GroundUp Music Festival: Snarky Puppy Extravaganza

Music festivals in Florida come and go, and the last decade or so has seen the demise of two, on opposite ends of the state, with lineups that appealed strongly to fans of jazz, funk, fusion and jamband music: Bear Creek, at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, and Langerado in South Florida.

Wanee, still going strong after the Allmans broke up, continues to offer a lineup featuring bands drawing from the above genres, as well as blues and rock.

New to the fold is this year’s GroundUp Music Festival on Miami Beach, hosted by the acclaimed jazzy, funky large-ensemble outfit Snarky Puppy.

snarky_puppy_groundup

The event’s inaugural edition, running this Friday through Sunday, offers a quite extraordinary lineup. Snarky Puppy plays three consecutive nights, and star bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding is the fest’s “Artist At Large.”

Also on the bill: Veteran folk-rocker David Crosby, who has recently collaborated with Snarky Puppy; John Medeski’s Mad Skillet, led by the MMW pianist/organist/keyboardist; Punch Brothers/Nickel Creek mandolinist-singer and “Prairie Home Companion” host Chris Thile, in a duo with Michael Daves; New Orleans trumpeter and Spike Lee soundtrack composer Terence Blanchard; guitarist-bassist Charlie Hunter, leading a quartet with saxophonist Jeff Coffin (Dave Matthews, Bela Fleck, Mu’tet); and a group led by rising-star percussionist Pedrito Martinez.

More: Virtuoso singer/multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier, Banda Magda, The Lee Boys + Roosevelt Collier and others. That’s not counting the performances on the second stage, and the late-night shows, likely to offer lots of sit-ins.

Or the music and music-industry workshops, including “A Snarky Guitar Clinic” with all three of the band’s six-stringers; “Chasing the Muse with (Snarky leader/bassist) Michael League & David Crosby”; and “Songwriting & Performance Workshop” with Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis, and Lucy Woodward.

And, a bonus for those averse to overcrowding: Ticket sales are limited to 1,500 each day.

“I don’t think you’ll get a better shot at hearing real music than at this festival,” Crosby told Miami New Times. “It will knock your socks off. It’s me on the stage with Michael League, Michelle Willis, and Becca Stevens. It’s acoustic, four-part harmonies that are really delicious based on my last album, Lighthouse, but we do some stuff from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It’s the most fun I’ve had touring in 25 or 30 years.”

The high-caliber artists and relatively intimate performances appear to add up to a lineup and fest experience way more appealing than Bonnaroo and/or any of the major fests you could name. Stay tuned.

Word is that tickets are still available. For all the details, click here.

The schedule:

FRIDAY, FEB. 10

House of Waters, 1 p.m. Michelle Willis, 2 p.m. Bill Laurence, 3:30 p.m. Frost School of Music American Music Ensemble, 4:20 p.m. Jacob Collier, 4:55 p.m. Zach Larmer Band, 5:45 p.m. Banda Magda, 6:15 p.m. Forq, 7:10 p.m. Snarky Puppy, 8 p.m. The Heavy Pets, 9 p.m. David Crosby, 9:50 p.m.

Deaville Beach Resort: Ryan Scott, 11:20 p.m. Bob Lanzetti, 11:20 p.m. Mark Lettieri Trio, 12:40 a.m. Ghost-Note, 12:45 a.m. Jacob Collier, 2 a.m. Roosevelt Collier & Phunk Phactory, 2:10 a.m.

SATURDAY, FEB. 11

Lucy Woodward, noon Shelly Berg, 1:15 p.m. Emily Estefan, 2 p.m. Charlie Hunter Trio, 2:50 p.m. Electric Kif, 3:45 p.m. Terence Blanchard, 4:30 p.m. Nikka Costa, 5:25 p.m. Laura Mvula, 6:10 p.m. The Funky Knuckles, 7:05 p.m. Snarky Puppy, 7:55 p.m. Esperanza Spalding, 9 p.m. Pedrito Martinez Group, 9:45 p.m

Deauville Beach Resort: Philip Lassiter, 11:20 p.m. House of Water, 11:20 p.m. Magda Giannikou, 12:40 a.m. Breastfist, 12:45 a.m. Zach Brock and Bob Reynolds, 2 a.m. Shaun Martin’s Go-Go Party, 2:10 a.m.

