Lee Morgan: Mr. Johnson
Lee Morgan (trumpet)
Sonic Boom (Blue Note 90414)
Composed by Harold Mabern.
Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 12, 1969
Rating: 95/100 (learn more)
Though not a prolific composer, pianist Harold Mabern has written his share of outstanding tunes, and his brooding minor-key waltz “Mr. Johnson” is a tour de force that could’ve—no, should’ve—become a jazz standard. A mostly forgotten track from an ill-fated session of obscurities and uneven performances, “Mr. Johnson” finds everyone in exceptional form. After the ensemble charges through the loping melody, George Coleman wrestles his way above Mabern’s forceful, Tyner-like chords, soaring and squealing his way into Coltrane-like ecstasy. The dominating influence of Trane’s quartet is deeply infused at the core of this track.
Morgan’s solo is a special one. Beginning with a small two-note idea, he methodically elongates his motive, slowly building momentum as he inches forward and upward. At the bridge, in typical Morgan fashion, he contrasts his punchiness on the ‘A’ sections with a linear approach, melodically leading back into a continued motivic development that consumes his second chorus as well. Morgan battled occasional chop issues at this point in his career, but at this session his high-range was crystal clear and he showcased it; his high notes ring magnificently as the group nearly bursts at its seams with tension.
Eschewing his myriad licks and tricks, Morgan breaks out of his comfort zone on “Mr. Johnson”; this is true, organic, unfiltered improvisation, replete with a sense of discovery and surprise in every note.
Reviewer: Matt Leskovic