Planet D Nonet’s New Live Recording Is A Fitting Tribute To Buddy Johnson

Courtesy: Eastlawn Records

Jazz pianist and band leader Buddy Johnson (a.k.a. Woodrow Wilson Johnson) is not one of the first names that comes to most people’s minds when they think of famous jazz figures.  That is likely because most of his biggest hits were considered R&B and pop works.  For all of the popularity and success that he achieved through those works, Johnson also had plenty of jazz hits, though none of them ever put him in the upper echelons of the jazz community.  This past May, the jazz collective known as Planet D Nonet brought renewed attention to Johnson and his work with its new live recording, Tribute to Buddy Johnson: Live at the Scarab Club.  Released May 22 through Eastlawn Records, the 16-song set was recorded May 20, 2018 at the noted jazz club in Detroit, MI.  The show’s set list forms the recording’s foundation and will be discussed shortly.  The concert’s production adds its own welcome touch to the whole and will be addressed a little later.  The recording’s packaging rounds out its most important elements and will also be examined later.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the recording.  All things considered they make this presentation one more of this year’s top new live CDs.

Tribute to Buddy Johnson: Live at the Scarab Club, the new live recording from Planet D Nonet, is a successful new offering from the group that properly honors Johnson’s legacy.  That is due in large part to the recording’s 16-song set list.  The set list pulls extensively from Johnson’s early career, featuring singles that he released during his time with Decca Records and Mercury Records.  It reaches all the way back to 1945 with his single, ‘Since I Fell For You’ and up to 1954 through his single, ‘Mush Mouth.’  That song was a b-side to his single, ‘One More Time.’  Speaking of b-sides, many of the songs that make up the set list are in fact b-sides to his primary singles, making them even more special.  That is because b-sides have always received less attention than a-sides across the musical universe.  So for all intents and purposes what audiences get here is really a collection of rarities performed by Planet D Nonet, from an artist who is himself a lesser-known jazz artist and composer.  The only song featured in the set list that was not composed by Johnson was the set’s penultimate entry, ‘Walk That Chalk Line.’  The song was composed by Lorenzo Pack.  Some of the early singles featured in the set list – ‘It’s Obdacious,’ ‘I’m Just Your Fool,’ ‘Lil Dog’ and ‘Crazy ‘Bout a Saxophone’ would go on to be included in the albums that Johnson would eventually go on to release as his career progressed.  So really, what audiences get here is a set list that is rather interesting in its representation of Johnson’s career.  It isn’t just the typical, run-of-the-mill body of work, but a more unique collection that still pays tribute to Johnson and his work in positive fashion.  To that end, the set list featured here forms a solid foundation for the recording.

The production that went into the recording strengthens that foundation even more.  This concert was recorded before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted America, so the group actually had a live audience to enjoy the concert.  That audience noise is just as audible throughout the concert as the instrumental and vocal performances by the band. It is so well-balanced with the music and vocals in each song and even between the songs.  In turn it creates a certain sense of joy for audiences, just hearing that live effect. That is especially the case considering how long audiences and musical acts alike went without live music once the pandemic made its way across the country starting in 2019.  Even those occasional moments when some of the vocals sound slightly distant, that effect was intended.  It adds even more to that sense of being right there, thus immersing audiences even more in the concert.  In other words, the production that went into this recording proves just as positive as the recording’s set list.  It makes the recording all the more enjoyable. 

While the content featured in Planet D Nonet’s new live recording and its production are considered together, the two items go a long way toward making the recording so enjoyable.  They are just part of what makes the recording successful, too.  The packaging rounds out its most important elements.  More specifically, the liner notes therein are really what makes the packaging important.  The liner notes, penned by blues musician Duke Robillard, remind audiences right from the opening paragraph that the work of Johnson and his orchestra have sadly been nearly forgotten in the annals of American musical history.  That is true.  Again, as noted early here, Johnson and his work are not the first to come to mind when one thinks of great jazz names and works.  Robillard also highlight’s Johnson’s signature “walking rhythm” as he writes about the band’s performance of ‘Walk The Chalk Line’.  From there, Robillard points out other high points throughout the concert in terms of specific song performances, setting the figurative stage for audiences before they even play the recording.  It is a great way to introduce audiences to the concert.  When the general effect of the liner notes is considered along with the equally positive impact of the set list itself and the concert’s recording, the whole makes this recording a wonderful tribute to Johnson and hopefully just the start in a renewed focus on him and his work.

Tribute to Buddy Johnson: Live at the Scarab Club, the new live recording from Planet D Nonet, is a thoroughly enjoyable presentation from the jazz collective.  That is due in large part to its featured set list.  The set list pulls extensively from Johnson’s early catalog of singles.  In other words, it focuses on what were essentially his formative years.  What’s more, many of the songs featured herein are b-sides to his singles rather than a-sides.  That makes them even rarer to a point.  This makes the set list all the more enjoyable and special.  The recording’s production expertly balances the audio throughout the show, making for even more enjoyment as it fully immerses audiences in the recording.  The liner notes that accompany the recording in its packaging round out the recording’s most important elements.  That is because they set the stage for the presentation featured on the disc.  Each item examined is important in its own way to the whole of the recording.  All things considered they make Tribute to Buddy Johnson: Live at the Scarab Club one more of this year’s top new live CDs.