SUNDAY, FEB. 12

The Lee Boys, featuring Roosevelt Collier, 11:45 a.m. Carlos Malta, 1:10 p.m. Becca Stevens, 2:30 p.m. Modern School of Music Band, 3:15 p.m. John Medeski’s Mad Skillet, 3:55 p.m. New World School of the Arts Jazz Ensemble, 4:45 p.m. Bokante, 5:30 p.m. Aaron Lebos Reality, 6:20 p.m. Chris Thile and Michael Daves, 7 p.m. Maz, 8 p.m. Snarky Puppy, 8:50 p.m.

Deaville Beach Resort: Charlie Hunter and Jeff Coffin, 10:30 p.m. Pedrito Martinez, 11 p.m. Derek Smalls and the Bottom Feeders, midnight Jamison Ross, 12:30 a.m. Nigel Hall, 1:30 a.m. Carlos Malta and Company, 2 a.m.

 

 

 

Mo’ Better Jazz Content on WBGO.org

Just a quick bit of praise for what’s happening over at WBGO.org, redesigned and relaunched to accommodate expanded editorial content by Nate Chinen, most recently a prolific jazz critic/reporter for the New York Times.

The NYT’s big loss is a major gain for the popular NYC-metro jazz radio station, as its site now offers a wealth of pieces penned by Chinen, including:

lee-konitz

  • a feature on revered alto saxophonist Lee Konitz (in the above pic by Nuccio DiNuzzo), 89 and out with a new recording, “Frescalalto,” on which he’s joined by superb pianist Kenny Barron (I finally caught Barron in person, at last summer’s Montreal Jazz Fest), bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Kenny Washington.
  • a report on singer-pianist Diana Krall’s forthcoming album, “Turn Up the Quiet,” and world tour
  • “Take Five,” a regular column offering short-takes commentary (with audio clips) on five jazz tracks — this week, music by Jeremy Pelt, Theo Bleckmann, Dayme Arocena, Art Pepper/Sonny Stitt, and new-to-me free improv trio Ballister.

Lots of other good jazz content to be found there. Check it out.

Tampa Jazz Notes: Nate Najar, Whitney James, Al Di Meola; reflections on Pat Metheny, Dr. John & Sunshine Music Fest

These days, there’s no shortage of worthwhile jazz (and beyond) concerts, by national and local artists alike, at Tampa Bay area venues. Too much music, not enough time, or, in the case of the too often overpriced arena and theater events, not enough expendable dough.

At any rate … happy to report that I’ve been able to catch several good shows in the last few weeks (see below), and there are plenty ahead.

Fusion-guitar heads will explode about this just-announced show: John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring, with their respective bands, are playing a double bill Nov. 25 at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

And, speaking of notable guitarists, the Tampa Bay area’s own Nate Najar is celebrating the release of his new album, “This is Nate Najar,” on the Candid label, with a show Thursday night in St. Petersburg (details below). Check out Sharon Kennedy’s feature, in the Tampa Bay Times. Najar tours nationally. His new CD is the eighth most added recording on this week’s JazzWeek radio-play chart.

On the way (a selective list):

nate

Nate Najar with trumpeter James Suggs, bassist John Lamb and drummer Mark Feinman — Feb. 9, The Studio@620, St. Petersburg, 7:30 pm

Whitney James’ Jazz Valentine, with guitarist LaRue Nickelson and La Lucha guys John O’ Leary on piano, bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Mark Feinman — Feb. 10, Palladium Side Door, St. Petersburg, 8 pm

Al Di Meola “Elegant Gypsy 40th Anniversary (Al’s band includes Tampa Bay area talent — percussionist Gumbi Ortiz, bassist Elias Tona and drummer Luis Alicea) — Feb. 13, Capitol Theatre, Clearwater, 7:30 pm

Richard Thompson & Blind Boys of Alabama — Feb. 14, Capitol Theater, 8 pm

St. Petersburg Jazz FestivalRobotman (Feb. 22), Martin Bejerano Trio (Feb. 23), Joshua Breakstone (Feb. 24), Jason Lee Bruns (Feb. 26) — Palladium Side Door, 7:30 pm

St. Petersburg Jazz Festival: The Helios Jazz Orchestra with Whitney James & Fred Johnson — Feb. 25, Palladium Hough Hall, 7:30 pm

Frank Greene (trumpet) & Danny Gottlieb (drums) with USF Jazz Ensemble, directed by Chuck Owen — Feb. 27, USF Concert Hall, Tampa, 7:30 pm

Tony Bennett — March 2, Mahaffey Theater, 7:30 pm

Boogie Woogie Blues Piano Stomp: Bob Seeley, Dr. Billy C. Wirtz, Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues, Rob Rio — March 4, Palladium Hough Hall, 8 pm

