George A Johnson Jr., Born in Bridgeton, NJ in 1953, is a third generation drummer. Johnson Jr. began playing drums at the age of five and began playing professionally at the age of 12 in the Atlantic City music scene. As a young adult Elvin Jones and Art Blakey mentored Johnson; in fact, it was Jones who helped Johnson pick out his first set of drums.
Johnson’s latest release is a debut on BCS Records entitled, the George Johnson Jr. All Stars Band. The release features such jazz icons as; Curtis Fuller (trombone), Ceder Walton (piano), Wynton Marsalis (trumpet), Wyclif Gordon (trombone) and Terell Stafford (trumpet). These are only a few names on this BCS debut, guaranteed to get you swinging and get your foot tapping.
The CD begins with a live performance recorded at the Montreax Jazz Festival entitled "Morgan," a composition penned by organist Charles Earland, which pays homage to the late trumpeter, Lee Morgan. The tune sets an up-tempo pace for the soloist to explore upon with trumpeter Jon Faddis blowing bebop licks as Earland and Johnson keep the pulse driving. Earland contributes a fine performance rich in the tradition with a few sprinklings of modern intervallic structures for added intensity.
"Sleepy," a nice mid tempo swing, set to an A-A-B-A song form with part of the melody quoting the Flintstones theme song. All of the soloist keep the bop language flowing with ample quotes of various melodies to keep the listeners interest and perhaps to continue the quoting theme that was heard earlier in the melody.
The third track is "Shaw Nuff" fast, with Johnson keeping the pulse light and swinging. The classic be-bop tune is eloquently performed by Shirley Scott (piano), Ed Wiley (tenor sax), Wycliff Gordon (trombone), David Phross (bass), and Terell Stafford (trumpet). "Scrapple," is a be-bop inspired blues from a set with the Jazz Messengers with Johnson at the drum helm, featuring; Wynton Marsalis (trumpet), Donald Harrison (alto sax), Johnny O’Neal (piano) and Charles Farbrough (bass).
"Little Man," another feature with the Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with Johnson on drums, is an up-tempo piece that leaves the land of be-bop to explore the methodology of the post-bop era. Johnson’s solo displays both melodic rhythms and driving passion. "I Didn’t Know What," displays Johnson’s compositional skills with the post-bop angular melody over a driving undercurrent supplied by Johnson and Farbrough. This song is definitely a highlight of the ten track journey.
"Tuang Gura" finds Abdullah Ibrahim on piano setting up a beautiful ballad. However, Johnson’s scorching brush work is a surprising entrance, and thus beginning the Middle Eastern influenced journey of sounds and exotic musical colors. "My Break Tune" and "Alice in Wonderland" are two more tracks recorded with the Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with Johnson playing drums.
"Fly Me to the Moon," features Johnson on vocals and rounds out the release with another dimension of Johnson’s many talents.
George A Johnson Jr. has released a very enjoyable release that features an all-star line up of players, compositions and performances on BCS Records that any avid bebop to post-bebop listener would enjoy.