Tribute to Buddy Johnson: Live at the Scarab Club is available now through Eastlawn Records.  More information on the record is available at

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Paxton, Spangler’s Abdullah Ibrahim Covers Set Is An Enjoyable Tribute To The South African Jazz Star

Courtesy: Eastlawn Records/C-She-C

Jazz musicians Tbone Paxton and RJ Spangler have spent the better part of their professional careers paying tribute to the jazz community of South Africa.  Among the South African jazz stars whose work the duo has taken on are the likes of Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, and Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath.  Early this month, the pair added yet another well-known South African jazz figure to those tanks with its new covers compilation, Anthem for the New Nation.  The record finds Paxton and Spangler (joined by a group of other musicians) taking on the music of Abdullah Ibrahim, a South African pianist who combined his home nation’s influences with Western jazz leanings to make some songs that are themselves well-known.  Ibrahim has released more than 70 (yes, 70) albums as a leader over the course of his more than 65 year-career.  To that end there is no way that one collection could ever fully represent such a rich catalog and career.  That means that while Anthem for the New Nation, which loosely takes its title from Ibrahim’s 1978 album Anthems for the New Nations, could only take on but so much of his material.  Paxton, Spangler and company do well as they take on Ibrahim’s songs in this collection, beginning with the compilation’s opener, ‘African Marketplace.’  The group’s take on ‘The Perfumed Forest Wet With Rain’ is another notable addition to the record.  It will be examined later.  ‘Soweto,’ which closes out the record, is yet another of the most notable of its featured covers.  It will also be examined later.  Each song shows in its own way to be an interesting presentation.  When they are considered along with the record’s four remaining works, the whole makes this record an enjoyable tribute to yet another great South African jazz artist.

Tbone Paxton and RJ Spangler’s recently released covers collection, Anthem for the New Nation is an enjoyable tribute to South African jazz stalwart Abdullah Ibrahim.  While it only presents six songs from Ibrahim’s rich catalog, those songs are still interesting takes that will appeal to fans of Paxton and Spangler just as much to those of Ibrahim and to those of South African jazz and jazz in general.  In other words, it is a record that despite being another covers collection, will find appeal among a wide range of audiences.  The record’s opener, ‘African Marketplace’ does its own part to support the noted statements.  Right from the song’s opening bars, the African percussion rhythm used in the original is there, as is the distinct bass line from the original.  That bass line itself is a familiar African sound, too, showing that connection between African and Western jazz.  Saxophonist Daniel Bennett’s work on the saxophone pairs with Jeff Cuny’s work on bass and the duo of Spangler and Sean Perlmutter on percussion and drums respectively to make the whole so rich.  The collective stays mostly true its source material, though the addition of the drums to the mix is new to this shortened version of the original. Even the saxophone solo from the original is present here, though it sounds like it might be in a different key in this take from the original.  The original runs more than seven minutes while this rendition runs more than six minutes (six minutes, 19 seconds to be exact).  So while the two renditions are very closely similar, there are some variances that regardless still leave the new version just as enjoyable as the original.  It is just one of the covers that stands out in this record.  The updated take of ‘The Perfumed Forest Wet With Rain’ is another work that stands out in this collection.

Paxton and Spangler’s take on ‘The Perfumed Forest Wet With Rain’ is a near completely different work from its original.  Right from the song’s outset, the piano line is different in each work.  Things get back on track from there, though.  The flute and gentle drums are just as present here as in the original song.  The production in this case though, makes the whole come through even richer.  As with the update on ‘African Marketplace,’ this take on ‘The Perfumed Forest Wet With Rain’ is shorter than the original.  The original runs almost nine-and-a-half minutes while the update runs just shy of the eight minute mark, so yes, there are some variances in terms of the overall arrangement, but for the most part, it still stays true to the source material.  Keeping that in mind, it proves to be just as positive an addition to the record as the collection’s other songs.  It is just one more of the notable of the record’s entries, too.  ‘Soweto’ is also worth examining.

The original take of ‘Soweto’ runs more than 17 minutes while Paxton and Spangler’s version comes in at just under the seven minute mark.  Even with that in mind, this rendition stays largely true to its source material, too.  The saxophone solo from the original is carried over into this version, while there is even an added trumpet solo.  The bass line that forms the song’s foundation is also just as present in the largely redundant composition.  Keeping everything in mind, the song proves just as engaging and entertaining as the other covers examined here and the rest of the record’s featured takes.  All things considered, the whole makes this collection a presentation that serves just as well as an introduction to the work of Abdullah Ibrahim as it is a new presentation for established fans of Paxton and Spangler. 

Tbone Paxton and RJ Spangler’s new collection of Abdullah Ibrahim covers is a record that fans of each artist will find interesting.  Even more casual jazz fans will find it interesting.  That is proven through the songs covered in this record.  They are but a small snapshot of Ibrahim’s extensive catalog, but do justice to the works in question.  Each of the songs examined here serve well to support the noted statements.  When they are considered with the collection’s other featured songs, the whole makes Songs for the New Nation a largely appealing new collection of covers.  The record is available now.  More information on this and other records from Eastlawn Records is available at  

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