Norman Johnson: The Art Of Life


Releasing a CD with a total running time of just over 25 minutes is a high-risk strategy: the margin for error becomes very narrow. Of the six short tracks, none develops into a vehicle to showcase Jamaican-born Norman Johnson’s individuality as a guitarist on this, his third release as a leader.

The major difficulty in locating any real excitement in the set lies in the compositional weaknesses in his material, a fairly insipid blend of smooth jazz tinged with Latin pop, lacking in both intensity and drive, despite its PR claims of stretching the boundaries of smooth jazz.

I have to disagree too with the fundamental proposition that his is one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary jazz. While his playing style has absorbed the influences of George Benson and Earl Klugh, and on occasion, Lee Ritenour, I do not discern a Johnson sound, or the risk-taking ambition to stretch out beyond his comfort zone. This makes this music, whilst perfectly competent, all the more predictable.

Johnson plays all instruments and programming on four tunes, a talent in itself, but not enough to raise the pulse.

Slide; Sing On; The Art Of Life; Old Skool; It’s You; Summer Dance (25.19)
Johnson (elg, elb, p, v, all instruments and programming on tracks 1, 3, 4, 6); Chris Herbert, John Mastroianni (as); Bill Hollomon (ts); Jeff Holmes (t); Steve Davis (tb); Matt Dwonszyk (elb); Ed Fast (d); Mitch Chakour (p, org); June Bisantz, Atla DeChamplain, Grayson Hugh, Lisa Marien, Polly Messer; Alex Nakhimovsky (p), Middletown, CT, 2018.
Pacific Coast Jazz PJ83664