Max Johnson Quartet | The Prisoner | No Business Records

Bassist Max Johnson has been building up quite an impressive resume as both a leader and a sideman for a variety of labels. His second release of this year is a collaborative effort with Ingrid Laubrock on tenor saxophone, Mat Maneri on viola and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. You might think that this unit could blow up quite a storm, and indeed they do on a few sections of the recording, but most of the music is given over to slow and atmospheric improvisations. The group shows quite a bit of cohesion and self control in the building of their music, and Maneri’s subtle and patient bowing meshes very well with Ingrid Laubrock who is quite comfortable at low volume and long narrow bands of sound. This is an interesting album, definitely worth picking up if you are interested in patient and slowly developing music that envelops you in a sense of unease. It is all the more powerful when the band really lets loose on more feverish improvisational sections, coming as a shock and keeping the listener on their toes throughout the album, developing the sound of surprise and not knowing what might be around the next corner. — Tim Niland Continue reading

Tomas Fujiwara | Taylor Ho Bynum | Stepwise | Not Two Records

On a spring day in 1997 I laid on a threadbare rug in an old Geary Street apartment in San Francisco. I had spent the day maniacally rushing around the city with my (very patient) friend to find a specific CD that had not yet come to Oregon, where I was living at the time. As my friend took a nap after all her driving, I stretched out in the sun and put on headphones : to listen. The name of the CD doesn’t matter for our purposes here, but what I heard is exactly to the point. It was pure, unadulterated joy. Big deal, right? We are constantly attacked in public by happy music. Joyful music on elevators, in ads for drugs and at the opening of tv shows. But this wasn’t just happy music; this was music that was nothing but joy, and there is a very big difference. This music I was hearing on that spring day wasn’t trying to represent joy. It wasn’t the kind of music that you want to dance to, or that gives you a warm sense of simpler times. This was a grouping of timbres, melodies, harmonies, and rhythms, played by a group of musicians, which summed up completely and wholly embodied the abstract concept of joy. It was in that moment, listening to that music as a young trumpet player, deciding whether or not to continue, that I saw a series of new paths open for me in my life. — — Nate Wooley, Fall 2009 Continue reading