Tag Archives: Smith Dobson V

Village Voice’s Jazz Consumer Guide by Tom Hull

Darren Johnston – The Edge of the Forestv (CF 133)
Ben Goldberg’s clarinet takes flight immediately, with Sheldon Brown adding extra oomph on tenor sax and bass clarinet while the leader pokes in bits of trumpet and lays in wait for his breaks. This is postbop that looks forward, with such a broad range of moves and details that you have to credit the composer. These days, virtually all jazz musicians claim that title, but few convince you it matters.

All About Jazz review by Clifford Allen

Four on Clean Feed: Darren Johnston, Luis Lopes, Daniel Levin, Avram Fefer
CF 133
Darren Johnston – The Edge of the Forest (CF 133)

CF 146Luis Lopes/Adam Lane/Igal Foni – What Is When (CF 146)


CF 147

Daniel Levin Quartet – Live at Roulette (CF 147)

CF 145

 Avram Fefer – Ritual (CF 145)

Since its 2001 beginning in Lisbon, Portugal, Clean Feed Records has amassed a mind-numbingly large catalogue, with nearly 150 releases to their credit. Though initially the label skewed towards Portuguese locals in both avant garde and mainstream fields, their modus operandi now covers the globe with artists from Scandinavia, Japan, the United States, Germany and Canada. When this writer interviewed label proprietor Pedro Costa in 2003, his hopes were to release music by big names like Cecil Taylor, William Parker and Peter Brotzmann. Clearly, it’s been a far more fruitful venture to make Clean Feed into a home for the unsigned and under-represented. Thus, followers of the label have the opportunity to hear a diverse array of improvisers; players like West Coast trumpeter Darren Johnston, Lisbon-based guitarist Luis Lopes and New York regulars, cellist Daniel Levin and reedman Avram Fefer are just a scratch to the surface.

Johnston, a Canadian now based in the Bay Area, isn’t probably as close to a vanguard household name as he could be. He has worked with Fred Frith and the Rova organization as well as directing the United Brassworkers Front, but The Edge of the Forest is only the second disc to feature his name across the sleeve. He’s ably supported here by clarinetist Ben Goldberg, tenorman Sheldon Brown, bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Smith Dobson on seven originals, vamp-heavy but with tight, woody arrangements. Johnston’s tone is particularly incisive—bright and detailed, but with a cutting projection equal parts Woody Shaw and Ted Daniel. “Foggy” adds accordionist (and regular collaborator) Rob Reich to the proceedings, granting a lush and sometimes otherworldly drone to biting rhythmic bounce and keening woodwinds. One thing that holds true throughout is that Johnston’s writing gives an illusion of size and breadth far beyond the five or six players present.

Portuguese guitarist Luis Lopes is joined by Israeli drummer Igal Foni and East Coast bassist Adam Lane on What Is When, another notch in the proliferating subgenre of guitar-based improvised power trios of late, along the lines of Scorch Trio or Adam Caine’s group. The difference here being that Lopes is about as far as one can get from a pyrotechnical guitarist, hanging back with muted, gritty lines and fields of delicate introspection fleshed out by Lane’s throaty pizzicato and a constant burble of activity from Foni’s kit. Linear repetition, bluesy fragments and worrying isolation pepper Lopes’ improvisation on “Spontaneous Combustion,” though despite a sparse aesthetic worldview, by no means is this a ‘quiet’ trio. “The Siege” offers one of Lopes’ flitting and quizzical singsong melodies, of the sort so brilliantly fleshed out with saxophonist Rodrigo Amado in the Humanization 4tet. Split off into areas of grungy and electronically-altered arco and punchy rhythms, the tune’s melodic rejoinder is both unifying and perversely off-kilter.

