Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Marc Johnson - 1998 "The Sound Of Summer Running"

The Sound of Summer Running is a 1997 studio album by jazz bassist Marc Johnson released on the label of Verve Records.

The poetry implied in the title of Marc Johnson's latest disc is very much a part of who he is and the way he creates music. He's one of those bassists who makes his presence felt rather than known. Listen to how he coalesces with Bill Evans on Turn Out The Stars (Warner Bros.) or both volumes of the still-not-on-CD gem Paris Concerts. He follows deeply explored paths, without tripping for effect or falling all over the soloist to capture the spotlight. Even when he is exploring in center stage, he doesn't break mood for downbeat introspection or wild flings. Considering the diversity of music he's explored (with Woody Herman, Stan Getz, Pat Martino and Elaine Elias), Marc Johnson realizes a true jazz axiom: he strives and often achieves to capture experiences that are intended to be sensed, not described.

That's why it's difficult to attach words or comments to a beautiful disc like The Sound of Summer Running. It's like what you think about the wind. Either it reaches you emotionally and spiritually deep within or you just never think about it. Johnson adds two significant string stylists in Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny and rounds it out with a drummer who can handle (or join) any style well, Joey Baron. A more simpatico quartet of musical explorers is difficult to imagine. The thrill of hearing Frisell with Metheny is especially rewarding (even more so since Metheny avoids his dreaded guitar synth altogether here).

The Sound of Summer Running is a follow-up of sorts to Baron's highest profile gig, Bass Desires. For that quartet, Johnson brought together emerging guitarists (and forces of nature), Bill Frisell and John Scofield, added drummer Peter Erskine and recorded two ECM albums, including its debut, Bass Desires—which remains the best, most memorable release of the eighties. The same welcome "sound of surprise" from that 1985 group is all over the place on this 1998 release.

Johnson wrote or co-wrote seven of the ten tunes, all so seemingly warm and familiar as if to be standards. Even the improvisation is sufficiently song-like as to melt into the melody. The high level of improvisation is, in fact, the element of this music's success. Johnson, Frisell, Metheny and Baron all have the considerable ability to think and react outside of jazz. And the musical forms they explore never bog down by preconceived notions of jazz nor suffer the spruced-up hyperbole of native instrumentation.
Consider it a sort of Music Americana. It takes in country pop ("Faith in You"), Western (Frisell's evocative "Ghost Town"), slow hillbilly blues ("With My Boots On," one of Johnson's few features), folk (the finger-snapping "Union Pacific") and rockabilly ("Dingy-Dongy Day"). What sets The Sound of Summer Running apart, oddly, are those moments that will be most familiar to jazz listeners. There is Johnson's mellifluous, hit-worthy Metheny tribute, "Summer Running," (featuring notable Frisell fret work). Then check out how Metheny dances over Frisell's Frisell-like "The Adventures of Max and Ben." Or dig how expertly Metheny crafts a Bill Evans-like synergy for the quartet on "For a Thousand Years," perhaps his grandest moment as a composer and a sumptuous showcase for Johnson's playing.

The Sound of Summer Running is the sound of creative music attaining a beauty and personality too rarely heard in contemporary jazz—and another feather in the cap of this 45-year-old bassist's musical history. During the last minute or so of the disc's final track, there are some brief musical sketches (including "House of the Rising Sun") included that suggest this quartet has so much more to say. Here's hoping they have the opportunity.

Mention should be also made of this disc's producer, Lee Townsend, who has been at the helm of all of 1998's best, most creative jazz: from Joey Baron, Bill Frisell and Marc Johnson to John Scofield's excellent collaboration with Medeski, Martin and Wood, A Go Go (also on Verve).

I had no idea who bassist Marc Johnson was before I bought this beautiful 1998 release. The first thing that caught my attention was the picture of the little girl on the CD cover. The sky was so blue, and she looked so happy and carefree that I was just drawn - and not in a sinister way, mind you. It's just that somehow in my mind, I thought that if this CD could make me feel as happy and carefree as she looked, I wanted it.

The second thing that caught my eye (and clinched the deal) was the clear sticker on the front of the CD which told me that Pat Metheny was on it. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Pat doesn't just play with anyone and I knew even without listening to it, that this was an album I would love. Well, that was eight years ago and this is still one of my favorite CDs ever.

I didn't know who Bill Frisell was either at that time but since buying this, I've become a huge fan of both Johnson and Frisell, who by the way gives one of the most exciting performances on this album that I've heard from him yet. I say it with the utmost respect, both to him and any other guitarists he's played with but I believe that with Metheny playing alongside him, Frisell simply had to raise his game to the utmost. And he truly does.

Joey Baron's drumming is incredible and right from the opener, "Faith In You", all participants let us know what we're in for: An hour or so of pure enjoyment. Johnson pens all the songs except for Bill Frisell's "Ghost Town"; a really good version of the tune he used to title his excellent CD of the same name in 2000 (another one I never got round to reviewing) and "The Adventures of Max and Ben". "In a Quiet Place" was written by Johnson and Eliane Elias and the beautiful closer, "For a Thousand Years", was written by Metheny.

Bill Frisell plays electric and acoustic guitars, Pat Metheny plays electric guitar, acoustic guitar and 42-string pikasso guitar, and Joey Baron plays drums and tambourine. Produced by the seemingly omniscient Lee Townsend, this excellent CD is truly the Sound of Summer Running. I love all the songs but the opener and closer are still firm favorites.

I am a big enthusiast of Pat Metheny's music. This was my first contact with Bill Frisell, who can rival in talent with Metheny.
It was a great surprise to hear such instrumental album, even though sometimes it just gets distant from standard jazz, from such great musicians.
It evokes memories from places we might have never seen but gets to musically make these places close.
The title is maybe a quote to a Ray Bradbury short tale where the author remembers his youth after buying a new sport shoes and goes around the fields to run while the summer starts.
While it musically traces the atmospheres of the country side of America, it also presents a summary of the music
we would hear there.
Bill Frisell and Metheny simply create very inspiring guitar melodies.
Altough the music might not be complex, after all it is based on simple ideas, it is rich and it will please your brain and fill it with images.

Track listing

01.     "Faith In You"       5:53
02.     "Ghost Town"       5:35
03.     "Summer Running[5]"       5:56
04.     "With My Boots On"       4:25
05.     "Union Pacific"       5:29
06.     "Porch Swing"       4:12
07.     "Dingy-Dong Day"       3:51
08.     "The Adventures Of Max And Ben"       6:08
09.     "In A Quiet Place"       5:17
10.     "For A Thousand Years"       6:28 

Personnel

    Marc Johnson – bass
    Bill Frisell – electric & acoustic guitars
    Pat Metheny – electric & acoustic guitar (42-string Pikasso)
    Joey Baron – drums & tambourine

Credits

    Tracks 1 3 4 5 6 7 composed by – Marc Johnson
    Tracks 2 8 composed by – Bill Frisell
    Track 9 composed by – Eliane Elias & Marc Johnson
    Track 10 composed by – Pat Metheny

1 comment:

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