Late this past August, bassist Marc Johnson released his latest album, Overpass through ECM Records. Not the only bassist to release a solo record this year (Eberhard Weber released his new live recording, Once Upon a Time Live in Avignon this month), Johnson offers audiences a unique presentation in his new eight-song album. That is proven through its covers, originals, and re-worked originals that make up the 43-minute album’s body. Among the most notable of the covers that Johnson takes on here is that of ‘Nardis,’ made most famous by Miles Davis. It will be discussed shortly. The improvised ‘Yin and Yang’ is among the most notable of the originals featured in this record and will be examined a little later. ‘Samurai Fly’ is a unique re-working of another of Johnson’s originals. It will also be discussed later. When it is considered along with the other songs noted here and with the rest of the album’s entries, the whole make Overpass a record over which modernist music fans will not want to pass.
Bassist Marc Johnson’s recently released solo record, Overpass, is an interesting new presentation that jazz and modernist music fans alike will find worth hearing at least once. That is proven through each of its featured works, covers, originals, and re-worked originals alike. The most notable of the featured covers comes in the form of the Miles Davis cover, Nardis. Made most famous by Bill Evans, Davis’ rendition is starkly unlike that of Johnson. Davis’ rendition is so much more upbeat and free in its energy through its full orchestral arrangement. By comparison, Johnson’s take on the song is much more subdued and almost melancholy. Johnson echoes certain accents from the original composition’s piano line, but that is about as close as Johnson gets to the original composition. Even in hearing the rendition made so famous by the Bill Evans Trio (of which Johnson was once a member) is so different from that of Johnson. It is “darker” and “edgier” for lack of better wording here. Having no liner notes to reference in the album’s booklet, one can only assume at what led Johnson to go this route in this rendition. Even information provided to the media about the album offers no explanation from Johnson for the take’s approach. To that end, this take on the classic song is sure to generate plenty of discussion among audiences. That discussion shows how deeply the song will engage audiences. To that end, it is partial proof of what makes Johnson’s new record so interesting and in turn worth hearing. It is just one of the works featured in this record that proves its interest. Johnson’s original, ‘Yin and Yang,’ is another example of what makes the album stand out among its counterparts.
‘Yin and Yang’ is notable in that it is a fully improvised composition. That is pointed out in the noted information provided to the media about the album. Johnson is quoted as saying of the song that he intentionally let each strain resonate and decay before making the next string of notes. The simple approach is so powerful in that it fully embraces the mantra that it is the notes that are not played rather than those that are that matter. The silence between each phrase along with the subdued mood that each phrase creates makes for such a deep emotional impact here. What’s more, the improvised melodies that Johnson states he crafted to go with those other sounds fully conjures thoughts of the “Far East” where the whole concept of yin and yang as a mindset first developed. That is evident through the slow, rich bowings that Johnson uses here. The contrast of the two approaches here really does create its own balance of yin and yang, and in turn makes the song in whole so rich and powerful. It is yet another example of how this record’s collective content makes it so well worth hearing. Johnson’s re-worked version of his own original, ‘Samurai Fly,’ is one more example of what makes Overpass successful.
According to the noted information provided to the media, ‘Samurai Fly’ is a re-working of another song that Johnson had composed during his time with ECM Records, titled ‘Samurai Hee-Haw.’ He had recorded the song with a former group dubbed Bass Desires. Originally crafted more than a decade ago, Johnson’s original bass line is still just as present here as in the original song. Even with the layering of his one instrument here, the steady time keeping of legendary drummer Peter Erskine still echoes so thoroughly interestingly enough. Audiences can hear it in their heads even being absent from the work, in simpler terms. The noted layering of the bass here just as interestingly does its own part to echo the guitar line from the original song. So really, all in all here what audiences get is an updated take of a classic song from Johnson and a group of other musicians that is simply re-titled. It is such a rich work in its own right. Its energy is so infectious along with the arrangement in general. It is in whole, a composition that is just as good as its source material in its unique new approach and sound and yet another example of what makes Overpass successful. When it is considered along with the other songs examined here and with the rest of the album’s offerings, the whole of the album becomes another unique addition to this year’s field of new jazz records from Johnson and from ECM Records.
Marc Johnson’s recently released album, Overpass, is an interesting entry in this year’s field of new jazz albums. That is proven through each of the album’s songs, new, old, and covers alike. Each of the songs examined here does well to make that clear. When the songs examined here are considered along with the rest of the album’s entries, the whole makes Overpass a record over which jazz fans will not want to pass. Yes, that awful pun was intended.
Overpass is available now through ECM Records. More information on the album is available along with all of Marc Johnson’s latest news at https://marcjohnson.net.
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