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Quartz City
David Johnson
Lian Records

Spiritual, genuine, heartfelt, and whimsical are the words that best describe this recording. Quartz City is a collection of works composed and performed by marimba/vibraphone soloist and percussionist David Johnson, who is joined by the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet and percussionists Steve Forman, Nick Terry, TJ Troy, and Lynn Vartan. In addition, cellist Roger Lebow, who commissioned "Dark Wing," gives a hauntingly beautiful performance.

Johnson is known for his unique blend of jazz and minimalist styles. His credits include a variety of collaborations: a member of the historic Blackearth Percussion Group, he has also worked with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Pierre Boulez, Dave Brubeck, Stuart Copland, and can be heard on approximately 40 movie scores.

Three large percussion ensemble works-"Quartz City," "Dark Wing," and "Oregon Variations"-feature Johnson as a soloist, while the inner two works, "Los Osos" amd "Shape Shifter," are smaller scale vibraphone/marimba duos. "Quartz City"-scored for solo vibraphone with percussion ensemble-won the 1995 PAS composition contest. "Los Osos" is a Friedman/Samuels-esque duo for marimba and vibes, commissioned (performed here) by Lynn Varton. The work is an excellent vehicle for Johnson's improvisation, but the tune also begins and ends with a wonderfully quirky 36-bar unison melody separated by a tenth.

The CD is a reflection of the varied interests and merging styles that Johnson has refined over the years. This is just one of many projects by an ambitious (and busy) percussionist, who will continue to cultivate a unique voice in contemporary percussion.

--John Lane

 

From Steve Hochman, Los Angeles Times Popular Music Critic
On Public Radio KQED in San Francisco

“Dark Wing is the latest project to emerge from the Los Angeles based Lian Ensemble.  This gorgeous hypnotic album entitled “The Hidden Scared” teams two American musicians; marimba and vibraphone player David Johnson and his son bassist Ivan Johnson with Iranian born Houman Pourmedi on Persian percussion and Ney, a reed flute.  Pirayeh Pourafar, a virtuoso of the plucked string instrument, the Tar, also contributes to several pieces. 
Together they blend jazz and Persian traditions, but is it both or is it neither?  On such pieces as “Sezavar”, composed by Lian Ensemble member Soleyman Vaseghi, the answer would have to be yes to each question.  This is jazz and Persian but it is also something entirely new.  John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, John McLaughlin and many others have created some bracing essential music by blending jazz with various Asian and middle eastern elements, but the chemistry of Dark Wing is distinctive and fresh in it’s fusion. 
At times the players switch roles, the marimba sliding into Iranian forms, the Tar taking on jazz flights.  The musical language is hardly limited to Persian and North American forms, but draws rewardingly from various other cultures and traditions, both in the original compositions by David Johnson and two pieces with Latin American sources.  The group offers a rich take on “Memoria y Fado” composed by Brazilian musician Egberto Gismonti.   “La Llorona” is a traditional Mexican folk song with tones recalling vibes great Gary Burton and jazz bass giant Charlie Haden.
A dedication in the liner notes says: “this music is for all those who seek and practice the principals of peace and human rights.”   Music itself, of course, cannot bring about those ideals, but Dark Wing is a wonderful example of how it can embody and celebrate them.”

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