Elevated Vegetation is a sparser and more subtly adventurous outing, and it presents Johnson more or less within his jazz peer group, alongside the cornetist Kirk Knuffke and the drummer Ziv Ravitz. This is a crew attracted to roving abstraction but capable of tight focus and brisk concision. The album consists of nine tracks, the longest and least songlike of which is a tumbling abstraction of Money, Money, Money, the Abba tune.
The greater portion of the album features Johnson’s compositions, which tend toward simple and durable construction. Blue Willie, the opener, pairs a double-stop bass ostinato with a swashbuckling drum part, in emulation of John Coltrane’s classic rhythm team. Crackdown has cornet and bass doubling a swinging line while Ravitz suggests a soft-shoe with brushes on his snare. Many Celebrations and Kersey employ vamps beneath melodies that draw from Middle Eastern scales.
The trumpet, bass and drums trio is less of a rarity in jazz than it used to be though it’s still far from commonplace. Johnson and his partners can evoke contemporary parallels, like Triveni and the Linda Oh Trio. But the Johnson trio establishes its own momentum, largely by the particularity of its components: Knuffke’s pinpoint accuracy and mellow, centered tone; Ravitz’s way of urging his cymbals and toms astir; and Johnson’s grounded but unreserved presence at the center of it all.
LA MISMA GRAN SENORA
The Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera died on Dec 9 in a plane crash, two days before the release of her new compilation album La Misma Gran Senora. Obviously, the album was never intended as a valedictory.
Rivera, already a major hitmaker and television personality in the Spanish-speaking world, was very much on the rise; she was about to move into English-language film and network television. La Misma Gran Senora (The Same Great Lady) gathers songs from her albums over the last seven years and adds the title song, which was released as a single in October. And it makes abundantly clear why she was so beloved as a singer, symbol and spitfire. Outside her entertainment career, she was an advocate against domestic violence and for immigrant rights.
La Misma Gran Senora (Fonovisa) concentrates on the Mexican regional styles that Rivera chose to make her own. Nine of the album’s 13 songs are banda: Mexican songs, usually waltzes and polkas, backed by robust, oom-pahing brass bands. The arrangements, with trumpets cackling and clarinets fluttering above a droll sousaphone bass line, laugh their way through songs full of romance and heartbreak. Although Mexican pop singers, male and female, sometimes record with bandas or mariachi groups as genre projects, full-time banda was considered a man’s world until Rivera made it her core style. Over the last decade Rivera also recorded mariachi and pop – bringing in string sections or pedal steel guitar – but as La Misma Gran Senora makes clear, she never left banda behind.