Saturday, January 14, 2017

Howard Johnson & Gravity - Testimony (March 3, 2017)

Gravity fans have been anticipating this new recording for quite a while. Howard Johnson is the first virtuoso of modern jazz tuba. He also plays baritone saxophone, flugelhorn, bass clarinet, cornet, and penny whistle among other instruments.His Gravity ensemble, featuring six extraordinary tubas. In 1971 his four tuba group Subculture made history touring and recording with Taj Mahal. Along the way his jazz credentials include recordings and performances John Scofield, Hank Crawford, Archie Shepp, Buddy Rich, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Marvin Gaye, Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, Abdullah Ibrahim, and Randy Weston and a four year association with the NDR Big Band in Hamburg, Germany. 

Johnson’s career makes nonsense of the so-called division between commercial and avant-garde, and he even performed a stint as the original conductor of the Saturday Night Live Band in the late 70’s. He also arranged for Taj Mahal, B.B. King, and Paul Butterfield and played on The Band’s Rock of Ages and The Last Waltz. In 1972, Johnson changed the name of Substructure to GRAVITY, which has released two acclaimed late-90s sessions for Verve Records. John Lennon famously thanked Howard for his "hornspiration" on the legendary "Walls and Bridges" album for his arranging ideas in the studio. 

Gravity released recordings twice in the 1990's and, after a long stretch doing many other things, came back together to make this recording. It features the tubas of: Howard Johnson, Velvet Brown, Dave Bargeron, Earl McIntyre, Joseph Daly, Bob Stewart with one more occasionally by Joe Exley. Vocals by Howard's tuba playing daughter Nedra Johnson and the rhythm section of Carlton Holmes on piano, Melissa Slocum on bass and Buddy Williams on drums. CJ Wright, Butch Watkins and Mem Nahadr provide background vocals on one song. This album is produced by Joseph Daly. 

The music on this much anticipated CD includes originals by Howard and Nedra, two compositions by McCoy Tyner (which whom Howard had a long affiliation), Carole King, Wilton Felder and jazz pianist Bob Neloms.

1. Testimony 06:04
2. Working Hard for the Joneses 04:12
3. Fly With the Wind 11:16
4. Natural Woman 04:51
5. High Priest 06:19
6. Little Black Lucille 06:22
7. Evolution 08:55
8. Way Back Home 05:34

Releases March 3, 2017 

Velvet Brown - Ensemble lead, F Tuba 
Dave Bargeron - Eb Tuba 
Earl McIntyre - Eb Tuba 
Joseph Daley - BBb Tuba, Producer 
Bob Stewart - CC Tuba 
Joe Exley - CC Tuba (tracks 1, 5, 6, 7, 8) 
Carlton Holmes - Piano 
Melissa Slocum - Bass 
Buddy Williams - Drums 
Nedra Johnson - Lead Vocals (track 2) 
CJ Wright, BUtch Watson, Mem Hahadr - Background Vocals (track 2)