Quinn Johnson, Trio Con Clave (QuinnJMusic)
Admired for his piano and arranging talents in the service of others, recordings under Johnson’s own name have rarely received the critical or popular attention they warranted. The longtime pianist and music director for singer Steve Tyrell, Johnson backs young artists like saxophonist Grace Kelly and plays for Rod Stewart, Diana Ross and other pop stars. His eclectic life may have kept his own light under a bushel, but it shines bright in this album interpreting standard songs in Latin grooves.
Often assigned the piano stool in the band that bears the name of the late Clare Fischer, Johnson demonstrates feeling for and understanding of Latin rhythms that drove much of Fischer’s music. His piano technique is reminiscent of Fischer’s in power and clean execution, with highly individualized harmonic development. His way with chord voicings and intervals is dramatic in Johnny Mandel’s “Close Enough For Love” and Ann Ronell’s “Willow Weep for Me.” Johnson, Cuban/American bassist John Belaguy and Cuban drummer Jimmy Branly apply clave patterns to other songs by Dietz & Schwartz, Vernon Duke, David Raksin and Jerome Kern, among others. Belaguy and Branly are superb throughout.
In a sentence on the back of the sparsely annotated CD package, Johnson discloses that, “’All the Things You Are’ and ‘Laura’ are based on the recordings of Peruchin.” A major figure in Cuban music in the 1950s and early 1960s, Peruchin (Pedro Nolasco Jústiz Rodríguez) influenced Bebo Valdés, Eddie Palmieri and other leading performers of Cuban music. And—clearly—Quinn Johnson.
The home page of Johnson’s website includes an MP3 of his trio’s version of “Close Enough for Love.” Click here.
As for Peruchin, if you’re unfamiliar with his music, this 1954 recording is a good way to meet him. Orlando ‘Cachaito’ Lopez is on bass with Tata Guines, congas; Guillermo Barreto, timbales; and Gustavo Tamayo, guiro.