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J.J. Johnson: J.J. Johnson’s Last Concert

There are no frills, no flashy stuff and no gratuitous “reaction” shots of the audience on this DVD; just a straight-ahead presentation of straightahead acoustic jazz by a grand master and his serenely proficient ensemble. What’s left to say?

To be sure, not enough has been said about the autumnal bloom of J.J. Johnson that some date to his early-1980s reemergence from his years of honest toil in Hollywood studios. The performance captured here at the William Paterson University was emblematic of Johnson’s small-group performances in the years before his death in 2001. As was usual in those years, he had a crisply functioning support team: pianist Renee Rosnes, bassist Rufus Reid, tenor saxophonist Dan Faulk and drummer Bruce Cox.

Rosnes rarely gets this much close-up face time on screen and her intensity can be kind of alarming to behold. She sure can comp like crazy, though! For some reason, Faulk keeps drifting out of the camera’s frame to such an extent that if you didn’t hear him, you wouldn’t know he was there. This is a minor quibble, rendered moot by the imposing presence of the leader, performing with ramrod poise and sinewy power, moving the slide of his trombone with the light-fingered but focused fluidity of a pencil artist sketching a wooded landscape at dusk.

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