Cellist Daniel Levin has been a member of the New York improvising community for the better part of a decade; following discs for hatOLOGY and Riti, Live at Roulette is his second disc for Clean Feed and his first for the label with his working quartet. With him are vibraphonist Matt Moran, trumpeter Nate Wooley and bassist Peter Bitenc (replacing Joe Morris) for ten collective improvisations, which continually break the unit down into micro-areas of solo and duo playing. Subtracting a drummer from the proceedings begs a sort of ‘chamber’ aesthetic and that’s partially true here, though the quartet often puts forth a tremendous amount of forward motion, introduced through Moran’s vibes and electronic resonance on “Matt,” subtonal cello growling and ponticello scrapes leading into brassy scrawl, teetering on the edge of ‘noise’ but for an extraordinary amount of clarity. “Delicate” begins with paper-thin breath and glassy sustain, Levin’s cello part echoing the quieter moments of Kodaly’s “Suite for Unaccompanied Violoncello”; indeed, the most commanding moments of the set might come from improvised Janos Starker-isms.

Reedman Avram Fefer is probably the longest-term fixture in creative music of any of the players represented by these four discs. Ritual is his first for Clean Feed, however, and features him in a power-trio format with bassist Eric Revis and drummer Chad Taylor on nine original tunes (including dedications to saxophonist Archie Shepp and the late conceptual artist Blinky Palermo). This writer’s first exposure to Fefer was hearing him put through his paces by the kaleidoscopic runs of pianist Bobby Few. Ritual is an opportunity to hear the leader’s brusque, burnished improvisations put a rhythm section through some of his own. Certainly Revis and Taylor are up to the task—the drummer’s dry shuffle is a perfect counterpoint to Fefer’s cottonmouthed cry on the opening “Testament” while Revis is rock-solid meat, unmovable propulsion no matter how ragged and loose things get. That’s especially true on tunes like “Shepp in Wolves’ Clothing,” where Fefer mines two-horn territory, more in the vein of Peter van der Locht than George Braith and plugging Monk, the New York Contemporary 5 and his own wit throughout.

Cadence Magazine review by Jason Bivins

CF 133Darren Johnston – The Edge of the Forest (CF 133)
The tight charts and pert rhythmic playfulness of “The Edge of the Forest” recall a Philip Johnston session in some ways. Namesake Darren has a catholic approach to his instrument, brash mute work here, tiny chirrups there, bold lines amidst it all. In his range, he recalls Herb Robertson, and also in his puckishness—check out his flatulent statement to begin “Broken” (flatulent is good, in case you’re wondering). While the leader is a pleasure to listen to, it’s also always a delight to hear Goldberg in this kind of Free Bop setting. The three-horn line (with the resourceful Brown) kills throughout, sometimes in punchy little groupings (the opener) and sometimes in wild untethered sections (amidst the funk of “Broken”). A constant to this session is the band’s freedom with tempo, even as Hoff and Dobson are winningly crisp (think Pavone/Sarin in a lot of ways). But regardless of the flexibility of the group sound, the charts stand out too with their winking blend of Herbie Nichols, Raymond Scott, and Lacy. There’s some gorgeous work from Hoff in a duet with Goldberg on the bottom-heavy “Foggy,” whose nicely melancholy accordion hints at European folk forms. The same is true of the quizzical “Cabin 5,” whose staggered pulse and buoy-ant character suggest a Breuker influence (a trumpet/tenor line both sassy and understated lolls along gently, as Goldberg rides the pulse). They pull back on the dark-hued “Edge of the Forest” and the intense closer, but overall it’s a disc filled with energy, invention, and humor.
©Cadence Magazine 2009 www.cadencebuilding.com

Temporary Fault review by Massimo Ricci

Clean Feed 1
A few words about ten less recent chapters from the ongoing (hopefully for long) saga of Pedro Costa’s label. Other titles will be gathered in a future instalment.

Clean Feed Cherry Picking

FIGHT THE BIG BULL – Dying Will Be Easy (CF 108 )
Under this name acts a reasonably bloodthirsty nonet led by guitarist Matt White, the composer of all the tunes. The instrumentation comprise two trombones (Reggie Pace, Bryan Hooten), clarinet (Adrian Sandi), tenor sax (J.C. Kuhl), trumpet (Bob Miller), percussion (Brian Jones), trap kit (Pinson Chanselle) and bass (Cameron Ralston). Given that the CD lasts slightly in excess of 31 minutes, the level of charged dynamics and overall energies that it transmits is noteworthy. Clearly stated themes get rapidly embittered in distorted fury, vapours of past influences gathered and shaken up into original recipes for a fresh kind of alternative dancing. Orchestrations that hint to big band enthusiasms and New Orleans-tinged business leave room for the instrumentalists to releases copious doses of vociferous rage, yet there’s also space for looking at atmospheres that are more reminiscent of a strip club than a jazz club. The mechanisms of lucidity don’t seem to be always in full control, but the somewhat disorderly conduct held by the ensemble is a plus, liberating the music from the sub-structural obviousness that this brand of projects frequently implies. The nervous sort of gaiety that characterizes substantial chunks of the compositions is exactly what defines their distinctiveness. Play loud and get slapped hard.

