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Straight No Chaser - A Jazz Show

Straight No Chaser is the place for jazz lovers (and those who will soon be jazz lovers) to enjoy podcasts with their favorite music and artists. Winner of the 2017 JazzTimes Readers' Poll for Best Podcast, your host Jeffrey Siegel will take you inside the world of jazz, from the new releases to the best festiva;s to remembrances of jazz legends.

Dec 3, 2012

Marc Johnson is a criminally overlooked bass player.

Check out the Downbeat and JazzTimes polls, and you’ll find the established greats (Charlie Haden), the young hotshots (Esperanza Spalding) and the current mainstays (Christian McBride) all feted, By Johnson, whose innovative work spans the past thirty years, is overlooked. .  His latest CD, his second close creation with his wife, pianist Eliane Elias, is called Swept Away (ECM), and stands as one of the finest collaborative jazz releases of the year.

From his time as the final bass player in the Bill Evans Trio, to his work with one-off pairings and continuing collaborations with top players, Marc Johnson has shown himself as one of the most consistently melodic and inventive players on the scene. His series of recordings over the past thirty years with great electric guitarists– Pat Metheny, Pat Martino, John Scofield, Bill Frisell and John Abercrombie – are all treats to hear.  

In 2005, Johnson released Shades of Jade, a critically acclaimed CD on ECM that boasted Elias on piano, John Scofield on guitar, Joey Baron on drums and Joe Lovano on sax. Swept Away picks up where that release left off. The music is lyrical and romantic, but never in a saccharine or obvious manner. The tunes are all written by either Johnson or Elias (save for a memorable bass solo version of the traditional “Shenandoah”) and their playing locks in tight from the opening title track, through the delightful “B is for Butterfly” and meditative “Inside Her Old Music Box”. Johnson’s bowing on the last tune is particularly moving.

I spoke with Marc as he was finishing a leg of their tour, and discussed the positives and negatives of working with your spouse, the way he constructs bass lines for more than mere support, and how he plays with different musicians. Click here to listen to Podcast 318, including musical selections:

Marc Johnson – “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” from Bass Desires.  In 1985 Johnson decided to record with twin lead guitarists, and he tapped two of the best – Bill Frisell and “gunslinger” John Scofield”, which came to be called “one of the most auspicious (pairings) since John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana”. The quartet was anchored by Peter Erskine on drums.

John Abercrombie – “Epilogue” from The Third Quartet. This 2006 session featured Johnson and one of his favorite drummer, Joey Baron anchoring the rhythm section behind Abercrombie’s guitar and Mark Feldman’s violin. The song was written by Bill Evans, in whose trio Johnson filled the bass at the end of the 1970’s.

Marc Johnson/Eliane Elias – “Inside Her Old Music Box“ and “B is for Butterfly” from Swept Away. With Joey Baron on drums and Joe Lovano guesting on a few tracks on sax, this is an all-star release that lives up to its billing. Whether he is bowing the bass (the former track) or taking an extended melodic solo (the latter), Johnson adds more than just rhythmic support to the band.

Marc Johnson & Eric Longsworth – “Her Majesty (The Turtle)” from If Trees Could Fly. One of the more interesting “one-off” projects Johnson has worked on, matching two lower register string instruments in a series of duets. Check out Longsworth’s technique – as Johnson said, he plays the electric cello very much like a guitar.