While earning his Master’s degree at Mills College in Oakland, CA., trumpeter Darren Johnston studied under guitarist, improvising great Fred Frith and bassist extraordinaire Joelle Leandre. Yet, his studies and absorptions of jazz-related music encompass a broad plane of ideas and applications. And after listening to this superb album, it is easy to discern that the artist breathes a nouveau mindset into the jazz vernacular, to augment his enviable technical acumen.
Johnston leads a sextet that covers innumerable angles and dishes out an abundance of striking contrasts. With hefty injections of counterpoint amid European hued folk foundations and hardcore progressive jazz implementations, the leader imparts a commanding presence throughout. He affords his band generous soloing opportunities to complement sequences of circular themes and blustery breakouts.
On the piece titled "Foggy," Johnston abets a thrusting mélange of motifs, interspersed with Rob Reich’s buoyant accordion lines, as drummer Smith Dobson V proceeds to tear it all up. Otherwise, Johnston is a fluent soloist who possesses a brazen tone to coincide various works that are engineered atop North African modalities and pumping rhythmic exercises.
Several movements feature tenor saxophonist Sheldon Brown’s ascending choruses that spark multicolored overtones in concert with the ensemble’s pop, sizzle and tightly-focused group based sound. Other works are devised on melodically pronounced free-bop jaunts and knotty pulses. But the septet’s precision oriented outlook is occasionally tempered with a loose vibe.
Sure enough, Johnston is onto something here. It’s an emotionally charged program, peppered with unanticipated storylines and a seamless fusion of disparate underpinnings. Johnston triumphantly fuses a cerebral outlook that yields an entertaining outcome.