PAULO CURADO E O LUGAR DA DESORDEM – The Bird, The Breeze And Mr. Filiano (CF 113)
As the record’s name implies, the presence of double bassist Ken Filiano amidst leader Paulo Curado (alto sax, flute) and Bruno Pedroso (drums) is rather exemplary, classiness and sobriety always at the forefront either as accompanist or soloist, an extreme musicality symbolizing the cornerstone of his style, which is a pleasure to listen at any time. The Portuguese comrades are definitely not lesser musicians, though: this is a typical specimen of trio that might have risked to sound as a mellifluous disaster on CD and instead comes out of the speakers as a splendid kinship, the music walking at brisk paces without stumbling for a moment. Curado is a neat executor on both instruments, playing lines that result perfectly intelligible wherever he decides to go, perennial precision and clever sleights of hand never informed by excessive meticulousness. Pedroso’s wrists allow him excursions in several regions of drumming, including those which border with total freedom, yet he manages to emerge as the driving propitiator of impartially functional rhythmic designs at all times. Played with earnestness and elegance at once, these pieces appear like unprejudiced attempts to avoid that kind of pre-digested organization which gives jazz a glossy patina of unresponsive pointlessness.

The theory of “unrealized energy”, of which we find a meticulous description on the album’s sleeve notes, is at the basis of these 75 minutes of improvisations by pianist Jorge Lima Barreto. The length of the CD is, in truth, one of its limits but this notwithstanding some of the ideas that the sole protagonist performs are fascinating enough to release an overall sufficiently positive judgement. In “Zul”, which alternates not always lucid free forms to comparatively peaceful dissertations, the instrument is constantly intertwined with the emanations of a shortwave radio; this continuous presence defines the piece both positively and negatively, alternating moments of experimental intrigue to sections where there seems to be a little bit of confusion. The second half “Zelub” is much better, especially as Barreto’s more effective, less redundant playing is accompanied by four parallel recordings of natural and environmental sounds, including beautiful birds and other similarly engrossing presences. At times, for inexplicable reasons, I was reminded of Joachim Kühn in certain electro-acoustic partnerships on CMP. Still, despite a degree of heaviness mainly in the first part of the record, this is undoubtedly sincere music to appraise without acting as overly critical detractors.

TETTERAPADEQU – And The Missing R (CF 120)
A group formed by two Italians (tenor saxophonist Daniele Martini and pianist Giovanni Di Domenico) and a Portuguese rhythm section consisting of Gonçalo Almeida on double bass and João Lobo on drums, the name being an anagram – minus an “r”, hence the title – of a club named De Patter Quartet in The Hague, Holland, where the four conservatory students used to play together after the lessons. Where technical preparation of the musicians and instantaneous (and often ironic) creativity meet depends on the different circumstances that the music presents. Barely sketched ideas, adventurous sensitivity, a few grimaces and fully fledged compositions, the whole under a stylistic banner whose colours are mainly taken from jazz, but also from other kinds of immediate intuition, several moments characterized by intense silences and melancholic touches for good measure. Now tangentially intelligent, now more respectful of traditions, this record shows the artists’ will to do their best to maintain an optimistically untarnished approach to interplay; they sound dedicated, detached and having fun at once. The result is an extremely satisfying album, its moods and inclinations not in need to overwhelm the listener. Remarkable and, at the end of the day, successful in not giving us the chance of an accurate classification.

