Trumpeter Russ Johnson celebrates the release of his new album Headlands | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Trumpeter Russ Johnson celebrates the release of his new album Headlands


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Trumpeter Russ Johnson is a fleet, lyrical soloist and a shrewd, supportive accompanist with a satisfyingly broad tone—qualities that made him a prized sideman during his 23-year sojourn in New York City. Since moving back to his home state of Wisconsin in 2012 to take a teaching position at University of Wisconsin-Parkside, he’s been a frequent visitor to Chicago. He is equally valued as a collaborator and supporting player for saxophonist Nick Mazzarella and bassist Matt Ulery, among many others, but he’s really come into his own as a bandleader. On the 2014 album Meeting Point (Relay), his first recording as a midwesterner, there’s plenty of common ground between his melodic sensibilities and the freewheeling improvisational approach favored by the rest of the band. This fall's The Headlands Suite (Woolgathering), on the other hand, showcases Johnson’s gifts as a composer. Originally commissioned by the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, it's a sturdily constructed and deliberately paced sequence of themes that elicit forceful rhythms and lucid solos from Ulery, drummer Jon Deitemyer, and keyboardist Rob Clearfield—whose reverberant electric piano provides a rich tonal contrast to Johnson’s bold, rasping leads. During the first set tonight, the quartet will play the entire suite, and in the second they’ll perform Cluster, another suite that will be released as a digital-only album next year.   v

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