January/February 1997

Phillip Johnston's Big Trouble
Flood at the Ant Farm
Black Saint/Soul Note

Verrry clev-ah! Johnston's fancy riffs and 30-second drills and hot-shot chop-shop stops-out licks all invade the senses in a dozen turn-on-a-nickel charts. It's jumpy, quick two-step stuff that Johnston plies, drawing on the tradition of his work with Microscopic Septet and off-Madison Avenue jingles, as well as oblique fascinations with T. Monk and S. Lacy. Extensions of form and zippy, peripatetic charts for smart octet are your main meat here, certainly not-as notesmaster Francis Davis points out in a witty analogy-your oh-too-basic head-solos-out kinda set, or band, for that matter.

Need soundalikes? I come up with smoothed out, classics-free Willem Breuker or Raymond Scott's witty illuminations addled with ADD, irreverencies like Either/Orchestra (pianist Ruddick's "Heaven Hell or Hoboken"). Sometimes a chart'll stretch out a bit, like the leisurely palm-beach stroll with Steve Swell's trombone that sets up "Mr. Crocodile," but bing! Johnston's light, droll soprano pokes in with a tasteful solo, and the ensemble heats up, and whoops! Bob deBellis' baritone blusters in and shows who the real hongry reptilian is. There are moments-lots of them. In fact, it's nearly all moments. Accumulatively, perhaps less than a sum of the parts. But nice parts. But is it jazz? What else could it be? And who cares anyway? Have fun.
-Fred Bouchard

Originally published in January/February 1997
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