A Dutch word that means “mates” also defines a typical local delicacy, of which the musicians who play in the CD grew fond during a stay in Amsterdam. The exchange of musical experiences – Chicago versus The Netherlands – is at the basis of this album featuring virtual leader Jorrit Dijkstra (alto sax, lyricon, analog synth), James Falzone (clarinet), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello, analog electronics), Jason Roebke (bass) and Frank Rosaly (drums, percussion). The compositions, mostly credited to Boston-resident Dijkstra, are visibly distinguished by a rather synchronized approach, the artists following a basic compositional scheme comprising a number of places for individual expression but always in the name of an orchestral result that often sounds regimented, only at times slightly more audacious. In general, the players do not seem to be looking too hard for alternative routes: once a suggestion is delineated, they develop a few instant propositions without putting excessive quantities of juvenile delinquency in there, wearing an “everything-under-control” mask whatever the proposition may be (among the declared influences, minimalist mavericks Terry Riley and LaMonte Young; still, curb your enthusiasm if you think to find anything even remotely similar to that music). This somewhat scarcely flexible application of colours and codes limits the sparkle factor of the pieces, which remain flawlessly elegant examples of semi-improvised concepts partially subjugated to a collective format, the whole impeccably executed yet unquestionably cold to these ears.

RIDD QUARTET – Fiction Avalanche (CF 121)
Reuben Radding (double bass), Jon Irabagon (sax), Kris Davis (piano), Jeff Davis (drums), RIDD combine different types of situations and moods, ranging from the sober elegance of rarefied tunes where the piano dictates the behavioural rules of a jazz that follows – at least in part – the tradition without sounding démodé (the preferred facet of the group by this writer) to more oblique exemplifications of dissonant freedom, often interesting, at times a little tortuous, in general destined not to remain in the memory (this needs the opening of a discussion panel; how many records of contemporary jazz are in effect “destined to remain in the memory”, if not vaguely? Next time). The players, whose nimbleness is beyond debate, approach the material with the right balance of clever diplomacy and regulated sixth sense, rarely exalting the fuming aspects of improvisation in favour of a controlled attitude which sounds very welcome. Radding and Irabagon complement their reciprocal finesse splendidly, literate contrapuntal parallelisms calling attention also when the tune does not necessarily require it. Jeff Davis is the most discreet figure of the quartet, humility at the service of the collective yet extremely precise and reliable, a teaching for certain drummers who would have better served themselves by becoming wailing guitarists instead of banging our ears off the head. Still, the real pleasures frequently come courtesy of Kris Davis, improvisational intelligence on a par with her abilities as a refined interlocutor, chordal hues and sparkling arpeggios always noticeable at the forefront of the mix even in the less intelligible sections.

STEVE ADAMS TRIO – Surface Tension (CF 131)
Adams is a member of ROVA, in front of which a knowledgeable listener could even think of genuflecting – enough said. In this record he plays sopranino, alto, tenor and baritone plus bass flute, flanked by Ken Filiano on bass and Scott Amendola on drums. I’m usually kind-hearted towards instrumentalists belonging to the same rank of these three men, provided that clichés and formulas are left out of the equation which, we’re happy to report, is exactly what happens here. This is as fresh a jazz as a herbal antiperspirant: the music, entirely written by Adams, literally breathes, whatever the sort of proposition he presents. Inspired improvisations sounding like well-rehearsed charts, clever swinging, intense soliloquies and considerate interplay with just a pinch of disenchantment: everything is executed with congruence, the musicians’ intents perfectly aligned in a punctilious search for different solutions. While Filiano performs according to his customary instrumental stature, alternating dissonant bopping and arco-tinged sensitive shrewdness, and Amendola acts as a clear-headed rhythmic propeller gifted with remarkable clarity of vision, the leader is obviously a master of the game, the relationship with the mechanics of blowing air into tubes fuelled by a refined sense of suggestiveness and proportional technical monstrosity which makes us appreciate the sheer sound of any note that he emits, with a personal preference for the splendidly evocative considerations on the flute in tracks such as the gorgeous “ninth” (thus called by yours truly because the CD contains ten chapters, but the cover and the press release indicate only eight titles). A flawless example of creative interaction in a trio, a veritable clinic for many aspiring leaders who don’t have a clue about where they want to go.

