Leslie Johnson – The Leslie Johnson Project (2015)

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If you were lucky enough to buy Leslie Johnson’s 2012 release Bass and Beyond, then you already know that the Guatemalan-born bassist is a phenomenal player of formidable composure. With his new release The Leslie Johnson Project, he demonstrates his production and arranging chops, as well.

Due on February 10, 2015, The Leslie Johnson Project finds Johnson calling on friends and influences who have impacted his style and inspired him here in America as well as in his worldwide travels. As with its predecessor, Johnson composed all the songs on this project and mixed them in his El Paso, Texas, studio. The results are passionate, funky and forward-leaning music firmly rooted in jazz and funk.

The Leslie Johnson Project kicks off solidly in the funky mode with guest drummer Cleverson Silva providing a moving and funky back drop on “Back Off.” The song is almost Parliament in nature, with a fantastically weird middle break. “Wake Me Up” features Adam Nitti playing the bass melody riffs as a foil to Leslie Johnson’s own bass playing. In less than four minutes, the two dance in and out in a fast-paced jazz ballet which is supported by a wonderful acoustic piano back drop. It all ends, quite frankly, far too quickly.

“Hope” follows the frenzied “Wake Me Up” and is almost a 180-turn from the former in terms of musical style, but is just as endearing. A lovely piano-driven ballad, it’s lifted by an effective female vocal melody provided by guest Jaira Johnson — and an appropriately tasteful bass solo by Leslie Johnson. Keyboardist Frank McComb is featured on the mid-tempo “Late Night Walk.” A jazzy lead guitar provided by Felipe Praino moves the melody along, and is perfectly produced highlighting Praino’s dexterity. Leslie Johnson’s solos are equally effective. There is so much going on in the interplay between McCombs’ pianos, Praino’s guitar and Johnson’s bass, you will find yourself repeatedly listening to this one to pick up on the nuances.

“Sleepwalking” steps firmly into the funk camp. Guitar, bass and drums effortlessly return to Parliament/Funkadelic territory, while trumpeter Philip Lassiter plays the jazz foil. Lassiter is not to be outdone by his band mates, and blows a solo which covers the jazz and funk bases effectively.
“SMH” recalls Stanley Clarke-like fusion, with Hedras Ramos Jr. leading the fusion charge on guitar and a propulsive turn by drummer Larry Belton Jr. The interplay with Leslie Johnson’s bass is stellar. Belton’s even gives us an end drum solo which absolutely smokes.

The Leslie Johnson Project ends with Leslie Johnson’s bass-only version of “Late Night Walk,” a moment as elegant as it is powerful. It’s a fitting conclusion to a project of such high craftsmanship.

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier
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