J.J. Johnson: The Brass Orchestra

The recent recordings of veteran trombonist J.J. Johnson are steadily becoming some of this decade’s most memorable, ambitious and musically rewarding statements. With his latest venture, Johnson continues to explore the aquatic majesty of large ensembles and orchestral compositions. As the title implies, Johnson has assembled an all-star orchestra that includes heavyweights like fellow trombonists Robin Eubanks, Dave Purviance and Steve Turre; trumpeters Jon Faddis, Joe Wilder, and Eddie Henderson and tuba players Howard Johnson and Tom Everett. Propelled by the equally splendid rhythm section of pianist RenŽe Rosnes, bassist Rufus Reid, drummer Victor Lewis and percussionist Milton Cardona, Johnson drives this amazing ensemble through a stunning array of compositions that range from starkly beautiful ballads, to feisty Latin-tingled grooves, to brisk bebop excursions.

Although there isn’t any noticeable recurring thematic statement that unites these varying idioms, there is an embracing sense of unity and continuity. What unites this bouquet of stylings are the inventive arrangements by Johnson and Robert Farnon. Placing concentrated focus on the tonal sonorities of the brass instruments, without neglecting the art of vibrant soloing, Johnson has successfully fabricated an aural quilt that celebrates nearly every era of jazz. From Johnson’s elegiac classic “Enigma” to the shuffling military march of “If I Win The Lottery,” Johnson’s Brass Orchestra cross-stitches the multi-faceted program with great artistry and exquisite candor. For solo fetish listeners, there are plenty of boastful solos like Johnson’s spirited statements on “Gingerbread Boy;” Faddis’ passionate cries on “Ballade;” and Dan Faulk’s high-charged performance of “Comfort Zone.” But for maximum alluring grace, the orchestral readings “Ballad For Joe” and “Ballade” are the perfect antidote.

Throughout its entire program, J.J. Johnson’s Brass Orchestra never leads the listener astray. This is without a doubt Johnson’s most musically satisfying recording of the ’90s.