By: Kevin Lynch, Shepherd Express
After his brilliant re-imagining of Eric Dolphy’s modern classic album Out to Lunch!, nationally renowned Milwaukee trumpeter Russ Johnson’s quartet plumbs his own creative/compositional resources in “Headlands Suite.” Recalling funky, electric-period Miles Davis, the recording offers segues rather than track pauses. The voyage befits Johnson’s natural realm along jazz’s outer reaches. His over-arching motif is bodies of water and land masses interfacing them, a rich metaphor for jazz form and current climate crisis. The work embarks through such titles as “Headlands” (peninsula), “Fjord,” “Mons Calpe” (Rock of Gibraltar),and “Wellenpeitschen” (lashing waves). The multilingual titles enhance the international experience, yet nature’s land-water dynamic dominates.
The trumpeter frequently rides his gift for lyricism, especially on the serene “Fjord,” while always willing to face brine-in-the-face creative adventure. Electric keyboardist Rob Clearfield conveys the watery evocation in myriad ways—momentum and rhythmic drive akin to Hancock and Corea, and his own textural glimmer and splash. Johnson finally brings it “home” with “Isthmus.” The album was recorded live in the isthmus city of Madison.
Russ Johnson performs April 6 at the Jazz Estate, 2423 N. Murray Ave.