JOHN O’GALLAGHER TRIO – Dirty Hands (CF 132)
The spectacular audio quality of the recording is extremely helpful in highlighting the instrumental adroitness of alto saxophonist O’Gallagher and his comrades, bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Jeff Williams. People who sound like they’ve been playing together forever, recorded in studio during a pause in a series of concerts and clinics in Braga, Portugal in 2007 which made their spiritual and technical fusion complete. It’s great when, while listening to an album, one can literally penetrate the essence of each instrument (which comes naturally easier when the sources are not too numerous). This happens time and again while we “concentrate on the concentration” demonstrated by the artists all over the course of this disc, which alternates mathematic precision, committed ardour and permanent imaginativeness in a noteworthy recipe, the sounds typical of this format in a way separated, clarified and amplified to express a unique mental picture. This perfect intelligibility is what attributes to the whole a positive mark: without sounding by any means conciliatory – quite the contrary, it is full of acute corners and razor-blade sharpness – this music is also capable of touching the soul at least in part, leaving ample room for reflection and air to breathe for the brain, never overwhelmed by what ignorant analysts often define “urgency” and instead is just inability to listen, which in my book determines a loss of the right to be called “musicians”. O’Gallagher, Kamaguchi and Williams are excellent listeners and the record is, accordingly, brilliant.

DARREN JOHNSTON – The Edge Of The Forest (CF 133)
Remarkable compositions and skilled arrangements designed to create the perfect setting for solos played with zest and exhuding joy to perform. This pretty much sums up the near-perfection of this CD, among my overall favourites in this batch, which gives back copious doses of almost physical pleasure spin after spin – a rare characteristic even in technically superior, high-level releases. Trumpeter and composer Johnston, who has worked among others with Fred Frith and Myra Melford, is aided by Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Sheldon Brown (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Devin Hoff (upright bass), Smith Dobson V (drums) and, exclusively in “Foggy”, by accordionist Rob Reich. A response to the pedestrian attitude of those combos based upon the “nonexistent-theme-thrown-away-before-inconclusive-blowouts” modus operandi, the pieces are constructed with architectural extensiveness, a plurality of diverse keys to open the doors of never-invasive, ever-articulate ramifications leading the group into territories explored with Zappa-esque tightness in uncompromising perseverance, at the same time lightening up the connotations of otherwise unsurprising redundancies. Not for a minute we experience that feel of imminent catastrophe which often underscores excessive freedom, destroying the good intentions that a tune might show: the music flows with the head on its shoulders, the players walking surefooted amidst potential turmoil maintaining rationality and brilliance, and ends exactly where it had to, its latent coldness replaced by a formidable musicality which makes us completely forget about the meaning of “lackadaisical”. A disciplined yet spirited album: if you have to pick just a few in this tentet, this is one of them.

Jazz’n’More review by Jürg Solothurnmann

CF 133DARREN JOHNSTON – The Edge of the Forest (CF 133)
Note: 5

Johnston, ein Kanadier in San Francisco, ist als Trompeter und Komponist ein Mann mit Zukunft. Er hat schon intensiv mit Solisten wie Fred Frith, Larry Ochs und Myra Melford gearbeitet; zentral aber sind sein „Nice Guy Trio“ (mit Akkordeonist Reich) und das Quintett. Seine markanten Ideen als Komponist und Arrangeur stehen deutlich im Dienst der Improvisation. Der kreative Eklektiker macht auch Theatermusik und absorbiert die Tradition von New Orleans bis Rock, Free Music und klassischer Moderne. Geschickte Kniffe vermeiden die Banalität. Die Rhythmen sind ebenso stark wie sie eiern und das musikalische Geschehen nimmt oft unerwartete, asymmetrische Wendungen. Spannung schaffen Gegensätze wie tonal Themen und Hintergründe gegen freie Improvisationen oder repetierte lebhafte Rhythmik gegen schwebende Lyrizismen. Ebenso die häufigen Wechsel  zwischen Grooves, Rubato und Fermaten. „Be The Frog“ macht z.B. den Anfang mit einem 9er Rhythmus und einem dissonant gesetzten Thema, was an George Russell erinnert. Johnstons Solo hat die spröde Gesanglichkeit Booker Littles. Es stochert fast sprechend in engen Intervallen. Mit seinem Ende versiegt auch der Beat. Dann beginnen sich Tenorsax und Klarinette pointilistisch zu umspielen und alles wächst zur Kollektivimprovisation, die zurück zum synkopischen Neuner führt, aber mit offenem Ende. – Das Schlagzeug ist meistens ziemlich diskret; der Bass aber wuchtig. Ausgezeichnet auch Ben Goldberg (bekannt mit seinem freien Klezmer-Jazz) und der hier noch kaum bekannte Sheldon Brown, ein musikalischer Nachbar Joe Lovanos. – Ein abenteuerliches, aber gut zugängliches Debut von Johnston.

