True to its title, Reveal explores a rich palette of musical experiences by the new quartet of American, Milwaukee-based trumpeter-composer-educator Russ Johnson (he is the director of jazz studies at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside), featuring master violinist Mark Feldman, double bass player Ethan Philion and drummer Timothy Daisy. Reveal was recorded at Palisade Studios in Chicago in November 2022.
Johnson describes his entire career as being built on playing music in the cracks between modern jazz and free music, but Reveal also highlights his role as a consummate, versatile and fearless composer, improviser and bandleader. Johnson has played with Feldman (who recently relocated to Chicago) only a couple of times before while both were living in New York but Reveal is their first recording. In a way, Reveal was conceived around Feldman’s remarkable qualities as an interpreter of Johnson’s ideas and imaginative improviser. Johnson has played before with Philion and Daisy but Philion and Daisy have never played together before. Still, this quartet sounds like it has been working together for years and its immediate and fresh dynamics are totally natural.
Johnson penned nine new distinct pieces that enjoy the strong, individual voices of the quartet. The front line of Johnson and Feldman anticipate and completes each other’s themes in such an organic, unassuming manner and dances gently over the light grooves of Philion and Daisy. Johnson and Feldman balance the lyrical to the funky in the opening piece «Skips». Feldman and Philion explore their extended bowing techniques on «The Slow Reveal», with Philion extending his bass into the viola register, and this free improvised piece becomes more structured when Johnson carefully introduces lush post-Romantic harmonies until the quartet exhausts his full power. «Long Branch» is a touching elegy for fellow trumpeter Jamie Branch with beautiful, reflective solos of Johnson and Feldman, and this piece connects seamlessly into «REM Unit» with its free improvised, extended breathing and bowing techniques of Johnson, Feldman and Philion. Daisy understated funky patterns on «Agnomen» are the basis for Johnson and Feldman’s playful improvisations that only deepen in the following, more thoughtful «Veiled Invitation». The short, free-improvised «TRM» – titled after the first names of Daisy, Johnson and Feldman – makes it difficult at times to tell who is playing what. «Dog Gone It» is a wise nod to Julius Hemphill’s cult classic Dogon A.D.(Freedom, 1972), performed with a powerful, mean groove. This beautiful and brilliant album closes with the lyrical and mournful «Coda» that takes this quartet into refined chamber jazz territories.
Russ Johnson (trumpet), Mark Feldman (violin), Ethan Philion (bass), Timothy Daisy (drums)