Whitney James with guitarist LaRue Nickelson, organist/pianist Chris Rottmayer and drummer Dave Rudolph — March 5, HCC Ybor Performing Arts Center Mainstage Theatre, 3 pm

Norah Jones — March 7, Ruth Eckerd Hall, 8 pm

Taj Mahal (solo acoustic) — March 8, Capitol Theatre, 8 pm

Rickie Lee Jones & Madeleine Peyroux — March 11, Capitol Theatre, 8 pm

Gasparilla Music Festival: The New Mastersounds, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Shamarr Allen & the Underdawgs, Ryan Adams, Ghostface Killah, Have Gun, Will Travel, Curtis Hixon Park, Tampa, March 11-12

“The Sound: The Music of Stan Getz” (Jeff Rupert, Veronica Smith, others), Palladium Side Door, March 12, 6 pm

Tampa Bay Blues Fest (Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Coco Montoya, Stephen Stills, more), Vinoy Park, St. Petersburg, April 7-9.

John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension & Jimmy Herring and the Invisible Whip — Nov. 25, Ruth Eckerd Hall, 8 pm.

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LOOKING BACK

dr-john

I caught Dr. John, with my friend Roland Guerin on bass, at Clearwater’s beautifully renovated Capitol Theater on Jan. 17. The tickets were a Christmas present from me to my wife Callie — good seats and no reviewing duties. The band,with trumpeter Leon Brown, guitarist Eric Struthers and drummer Doug Belote, was in fine form. As usual, it was a treat hearing Dr. John sing and play some of the most memorable tunes from his repertoire, including “Iko Iko” and, of course, “Right Place, Wrong Time.”

But I’d be lying if I didn’t note that Mac seems to have lost some of his performance power. His vocals, and his piano playing, that unique mix of jazz, blues and New Orleans R&B descended from a long line of NOLA’s piano professors, including Professor Longhair, simply aren’t as robust as even a few years ago, when he played with his previous band at the Sunshine Music Festival. Some of that decline, of course, is understandable — he’s 76, and, as documented in his readable and entertaining autobiography “Under a Hoodoo Moon,” he lived a hard life in his hometown and in Los Angeles before moving to New York and adopting a more mellow lifestyle in later years.

Nevertheless, Dr. John remains a total original, and I was thrilled to hear him again. And I couldn’t help but wonder — who, aside from the likes of Jon Cleary and maybe Marcia Ball, will be exponents of that infectious, rolling rumba-boogie style of piano playing after Dr. John is gone? I’m sure there are others carrying on that tradition, particularly in New Orleans. Somebody hip me to ’em, please.

The day before (Jan. 14), we had a great experience at the fourth annual Sunshine Music Festival, formerly known as the Sunshine Blues Festival; it was my third time attending, having missed last year’s edition. The fest, held on waterside Vinoy Park in downtown St. Petersburg, offered good-to-terrific sets by the blues-rocking Tedeschi Trucks Band (the “host” artists), soul/R&B legend Mavis Staples, jamgrass guys Railroad Earth, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers, Dave Mason and the North Mississippi Allstars. My review will appear in the March print edition of Relix magazine.

And just last Wednesday (Feb. 1), for the umpteenth time I had the pleasure of catching a Pat Metheny concert, this one at the Mahaffey Theater, almost exactly three years after his last performance at the same venue. For his latest tour, he’s joined by longtime musical associate Antonio Sanchez on drums, rising-star upright bassist Linda Oh, and a newcomer (to me), young Brit-born pianist Gwilym Simcock. The quartet touched on seemingly every phase of the guitarist’s long career; as usual, he made a joyful sound on his several guitars.

I ran into several area jazz folks at the show, including Bob Seymour and Mike Cornette, the former and current jazz directors at WUSF, and singer Whitney James, who happens to be a part-time announcer at the station (I also did some announcing there, briefly, in the late ’90s). I also connected with Jim Leonard, a Metheny aficionado/expert who deserves a shout-out for his invaluable help with song titles. My review of the show, for JazzTimes mag, is posted here.

 

What makes a jazz fest a jazz fest? Hello, New Orleans.

the-meters

So maybe it’s a communications issue.

In the last few days, I’ve noticed several jazz people — musicians and other well-intentioned folks who support the music — getting up in arms over the announcement of the lineup for this year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and the subsequent press coverage.

Stevie Wonder, Tom Petty and Lorde aren’t jazz, they’ve complained, citing  the three big-name headliners highlighted in Rolling Stone’s story on an event that annually draws hundreds of thousands of music lovers. It’s the city’s second biggest money maker, after Mardi Gras; this year’s fest will be held over two weekends, from April 28 through May 7.

