Jeff Johnson, My Heart


Origin Records, April 2023


Veteran bassist Jeff Johnson has achieved the heights of jazz artistry, both as a musician and composer. His work as a member of the groundbreaking rubato trio of pianist Hal Galper stands tall in terms of innovation and originality. The Minneapolis native and longtime Seattle resident has toured extensively over forty-five years with the likes of Galper, Philly Joe Jones, and Jessica Williams. What then, would be the point of him releasing a 1991 session that originally was recorded on DAT-2 and released on cassette as a promotional tool? The answer lies in the artistry of a short-lived quartet that included for Johnson, one of his Minneapolis mentors in piano Art Resnick.

At the time of this session in 1991, Res­nick had relocated to Portland, as had highly regarded tenor saxophonist, John Gross. Gross was fresh off time spent with Ornette Coleman and Gary Peacock and had served in the house band at the legendary Los Angeles nightspot, Shelly’s Manne-Hole. With the addition of Los Angeles-based drummer Billy Mintz, the quartet entered a Portland studio with Johnson, who had recently relocated up the coast in Seat tle. With some solid work from engineer Floyd Reitsma at Studio Litho, the brilliance of music recorded that day, some thirty-two years later, can now be accessed with this re-release on Origin Records.

Beginning with three Johnson compo­sitions, the absolute best of each con­tributor’s artistry seems to rise to the surface. The opener, “Linden Station” exemplifies Johnson’s open approach to composition. Gross plays with exquisite tonality and romanticism even when under fire. His flawless technique and melody-based spontaneity so perfectly embraces the vibe of Johnson’s tunes. Resnick, who has always been ahead of the curve harmonically throughout his career, has a deep connection with John­ son’s bass that is nonetheless untethered. The bassist’s innovative solos feature an elegant vibrato and powerful chordal resonance that falls back gracefully into support mode upon resolution. Mintz, for his part, had spent a fair amount of time playing with all three of his mates here and found ways to push the band as softly or as forcefully as needed.

The title track is a ballad where the band finds full emotional understanding. Then again, it’s always the ballad, isn’t it? It is a place where one cannot conceal whatever feeling or emotion is being expressed within the lyrical qualities of the melody. It is where a musician can completely disarm the listener as well. Gross’ sense of melancholy and remem­ brance is beautifully rendered within the restrained, yet powerful support of Johnson and Resnick. The gorgeous brushwork of Mintz is fully realized during Johnson’s brief, but poignant solo. With all four voices separated as far as harmonic restraint will allow, the true brilliance of each, both individually and collectively comes to light.

My Heart fulfills Johnson ‘s wish to release this music “for real.” For the jazz public, it further confirms the artistry of one of the Pacific Northwest’s true jazz treasures.


Posted on

May 26, 2023