Phillip Johnston: Hofstra's Dilemma
Phillip Johnston's Transparent Quartet
The Needless Kiss (Koch 7898)
Phillip Johnston (soprano sax),
Mark Josefsberg (vibes), Joe Ruddick (piano), David Hofstra (bass).
Composed by Phillip Johnston.
Recorded: live at the Knitting Factory, New York City, August 19, 1997
Rating: 95/100 (learn more)
Johnston led the delightfully off-kilter swing/progressive Microscopic Septet from 1980 to 1992, during which time he and founding member John Zorn became two of the darlings of New York's underground music scene in lower Manhattan, for which the Knitting Factory became the key venue. In the '90's Johnston created two new groups, Big Trouble, which unlike the sax-based "Micros" featured trumpets, and the more chamber-like, drummerless Transparent Quartet. On the latter's The Needless Kiss album, Johnston's compositions once again exhibited the depth and breadth of his inspirations, from Captain Beefheart to Nashville, from West Coast Jazz to Chopin, from Raymond Scott to Steve Lacy. However, the only non-studio track, the outstanding "Hofstra's Dilemma," recorded live at the Knitting Factory, is an unusually straight-ahead and unadorned display of these four musicians' exceptional skills.
Johnston plays the boppish, dancing theme with a piercing soprano tone reminiscent of Lacy's, if not somewhat fuller and less dry. The tune's attractive harmonic structure and shifting changes provide Johnston in his solo with many points of impetus that he handles with adroitness and verve. Joe Ruddick is all over the piano in his feature, revealing a formidable technique as he executes rollicking arpeggios and slippery runs and glissandos--think Jaki Byard for its diversity of texture. Mark Josefsberg's vibes improv is played with a metallic Red Norvo sound, and like Ruddick, is appealingly unpredictable. David Hofstra's meaty bass solo is a concise but fully realized concoction. Johnston's reprise renews the listener's appreciation of his abilities as both a player and composer. He probably chose to include this track on the CD--recorded a year earlier than all the others--simply because it's so damn good. (Also check out the "Micros'" version on their Seven Men In Neckties compilation.)
Reviewer: Scott Albin