Well, yes, that particular charge, made by folks who may are may not have ever attended an affair long dubbed “Jazz Fest,” which has for decades included pop/rock/rap acts in the mix, is certifiably 100% true.

While I’m a big fan of Stevie (whose music indeed frequently nods to jazz harmonies and improvisation; his Jazz Fest show, under rainy skies in 2008, was inspired and inspiring) and I like Petty, the Florida-bred purveyor of rootsy rock ‘n’ roll, they’re by no means jazz artists.

Nor do Maroon 5, Dave Matthews, Kings of Leon, Usher & the Roots, Snoop Dogg, Meghan Trainor, Pitbull, the Alabama Shakes, Earth, Wind & Fire, Widespread Panic, Trey Anastasio (of Phish) or Wilco, among the acts given the greatest attention in the fest’s own promotional video,  remotely fit the definition of jazz.

The naysayers, to their credit, seem to be genuinely and legitimately concerned about how the word “jazz” is so frequently abused, to the point where it is routinely misused in the names of festivals. One local festival in my region, for instance, offers a program that last year was almost entirely given over to pop/rock, R&B and Americana (aside from the good local jazz artists on the bill). Another festival, in Florida’s panhandle, focuses on the kind of “jazz” that begins and ends with whatever it is that Kenny G plays on his annoyingly chirpy horn.

I get the spirit of the complaints. And I agree with the sentiment behind them. If a fest’s headliners and all of the secondary national-act slots are represented by say, the likes of Ryan Adams, the Dazz Band and America (not that there’s anything wrong with those artists), then, sorry, it’s not a jazz festival. Far past time to change the name and let someone else put on an event focused on jazz. Why do these types of fests continue to use the name “jazz,” anyway? They want the cachet but not the music? How special.

But I digress. Trying to say this gently: Bashing New Orleans’ fest for its non-jazz content amounts to missing the forest for the trees. And to having little knowledge of what the fest is about.

For starters, its full name is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Not the New Orleans Jazz Festival. Names matter, right? It’s never been 100% jazz. From its inception, the fest has offered a huge mix of genres, many reflecting the city and state where it’s located. So festgoers get the opportunity to hear a long list of top-shelf jazz artists (see below) PLUS great soul, R&B, funk, world music, zydeco, Cajun, gospel, brass band, jamband, folk, hip-hop and more. And there’s no better place to see great New Orleans acts, including, over the years, Dr. John, the Meters, the Neville Brothers, the Subdudes, the Iguanas, the Radiators, Irma Thomas, and countless others.

Was I happy when the fest, a long while ago, began adding superstar radio-hit acts to the mix? Not necessarily, because I hated seeing the cheese (Bon Jovi) injected into “my” festival, which I’ve covered umpteen times over the years for various magazines and newspapers. It also made for a much more crowded affair. On the other hand, I’ll never forget that 2010 performance by Levon Helm and friends, followed by the Allman Brothers. And Stevie. And James Brown. And Randy Newman. And…

Also, there are twelve — 12, count ’em! — stages at the festival. Not just one or two. Those superstar non-jazz artists are relegated, if you will, to the two big stages located on either end of the Fair Grounds Race Track. Two stages are devoted to jazz, with my favorite stage, the WWOZ Jazz Tent, featuring top-shelf modern/contemporary jazz from New Orleans and elsewhere. Seeing the World Saxophone Quartet + African drums at that venue practically amounted to a religious experience for me. McCoy Tyner, Randy Weston, Mose Allison, Astral Project, Arturo Sandoval, Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, Donald Harrison and various Marsalises are among some other personal highlights.

Which brings us to (drum roll) the jazz or jazz-rooted artists playing this year’s fest. Here’s a partial list: Terence Blanchard, Kenny Barron, Ellis Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, George Benson, Astral Project (James Singleton, Johnny Vidacovich, Tony DaGradi, Steve Masakowski), Chucho Valdes, Lee Konitz, Pedrito Martinez (several times), Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela, Delfeayo Marsalis, Herlin Riley/Shannon Powell/Jason Marsalis, Wess Anderson, Donald Harrison, SFJAZZ Collective, Henry Butler, Dr. Michael White, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Rebirth Brass Band, Preservation Hall Jazz, Band, Kermit Ruffins, Bill Summers, Joey Alexander.  

Finally, speaking of the communications issue, Jazz Fest itself certainly plays a part in fostering the confusion/anger — at least, among jazz fans — regarding the event’s jazz content. How? By failing to give any special emphasis to the fest’s jazz artists. The lion’s share of the marketing goes to promoting the arena acts.

