DAVID EARLE JOHNSON
A good deal of the music now called jazz is nothing more than funky-Doobie Muzak, stylized into molds cast by Dave Grusin and Co. in L.A., and Bob James, Inc., in New York. Instead of music of the moment - existential music - planned solos are churned out like so much sliced bread, snapping bass strings are de rigueur and “taking chances” is a term which most industry folks assume belongs solely in a game of Monopoly.
David Earle Johnson’s fourth record as (co-)leader hovers somewhere between the purely existential and the overtly tainted “product” known as commercial jazz - first leaning one way and then the other. As such, it is an album which will probably not make anyone’s “10 best” list, but one which is honorable, technically sound and should provide more than a modicum of enjoyment for anyone who considers “jazz Flavors” an exercise in bad taste.
Complementing Johnson’s percussive talents to form the basic trio are John Abercrombie (guitars) and Dan Wall (organ and bottom end). Sometimes plodding, sometimes running, but rarely soaring, they make their way through straight-ahead jazz (the title cut, “In Its Own Way”), easy funk (“Aprils Fool,” which, alas, is “JF” material) and a slow-flowing, cleansing mood piece by Abercrombie (“Silent Green”).
Able assistance is provided on various tunes by guest players Gary Campbell (saxophone), Jeremy Steig (flute) and Joe Chambers (drums); but for all of the talent going here, solos, though not preprogrammed, fail to truly ignite. Whether the ensemble itself (is Abercrombie more inspired when he plays with DeJohnette and Bowie?) or the brevity of the songs (only two of the eight exceed five minutes) is the problem is hard to tell. Something is missing.
M finds one of Abercrombie’s working quartets doing basically what it has done on two previous albums. Along with Richard Beirach (piano), George Mraz (bass) and Peter Donald (drums), Abercrombie has turned out another album of soul music according to ECM: To wit, high European lyricism, rippling piano comps, chiming guitar notes and sometimes hot - sometimes cold jams. One listens to this always wondering in the back of his mind if these guys really enjoy playing this music.
If you’re going to buy, go for Johnson’s (especially if you have the other Quartet albums). It presents Abercrombie in a non-ECM setting, which is refreshing; it contains much more diversity than M; it’s put out by Atlanta’s own Landslide Records (support your local. . .) and it has the honor of presenting the good Col. Hampton B. Coles (Ret., of course) as master of ceremonies, doing a hip group introduction (member by member) which puts every soul-R&B item of similar intent to shame.