Shades Of Jade
ECM producer Manfred Eicher approached bassist Marc Johnson to record something
for his label, Johnson had no working band, so he assembled one from previous
jazz gatherings. In an Ellingtonian vein, Johnson collaborated with Eliane Elias
to draft and arrange songs that would specifically cater to the sensibilities
of tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, guitarist John Scofield, and drummer Joey Baron.
reputation as a player on the scene was established during his tenure as bassist
for Bill Evans piano trio in 1978-1980. Creatively, who I am as
a musical personality stems largely from the Bill Evans trio, Johnson
says. Inspired by bassist Scott La Faros 1961 Jade Visions
off Sunday at the Village Vanguard, Shades of Jade pays homage to both La Faro
and Evans in a patient, yet confident ensemble.
Initially, Johnson was drawn to Evans because the bass always had a versatile
role in his groups. But, he is quick to say that others who have filled the
bass shoes - Ron Carter, Charles Mingus, Dave Holland, and Charlie Haden - have
been great sources of inspiration as well.
Additionally, Johnsons 1985 recordings with guitarists Bill Frisell and
John Scofield in his quartet, Bass Desires, provided great opportunities for
pioneering new sounds. With Peter Erskine keeping time on drums, Bass Desires
did more than rework standard melodies. They played original compositions and
extended forms that carved out dense rhythms for liberating solos. On Shades
of Jade, Scofield again steps out of himself just as the other group members
do to create beautiful, bluesy and at times dark, thought-provoking music.
Shades of Jade is a real ensemble piece, comments Johnson. Theres
no real solo. As free flowing as the album may sound, much of its structures
are pre-planned and measures of improvisation are numbered. In that sense,
the environment was really controlled, he says. While there is no extended
solo in the traditional sense, choruses were allotted and dictated. In turn,
players colored inside the lines while at all times remaining free to select
new tones and hues. Undeniably, this framework has proven creatively constructive
in this setting.
The reverb settings, sequencing, and the instruments placement in space
relative to their respective recording devices contributed to an exceptionally
clean sound on par with other ECM albums. Johnson believes that the labels
reputation for high artistic standards encouraged all those participating in
this project to bring an especially attentive sensibility to it. As a result,
the band dedicated themselves to focusing on and sublimating themselves
for the sake of the music, he says.
Johnson, Elias, and Baron worked together as a trio for a while leading up to
the recording date. There are a lot of subtle things we dont even
realize, he says. We had been rehearsing the music between and before
a lot of other gigs so we were really familiar with the forms and changes by
the time it came to record.
While the dynamic grace of Shades of Jade is rooted in the tight knit
trio, it expands and contracts with the entrances and exits of Lovano and Scofield.
The instrumentation is intriguing, not merely because it sidesteps a soloist-centered
format, but also in its atypical use of sax and guitar in supporting roles of
the piano trio.
To a large degree, the album is presented as an augmented piano trio as opposed
to a standard quintet (or sextet when Alain Mallet sits in on organ). But even
when non-trio players are absent, their role can still be felt lingering in
the background of the subsequent song.
Shades Of Jade