Jazz Review review by Glenn Astarita

cf-1332Darren Johnston – The Edge Of The Forest (CF 133)
While earning his Master’s degree at Mills College in Oakland, CA., trumpeter Darren Johnston studied under guitarist, improvising great Fred Frith and bassist extraordinaire Joelle Leandre.  Yet, his studies and absorptions of jazz-related music encompass a broad plane of ideas and applications.  And after listening to this superb album, it is easy to discern that the artist breathes a nouveau mindset into the jazz vernacular, to augment his enviable technical acumen.

Johnston leads a sextet that covers innumerable angles and dishes out an abundance of striking contrasts.  With hefty injections of counterpoint amid European hued folk foundations and hardcore progressive jazz implementations, the leader imparts a commanding presence throughout.  He affords his band generous soloing opportunities to complement sequences of circular themes and blustery breakouts.

On the piece titled “Foggy,” Johnston abets a thrusting mélange of motifs, interspersed with Rob Reich’s buoyant accordion lines, as drummer Smith Dobson V proceeds to tear it all up. Otherwise, Johnston is a fluent soloist who possesses a brazen tone to coincide various works that are engineered atop North African modalities and pumping rhythmic exercises. 

Several movements feature tenor saxophonist Sheldon Brown’s ascending choruses that spark multicolored overtones in concert with the ensemble’s pop, sizzle and tightly-focused group based sound.  Other works are devised on melodically pronounced free-bop jaunts and knotty pulses.  But the septet’s precision oriented outlook is occasionally tempered with a loose vibe. 

Sure enough, Johnston is onto something here.  It’s an emotionally charged program, peppered with unanticipated storylines and a seamless fusion of disparate underpinnings.  Johnston triumphantly fuses a cerebral outlook that yields an entertaining outcome. 

All About Jazz Italy review by Giuseppe Segala

cf-1331Darren Johnston – The Edge of the Forest (CF 133)

Nato nell’Ontario, ma attivo musicalmente nell’area californiana, il trombettista Darren Johnston ha collaborato con i musicisti del Rova Saxophone Quartet, con Fred Frith, Myra Melford e Ben Goldberg. Quest’ultimo è presente nella formazione che ha registrato The Edge of the Forest, un quintetto che Johnston ha selezionato con cura per la propria musica, giungendo a risultati eccellenti.
L’organico riunisce quattro fiati, affidati a tre solisti, in grado di fornire una gamma timbrica ampia e articolata: tromba, clarinetto, sax tenore o clarinetto basso. A questi si affianca una ritmica senza pianoforte, quanto di meglio per dare respiro a composizioni ricche di spunti. 

Le coordinate sulle quali si muove la musica di Johnston sono evidenti fin dal primo brano dell’album: un sapiente incastro tra il ritmo in cinque movimenti, scandito dal contrabbasso e contrappuntato da tromba e sax, con il tema melodico espresso dal clarinetto. Tutto si arricchisce e si addensa nel corso del brano, con l’ingresso della batteria, l’assolo della tromba e la libera digressione affidata al duetto delizioso di sax tenore e clarinetto. Il quintetto ha un proprio carattere ben definito, in grado di modellare trame dense e sontuose ambientazioni timbriche.

Clarinetto basso e contrabbasso disegnano una trama ritmica complessa in “Foggy,” dove l’intervento della fisarmonica, presente solo in questo brano, apre uno squarcio intenso di lirismo e spiritualità. Ciò che caratterizza e rende interessante la musica di Johnston è l’alternanza tra la densità di certi arrangiamenti, in cui fiati e ritmi sono guidati con grande maestria, e le sequenze rarefatte, affidate a piccoli sottoinsiemi o a strumenti singoli, che sprigionano la creatività dei solisti. Tali modalità, con l’alternanza e la compenetrazione di episodi a densità variabile, ricordano la lezione dei chicagoani storici, come “Muhal” Richard Abrams e Henry Threadgill. I risultati sono però diversi, fanno pensare anche a Jimmy Giuffre, Dave Douglas, Dave Holland, pur mantenendo una propria fisionomia e un carattere ben definito. La spontaneità e la freschezza che si respirano scaturiscono da una sintonia intensa dei musicisti.

