piano, bass and drums. Johnson composed and arranged all the tunes, which were “done as an homage to hard bop.” It's straight-ahead jazz, and everything swings nicely. Most of the tracks use middle to up-tempo 4/4 and 3/4 meters; one is done in a gospel mode, and another as a Latin-tinged ballad. One is a real kicker in the New Orleans style.

All are great for either listening or dancing.

At times, the group reminds me of Horace Silver — one of the best of the hard bop stylists — but this album is more musical. The relatively unusual combination of trombone and reed instruments carrying the melodies is a plus, and the ensemble and solo efforts by all are excellent.

This is a “happy” group, and the album makes a fun listen.

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