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Max Johnson: Quartet

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An acolyte of avant-garde bassist Henry Grimes, Max Johnson imbues his Hungarian flatback with an unhinged fervor on this promising debut, a collection of six originals for piano-less quartet that filter a range of genres through a distinctly free prism. Johnson has performed with Anthony Braxton, William Parker and John Zorn, influences that are evident throughout, but he establishes his own voice, delineating parameters within a framework that eschews them.

This tension emerges on “Elephant March,” an odd-metered funk tune that seems to be missing John Medeski until Tyshawn Sorey begins unfurling the time as trombonist Steve Swell and saxophonist Mark Whitecage rocket beyond the stratosphere and descend. “Lost & Found” builds slowly, with hints of the brassier sections of “Rhapsody in Blue.” The not-quite-straight-ahead “60-66” leads to “Atonement,” an off-kilter blues, and closer “Iset-Ra” channels the pyramids and perhaps the Arkestra that once played there.

Originally Published