Review by Brad Walseth
Trombonist Aaron J. Johnson's debut album, Songs of Our Fathers proves that the legacy of the great era of hard bop has not been forgotten, and that exciting new music can made using the techniques of the old masters. Nowhere is the message clearer than on the high-octane opening number, "A Fuller Life" (a nod to trombone icon Curtis Fuller) This engaging track starts off like a racehorse out of the gate and features Johnson and saxophonist Salim Washinton, as well as pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs prominently. The hard charging rhythm section of bassist Robert Sabin and Victor Lewis on drums is solid and swinging.
Johnson, a sideman to people like Reggie Workman, Muhal Richard Abrams, The Mingus Big Band and many more, has clearly studied his mentors well. All of the songs on this release are composed by the leader, except for Joe Henderson's "Our Thing." The swinging "The Message" is followed by the delightful jazz/blues waltz, "Cannonball," which, in turn, leads to the nearly 12 minute "So Long - I Can Wait," which brings it all together. Although solidly mainstream, elements of blues (the rollicking "Big Fun Blues" lives up to its title, while "Shamba" recalls Blue Trane era Coltrane), Latin and New Orleans funeral music thread through the music in a creative and enjoyable manner, and the players play well together while providing tasty solos.
If Johnson's aim was to honor the forefathers of the hard bop/straight-ahead jazz vein, then he has succeeded quite well. I'm sure his mentors would be proud.