Alphonso Johnson: Balls to the Wall


Balls to the Wall


Alphonso Johnson (electric bass)


Yesterday's Dreams (SMM 518 995 2)

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Alphonso Johnson (electric bass),

Patrice Rushen (electric piano, clavinet), Ian Underwood (synthesizers), Ray Gomez (guitars), Chester Thompson (drums), Sheila Escovedo (congas)


Composed by Alphonso Johnson


Recorded: Hollywood, CA, 1976


Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

In the course of putting together for readers the most complete and detailed jazz-fusion track review archive available anywhere, I have the opportunity to revisit music I may have long forgotten, dismissed or simply missed the first time around. Sometimes my mind is changed by a new listen three decades removed from the times.

I was well aware of the outstanding bassist Alphonso Johnson from his stints with Weather Report and The One Truth Band. But for some reason I never sought out any of his solo material. Until several moments ago I had never heard 1976's Yesterday's Dreams. I must say that there is some God-awful music on this album. It really pains me to say that. To be fair my criticism is mostly based on the fact that Johnson was clearly trying to cross over into pop music terrain. The resulting vocals are cloying. This was sort of thing that eventually killed the fusion movement. I am still bitter about this, so my disgust should be seen in that light. What made these "sell-out" attempts all the more disappointing was that musicians such as Johnson could really play. In a strange way, some of these musicians would play it safe by including a few "good" fusion numbers on these crossover albums. This was bad judgment. The fusion fans couldn't sit through the obnoxious pop music, and the pop music fans couldn't take the fusion. It was a lose-lose proposition.

It is a good thing that uniquely reviews individual cuts. This allows us to point out the great tunes so that you can still legally download an important cut and not waste your time and money on the dreck. Yesterday's Dreams, for example, has two stellar fusion numbers: "Balls to the Wall" is one, and "Flight to Hampstead Heath" is the other. The title "Balls to the Wall" pretty much says it all about this testosterone workout. (Though interestingly there are two women in the band.) The tune starts with the heavy riffing of distorted bass and guitar brought to you with pride by Johnson and Ray Gomez. This is overtaken by some spatial "space junk," as they used to say. Johnson runs his bass through some sort of effects processor. His solo confirms he was one of the best players of the genre. Drummer Chester Thompson propels the piece forward. Gomez, an underrated figure in jazz-rock's history, blazes away. The tune aims skyward. In some ways it is reminiscent of Billy Cobham's historic Spectrum. This material is full of "balls out" vitality. If only the rest of the album had been like this. Ugh.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky

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