Musica che guarda con sobrietà a orizzonti nuovi, pur senza ignorare una forte spinta alla comunicazione. “Broken,” un vero cammeo incastonato nel centro del disco, si dipana su un disegno sfilacciato tra i fiati, dopo un’introduzione di corpo formidabile della tromba, e giunge solo nel finale al suo tema denso, vigoroso, assertivo. Il tema propulsivo appare invece subito in “Apple,” esposto prima dalla tromba, poi dai fiati insieme. Il denso tempo ternario di “The Edge of the Forest” è un veicolo ideale per i notevoli interventi di Goldberg e di Johnston.

Non meno degne delle sue qualità di scrittura, sono le doti solistiche del leader, che richiama Douglas ma anche Steven Bernstein, con timbri spessi, carnosi, materici, e un fraseggio nervoso, errabondo. Ben Goldberg e Sheldon Brown sono perfetti nel loro apporto. Devin Hoff è un bassista dalle doti melodiche notevoli e Smith Dobson V alla batteria è un prodigio di finezza e profondità. La sua scansione dal feeling vicino a Elvin Jones introduce l’ultimo brano del disco, il più vicino allo spirito di Threadgill. Uno scrigno di sorprese, di creatività ispirata, a tratti sfrenata.

Point of Departure review by Stuart Broomer

cf-133Darren Johnston – The Edge of the Forest (CF 133)
Darren Johnston is a Bay-area trumpeter who has studied at Mills College and has worked and recorded with some distinguished company, including Adam Lane and OrchestRova. He has previously recorded a single CD as leader, Reasons for Moving (NotTwo) with a quintet that included Fred Frith and Larry Ochs. While that recording placed an emphasis on improvisation, there’s a greater concentration on Johnston’s compositions here, executed here by his regular quintet – Ben Goldberg, clarinet; Sheldon Brown, bass clarinet and tenor; Devin Hoff, bass; and Smith Dobson V, drums.

As both composer and trumpeter Johnston seems to come from some of the best places, Don Cherry and Booker Little, though the latter influence may be transmuted through Kenny Wheeler and Dave Douglas. Perhaps because of the quality of those forebears, Johnston already has his own sound and sense of form. The sound is tart, at times to the point of acidic, and it contributes to the intensity and focus of his lines, which are consistently probing, always reaching towards form. He can use mutes to touch on the timbres of early jazz as well as using extended techniques to stretch momentarily towards multiphonics. There’s a certain Klezmer-like quality to his compositions, often rooted in minor keys and emphasized by the sound of Goldberg’s dry clarinet. Added to that there’s a certain spikiness and jerkiness, a mix of the pensive and kinetic that can suggest both post-bop and the music of Hanns Eisler. There are frequent collisions in Johnston’s conflicting rhythms and figures, but that too is relieved by moments of lightly consonant swing.

Given the amount of thought that Johnston is clearly putting into his work, it’s a relief that it rarely sounds studied. The compositions act as triggers for consistently taut improvisation, from the rhythmic dance between horn and rhythm to improvised solo against composed ensembles to some stunning collective improvisations that—aided by Goldberg’s slithering clarinet–are joyous enough to suggest a free jazz take on New Orleans polyphony. Few musicians could get as much out of a small ensemble: the opening “Be the Frog” is filled with timbral contrasts, including the unison figures that rise to meet Johnston’s trumpet solo; “Foggy,” with the addition of Rob Reich’s accordion, effectively alternates lead voices against ensemble punctuations in a way that’s genuinely orchestral. Micro-groupings also figure in Johnson’s strategies, from an unaccompanied segment of clarinet and tenor to a pensive interlude of bass clarinet and string bass. Johnston even takes the unusual step of having the final “Sippin’ with Lou” end with the ensemble fading into silence until Brown’s wistful tenor is left starkly alone. It’s as beautiful as it is unlikely.  

