Aaron J Johnson – Songs of Our Fathers – Bubble Sun Records 1001, 77:59 ***** [Avail. CD Baby.com]:
(Aaron J Johnson – trombone, shells; Salim Washington – tenor sax, flute, oboe;
Onaje Allan Gumbs – piano; Robert Sabin – bass; Victor Lewis – drums)
One of the joys of reviewing jazz CDs from small, independent recording labels is coming across a gem, opening the shell and finding a flawless pearl. Such is the case with Songs of Our Fathers by the relatively unknown trombonist, Aaron J Johnson, who hails from Washington D.C. Johnson’s CD swings like mad. His blending with tenor saxophonist, Salim Washington, brings to mind the best of the early Jazz Crusaders, where Wilton Felder on sax had the uncanny ability to meld with trombonist, Wayne Henderson. On Songs of Our Fathers, we once again have the pleasure of the two instrumentalists blending their talents to play hard bop, soul jazz, and blues.
For nearly seventy-eight minutes, we are treated to nine original compositions of Johnson, plus Joe Henderson’s, Our Thing. Aaron’s writing has the maturity of a well-seasoned composer. It is a bit of a shock that Johnson has not made more of a stir across the country, as there is not a weak track on this CD – no filler whatsoever. Johnson dedicates this release to his father, and to honored jazz masters such as Cannonball Adderley and to Curtis Fuller (I’m guessing here as the opening song is named, A Fuller Life.) This track has a real Jazz Crusaders feel as Johnson and Washington take right off. Johnson has a strong solo, as does pianist Gumbs. Veteran drummer, Victor Lewis, also has a major solo before the chorus reappears.
The Message follows and has a pleasant groove with its infectious melody. Washington’s solo is soul personified. Cannonball has a gutbucket trombone intro leading into a soul jazz idiom. The longest track on the CD, So Long / I Can Wait, leads off with Gumbs and then bassist Sabin shining and Johnson bringing shells into the mix. Salim Washington takes his tenor into passionate territory flitting with outside choruses, before Johnson’s shells bring an exotic aura to the tune. Folk Forms has a march vibe and you can imagine the band making a grand entrance into a parade.
The rest of the tracks continue the soulful romp, each having musical treats in store for the listener. Shamba with its horn blend and Lewis’ cymbal mastery and Gumbs comping is quite special. Joe Henderson’s Our Thing closes out proceedings at fast paced clip and Salim Washington burns.
Aaron J Washington deserves major airplay on jazz radio with this new release. I would not be surprised to find Songs of Our Fathers on my best of 2009 list. A well deserved five-star rating.
TrackList: A Fuller Life, The Message, Cannonball, So Long / I Can Wait; Folk Forms, Reconstruction (Minus 1), Yes, You May, Big Fun Blues, Shamba, Our Thing
– Jeff Krow