Denton Johnson – The Dancer

The DancerThe Dancer
Denton Johnson
(Disk Makers – 2001)
by Phyllis A. Lodge

Detroit continues to bless this art form with superior musicianship. Composer Denton Johnson tastefully matched with pianist/arranger Buddy Budson’s Sextet on Johnson’s recent CD, The Dancer is one of those treasured ‘finds’ that you must experience.

Fast Forward, energetic with highly visionary musical ideas, ignites the set, cutting some brilliant facets as it moves. Pianist Buddy Budson shares the arranging role with Johnson in this collaboration, and the work of the two men is vibrant, airtight, and deeply colored in rich harmonic originality. Johnson’s writing is as sure as a butterfly net for the oft-illusory musical ideas that fly swiftly overhead in the ethers, and his style allures the listener like a full-bodied, spicy perfumed oil. To sum up, the harmonic courage in this music is breathtaking.

I confess that I feel a Blakey-spirit, an element that predominates particularly in the second selection, Nicole and the title selection, The Dancer. Johnson wields his pen gracefully, though. Dancer permits the classic elements of this art form to shine through the airtight relationship between the horns, even though Budson’s piano intro teases you with a bossa flavoring. Donald Warden’s delicately maneuvered tenor solo advances tastefully, occasionally evoking wisps of some Shorter-inspired feeling. Yet, Warden’s style is clearly his own. Warden then leaves a beautiful path for Duncan’s trombone to emerge with some silken expressions that temper the number respectfully. Barse walks in soft shadow, lending his trumpet flavoring with gentleman’s grace.

Far From Shore and The Love of My Life, both tributes to Johnson’s wife, Janice whom I have the privilege of knowing, accurately depicts one of the most quietly devoted yet deeply rooted spirits I have ever known. The oceanic depth of Ursala Walker’s richly brocaded vocals in both numbers reflects admirably Janice Johnson’s ‘deep, still-water’ power and beauty. Barse’s trumpet solo in Far From Shore is healing. And Early March, a superb mood piece, feels like winter breaking into spring, just before the buds emerge. The selection placement is perfect.

‘Round Midnight is positively spiritual. Warden’s solo takes exquisite flight. And Budson’s discrete pianowork throughout eases him into a solo that adds another original spin to this oft-traveled, yet inexhaustible Monk masterpiece. It is a real treat. Dimensions is a super-progressive, swift-as-you- please, breezy construct. It is ingeniously placed before a nostalgic, loving glance in The Love of My Life that Ms. Walker’s vocals executes with other-worldly depth. The musicians round off the set with a tantalizing bossa-type close in The Girl of Alpena.

Each beautifully constructed piece, just like each of the musicians, represents a clear, personable, ornamental experience from start to finish. I have experienced Kareem Riggins with Ray Brown on a live album, and this drummer is powerfully self-renewing. Bassist Dan Kolton keeps his finger on the pulse of the music throughout the date providing a nourishing hearbeat throughout. All is balanced and well blended, portraying an elegance of a finely sketched, charcoal painting.

[Featured Artist: Denton Johnson, composer/arranger – Featured performers: Buddy Budson Sextet: Buddy Budson, piano/arranger; Donald Walden, tenor sax; Rayse Biggs, trumpet; Kareem Riggins, drums; Albert Duncan, trombone; Dan Kolton, bassist; Ursala Walker, vocals.]