Album reviews

Marc Johnson – ‘Overpass’

Marc Johnson – Overpass

(ECM 3810819. Album Review by Patrick Hadfield)

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Overpass is the latest edition to ECM’s subgenre – solo bass recordings. If you’re the kind of gig-goer who goes to the bar during the bass solo, it’s fair to say Marc Johnson‘s latest release won’t be for you. But if you have open ears, there’s a great deal in the album which is very rewarding. It’s an enjoyable recording of a skillful master of his instrument at work.

On Overpass, Johnson seems to be reflecting on his long career. Perhaps most well-known for his quartet Bass Desires, featuring both Bill Frisell and John Scofield on guitar together with Pete Erskine on drums, Johnson first made his name playing with pianist Bill Evans, and several of the pieces here relate to his time with Evans.

The standards on the album date back to Johnson’s period with Evans: Freedom Jazz Dance, Miles Davis’ Nardis and Alex North’s Love Theme from Spartacus, all of which were regular inclusions in Evans’ set list. Played mostly in the upper register and remaining largely faithful to the original, Love Theme is a slow, moving take on a familiar romantic tune.

The following track, Life of Pai (sic), follows in much the same vein. An improvisation, Johnson seems to be following his heart – or maybe just his bass – wherever it will take him.

Samurai Fly is a take on Johnson’s own Samurai Hee-Haw, from the first, eponymous Bass Desires album. The track flows faster as his bowed basses take a call-and-response solo over the plucked riff.

Perhaps the keystone to the album is And Strike Every Tuneful String. Another improvisation, inspired by music from Burundi he first heard in the 1980s, Johnson intersperses fast scurries along the strings with polyrhythmic riffing, the piece seeming simultaneously fast and slow as he stretches out. Tuneful indeed.

With only minor overdubs on a couple of tracks to enable his bowed bass to accompany his plucking, Johnson presents re-imaginings of pieces he’s recorded before together with new improvisations. As well as being technically excellent, Johnson imbues several with a relaxed, reflective, meditative style.

The overall effect of Overpass is gently relaxing, just the thing to encourage an unhurried mood of contemplation. 

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield

LINK: UK Distributor for Overpass is Proper

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