Marc Johnson: Overpass (ECM 2671)

Marc Johnson
Overpass

Marc Johnson double bass
Recorded January/February 2018
at Nacena Studios, São Paulo, Brazil
Recording engineer: Rodrigo de Castro-Lopes
Mixing engineer: Steve Rodby
Cover: Wade Carter
Produced by Marc Johnson and Eliane Elias
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
Release date: August 27, 2021

Three years after being laid down in a São Paulo studio, Marc Johnson’s Overpass comes to light. Indeed, light is in abundance across the full spectrum of this solo effort. The double bass, whether due to its size or range, is easily typecast as a darker instrument. And yet, as this set of eight pieces proves, it has plenty of brightness to share with the world. A hint of that inner glow is found in Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance,” the first of three classic tunes to triangulate Johnson’s original grammar with iridescent crossbeams. Its meshing of firm foundations and lithe upswings renders a fitting prologue to broader expositions of architectural proportion. The other touchpoints in this vein are Miles Davis’ “Nardis” and Alex North’s “Love Theme from Spartacus,” each of which seems to inspire the other in mutual admiration. The latter melody is among the album’s airiest and, as such, speaks to the wisdom of a life drawn to affectionate things. Like “Life of Pai” that follows, it is fueled by the gentlest of propulsions, singing as if it were speaking.

Despite the above assertions of light, one cannot necessarily ignore Johnson’s artful corralling of shadow, as evident throughout “Yin and Yang,” wherein the bassist draws along multiple axes. It is one of two overdubbed tracks, the other being “Samurai Fly,” a reworking of his timeless “Samurai Hee-Haw” from 1985’s Bass Desires. Featuring more arco than pizzicato, it opens new possibilities at a time when such hopes are needed in abundance (that album’s sequel, Second Sight, is also referenced here on “And Strike Each Tuneful String”). The culmination of all this is “Whorled Whirled World,” a tessellated masterstroke carrying itself into the night singing of another day.

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