Thursday, March 5, 2009
LaMont Johnson returns three years after "Nine : A Mystical Musical Allegory", and rather surprisingly - when you read his liner notes at that last post - names his album "Aces" rather than "Twelve".
In the course of those three years, he seems to have been preoccupied with his work as a kung fu movie producer and his parallel career as a rising star in the Church of Scientology, with this being his first recording since that last album. Too busy "auditing" those girls on the front cover? We may never know ...
Arkadin (check his great new blog) and I had an interesting discussion in the comments of the "Nine" post, and dug up an old Scientology brochure on ebay which describes a very alternate Johnson universe to that described in his official biography statements. Since that will disappear in a few days, I've archived the text and brochure scans here.
But back to the music : Even though the cover's been immortalised on Crap Jazz Covers, there's some good music to be found here, even if it doesn't have the range of "Nine". Johnson's mainly on piano, with some occasional rhodes and subtle synth.
I really like his piano work here - all in all, the album's not too 1979 apart from the slight overuse of reverbed space. I remember being in studios in the late 70s - we were all quite enamoured with the hastening development of reverb units, and everything sounded 'interesting' through a cloud of reverb when you wore headphones ...
The careers of the musicians are mostly a mystery to me and Google, apart from trumpet player Gary Pack, who worked on several albums with Stan Kenton. Several of the players seem to have started off with this album, but haven't gone on to a lot of high profile work.
The title track "Aces" (preview above) has been comped on one of those Kon and Amir collections. It's got a nice loping unison melody from trumpeter Gary Pack and saxophonist John Rekenics - who work really well together in general on this session - against a string synth background multi-tracked with Johnson's piano, leading to a sparse synth solo. "Virunga Dance" and "Life Is a Sweet Thing" are other nice tracks with a similar but more acoustic feel.
Generally, LaMont Johnson is reaching back to his post-bop roots in terms of his arrangements of tracks like "Second Hand Child", while the harmonic structures cross broader fields in tracks like the Kenny Barron-like "Midnite Mind Mosaic", which references Brazilian jazz changes. I'm not too taken with the presence of guitarist Bill Coleman, who really needs to turn off his damn chorus pedal (or Fender amp chorus dial, it's one or the other) - things are generally better when he's shuffled into the background. Nevertheless, some great stuff here, and the best $4 buy I've made in a while.
01. Aces (6:24)
02. Virunga Dance (4:32)
03. Nina (10:17)
04. Europa (5:00)
05. Second Hand Child (5:35)
06. Midnite Mind Mosaic (5:55)
07. Life Is a Sweet Thing (5:24)
All compositions and arrangements by LaMont Johnson
LaMont Johnson - keyboards, vibraslap
Gary Pack - trumpet, flugelhorn, afuche
John Rekevics - soprano, tenor and alto saxaphones, flute
Bill Coleman - guitar
Gunnar Biggs - contrabass
Tim Shea - drums, triangle, apito, african agogo bells
Aces - the LaMont Johnson Sextette
A MasterScores production
Produced by Don Harris and France Johnson
Composed and Arranged by LaMont Johnson
Recorded at Western Audio Recording Studios, San Diego, California
on November 20 and 21, 1979.
Cover Design : Lalo Donfra Concepts
Production and Design Coordinator : Mitzi Lopez
Cover Photos : T.Michael Russell
Cover Photo Tinting : Lee Kromschroeder
Backliner photos : Russell Puls
Graphics : Bonkers Graphic Design, Noreen Bonker