04 Orbit Max JohnsonOrbit of Sound
Max Johnson Trio
Unbroken Sounds U01 (maxjohnsonmusic.com)

Equally proficient as composer and double bassist, New York’s Max Johnson has the invaluable help of Canadian tenor saxophonist/flutist Anna Webber and local drummer Michael Sarin to interpret five of his intricate but easygoing tunes. That’s easygoing not easy, for Johnson’s bass thumps or sul tasto strokes, Weber’s reed cries and gurgles and Sarin’s power pops and rim shots are anything but elementary.

Instead, the sometime slippery and often buoyant tunes evolve with defined and emphasized heads and narratives that usually involve double or triple counterpoint and brief solos. Johnson’s touch can be stentorian but on an extended piece like Over/Under his timbral digging involves high-pitched scraps to contrast with low-pitched body tube murmurs and mid-range blowing from Webber. After reed split-tone yelps stand out over other-directed percussion strokes, measured bass thumps relax the exposition back to the initial theme. Nearly continuous string drones provide an effective balance, scene-setting on The Professor, then joined to strident reed bites and drum ruffs. Webber’s reed-biting whorls and arabesques advance to irregular tongue stops and percussive smears, but the reassuring narrative, anchored by bass strokes, preserves the flow and holds the exposition to defined swing elaborations. 

The one flute track is dryly balladic and Sarin’s ruffs and rebounds add advanced percussiveness elsewhere. But all in all the harmonic balance expressed among writing, narratives and singular expression make this one orbit of sound in which a listener would want to circle.

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