All About Jazz review by Troy Collins

cf-133Darren Johnston – The Edge of the Forest (CF 133)
Canadian-born Darren Johnston was recently chosen by Down Beat Magazine as one of 25 Trumpeters of the Future. Currently working in the Bay Area’s fertile new music scene, Johnston is a prime example of the new generation’s eclectic interpretation of the jazz tradition. After acquiring his Master’s in composition from Mills College in Oakland, California, Johnston went on to hone his craft with such legends as Fred Frith, Myra Melford and Rova. Besides recordings of his collaborative work, The Edge of the Forest is his first session as a leader.

A number of these pieces originated as dance commissions, revealing a rich balance between rhythmic ingenuity and intricate, yet tuneful melodic concepts. Assisting in the interpretation of these sublime works are veteran clarinetist Ben Goldberg, saxophonist Sheldon Brown, bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Smith Dobson V. A magnanimous leader who provides ample solo time to his sidemen, Johnston himself demonstrates an architecturally sound approach; on “Broken,” he unfurls a series of cascading lines that radiate audacious tonalities without abandoning melodic structure.

While Johnston’s trumpet playing is warmly expressive and thematically concise, it is his elaborate writing and creative arranging that stands out. Layering contrapuntal melody lines into cantilevered rhythms and shifting time signatures, Johnston’s tunes eschew conventional structures in favor of a more narrative approach. On “Be the Frog,” Johnston’s buttery trumpet solo dominates the first half of the tune until the ensemble temporarily subsides, revealing a rousing, unaccompanied duet between Brown’s muscular tenor and Goldberg’s woody clarinet, before regrouping for the coda.

Tunes like “Be the Frog,” “Foggy” and “Broken” expose their dance-oriented beginnings with interlocking counter-harmonies and infectious lock-step vamps, while the ebullient post-bop of “Apples” acts a vehicle for Brown’s tortuous tenor. Revealing a meditative side, Johnston’s honeyed trumpet refrains and Goldberg’s sinuous clarinet musings exude billowy lyricism on the introspective title track. “Sippin’ With Lou” bridges the gap, segueing from coiled angles, capricious tempo changes and frenzied collective improvisation into an atmospheric and dreamy finale.

Despite the sophistication of his writing, Johnston is a keen tunesmith whose melodic sensibility never falters, drawing equally from nostalgic brass charts, knotty post-bop lines, simmering funk ostinatos and exotic harmonies. The Edge of the Forest is a brilliant example of where jazz is headed—adventurous and unpredictable, yet always accessible. Darren Johnston is definitely one of the top trumpeters of the future.

Free Jazz review by Stef


Darren Johnston – The Edge Of The Forest (CF 133)
Ever since I heard “Third Impulse” and “Reasons For Moving”, I was hooked on Darren Johnston’s trumpet playing, and when I noticed that Clean Feed would be issuing an album by him, expectations ran high for what I thought would be an avant-garde jazz album. Yet again, I apparently assume too much. This is modern jazz at its best : rhythmic, with strong compositions, clear themes and structure, great arrangements, and above all, a list of top-notch musicians, with Ben Goldberg on clarinet, Sheldon Brown on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Devin Hoff on double bass, and Smith Dobson V on drums. Rob Reich joins on accordion on the second track, and he fits perfectly to set the tone of the piece. The music has a high degree of complexity, in that various orchestrated things can happen at the same time, at different speeds, with several melodies being interwoven, often with a solo or two on top, and this then changes the whole time, within the same piece. Another great thing about the album is that despite the complexity and the musicians’ skills, this music swings, it is joyful and exuberant. It swings (“Cabin 5”), it funks (“Broken”), it bops (“Apples”), and they improvise through history from old to new and back, there are references from Ellingtonian music as much as to Dave Douglas, but in a way, I don’t think Johnston needs those comparisons. He is a stellar trumpet-player, with a warm tone and a broad range, and these are equalled by his skills as a composer. Truth be told, I had expected more avant-garde, but he brought a surprise of warm, very creative and captivating modern jazz. And that’s a great achievement.