Darren Johnston's Gone to Chicago - The Big Lift (2011)


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As I write this, the power fails at San Francisco's Candlestick Park just prior to kickoff of the Niners/Steelers Monday night football game. But as I am also listening to Frisco-based trumpeter Darren Johnston, I'm hearing lights-out music. Canadian-born Johnston found fertile musical ground in the Bay Area, but trips out to gigs in Chicago engendered a deep bonding with the improvised scene there, culminating in a recording session with some of Chicago brightest young players in that scene. The band was christened “Gone To Chicago" and The Big Lift is their album.

If you're a fan of Jason Adasiewicz and his bands like I am, you're apt to like this record already, because Adasiewicz is in Gone To Chicago, as is his bassist in the Sun Rooms trio, Nate McBride, and his drummer from his Rolldown band, Frank Rosaly. We last saw trombonist Bishop playing counterpoint to another trumpeter, Rob Mazurek, in Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra. The level of involvement by these guys' in their town's jazz scene goes much deeper than that, of course, but this gives you an idea of how familiar they are with each other. Johnston has picked out a crew with instant chemistry among them.

Thus, one way of looking at Gone to The Chicago is imagining a combo that Mazurek might lead, but instead we have a trumpet player whose phrasing is a bit more acerbic and eager to jump into the abyss collectively with his midway partners, and does so right away on the rumbling, veering title track. They find a way to cover Ornette Coleman's “Love Call" that's respectful of Coleman's vision but with a fresh approach (and Adasiewicz' solo spot on this song is pretty damned artful).

Johnston generously gives Bishop room to roam and the payoff is on cuts like “Rubber Bullets," where the trombonist spits out notes with the deadly effectiveness of an M-16 rifle, peppering the loosely defined melody as McBride makes a commotion underneath. The rapport Johnston built up with his Windy City cohorts materialized quickly, as evidenced by the trumpet/trombone telepathy going on all over “Glass Ceiling, Paper Floor." The jovial, second line groove of “Two Ways of Running" means they're having fun even as they perform serious jazz. The record ends with a deconstructed take on Duke Ellington's “Black And Tan Fantasy" that conjures up the feel of the original even as they are playing it in a very modern way.

Pastiche by Darren Johnston's Music

Wherever Darren Johnson has taken his talents, he's able to make himself right at home within his environs. With his Gone To Chicago group, he sounds on The Big Lift to not only arrived in that town, but practically settled in and made it his home.

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