Sunday, July 26, 2009

Darren Johnston - The Edge of the Forest (Clean Feed, 2008)

Trumpeter and composer Darren Johnson leads an interesting and open ended ensemble on this, his debut album as a solo bandleader. Collaborating with him on this album are Ben Goldberg on clarinet, Sheldon Brown on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Devin Hoff on bass and Smith Dobson on drums. Rob Reich guests on accordion on “Foggy.” The enigmatically titled “Be the Frog” opens things with a quirky melody and some fine clarinet soloing from Goldberg. The group uses texture and shading to make the most of the improvisational opportunities provided by the music. The addition of the accordion of “Foggy” is a case in point, adding a mysterious and melancholy air to the proceedings. “Apples” opens with a sound akin to a Dave Douglas performance (I think fans of Douglas would really enjoy this album) before adding layers of musical fabric to build to a very exciting performance which was the highlight of the album for me. Brown in particular digs deep for an excellent tenor saxophone solo. “Cabin 5” opens with a thick, urgent groove, decamping to a full and ripe sounding solo from the leader. “Borken” has a bruised and abstract feel, Johnson’s trumpet smearing sounds like a painter mixing different colored hues. The music shakes off its sadness as the band kicks in behind Dobson’s snappy drumming. Ben Goldberg takes a wistful clarinet solo on “The Edge of the Forest” before the leader comes back with a tight and economical solo. I liked this album - the group had a nice, clear identity and plant to move their music forward. The compositions were well written and not fussy, leaving a lot of room for individual interpretation. Johnston was a very democratic bandleader, generous with solo space for his colleagues. Another winner for Clean Feed, which is rapidly becoming the one of the go-to labels for exciting and creative jazz.
The Edge of the Forest -

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