But it probably makes sense, from a bang-for-the-buck business perspective. Those big names pull in the big attendance numbers. And, according to Fest logic, the superstars’ ability to drive ticket-sales helps fund performances by the lesser-known artists who don’t draw.

On the other hand, why not do both? Pump up the big names AND make a targeted effort to promote the jazz fare? (Short answer: Because the current marketing formula appears to be working).

Headlines to the contrary, Jazz Fest still offers loads of great jazz, along with other great music, much of which can be fairly described as “rootsy” — you know, not bound up in commercial instinct. And a few household names. Now if I could only afford the time and money to get back this year.

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New Orleans’ other big music event is the French Quarter Festival, which might be described as a version of Jazz Fest with many of the same great New Orleans and Louisiana musicians, but without the big-name Billboard-charting acts.

I last attended the free-admission FQF in 2013, and yes, it was indeed a blast,  with performances by artists representing multiple genres on stages spread across the French Quarter.

Among the artists slated to play this year’s 30th annual fest, April 6-9: Aaron Neville, Irma Thomas, Ellis Marsalis, The Iguanas, Astral Project, Roland Guerin, Bonerama, Naughty Professor, New Orleans Suspects, Walter Wolfman Washington, Dr. Michael White, Evan Christopher, Joe Krown, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Leroy Jones, Shannon Powell, Dash Rip Rock, New Orleans Nightcrawlers, John Boutte, Little Freddie King, Bill Summers & Jazalsa, Treme Brass Band, Kermit Ruffins, Tom McDermott, and Organic Trio. And more TBA on March 1.

38th Montreal International Jazz Fest: DeJohnette/Grenadier/Medeski/Scofield, Charles Lloyd, Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinmusire, Donny McCaslin, more

Having thrice attended the Montreal International Jazz Fest — in 2001, 2012 and 2016 — I can attest that it’s one of the best affairs of its kind. Top-shelf jazz musicians and other artists play acoustically resonant, beautifully appointed venues in an enchanting city.

This year’s event, with hundreds of ticketed indoor shows and free-admission outdoor concerts, runs June 28 to July 8. Tickets for some shows go on sale today.

I saw some amazing performances at last year’s fest, including concerts by pianist Kenny Barron‘s trio, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and pianist Vijay Iyer, bass guitarist Marcus Miller, and singer Roberta Gambarini, among many others.

Great to report on some of the artists booked for this summer’s fest. New all-star jazz group Hudson has revered drummer-composer Jack DeJohnette joined by guitarist John Scofield, keyboardist John Medeski and bassist Larry Grenadier. The stellar quartet will share a June 30 bill with legendary saxophonist Charles Lloyd‘s quartet.

The Robert Glasper Experiment, touring in support of the pianist’s funk-soul-electronica release “ArtScience,” plays June 29; and monster fusion bassist Stanley Clarke is slated for a July 3 performance.

Among the other highlights, with more to be announced:

  • Canadian fusion heavy hitters UZEB, on their reunion tour after a 25-year absence — June 29
  • Rising-star trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire — June 29
  • Funk-jazz keyboardist Cory Henry (of Snarky Puppy) — June 30
  • Saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who collaborated with David Bowie on the late rock superstar’s last album; his new “Beyond Now” album is dedicated to Bowie — June 30
  • A triple-bill blues blast with Buddy Guy, Charlie Musselwhite and Lucky Peterson — June 30
  • Drummer Mark Guiliana‘s acoustic quartet, with pianist Shai Maestro, tenor saxophonist Jason Rigby, and bassist Chris Morrissey — July 1
  • The Gipsy Kings with Nicolas Reyes and Tonino Baliardo — July 1
  • Cuban-born pianist Roberto Fonseca — July 2
  • Singer Lizz Wright, playing music from her latest album, “Freedom and Surrender” — July 5
  • Tony Allen, former Fela Kuti sideman, with “Tribute to Art Blakey” — July 8

For all the details, visit the official fest site.

CD review: Aki Takase-David Murray, “Cherry-Sakura”

murrayAki Takase-David Murray, “Cherry-Sakura” (Intakt Records)

More than two decades ago, with “Blue Monk,” Japanese-born pianist Aki Takase and saxophonist David Murray celebrated the indomitable spirit of Thelonious Monk, via four of his compositions and several of their own, among contributions by others.

“Let’s Cool One,” the sole Monk tune from the duo’s first pairing since that intimate 1995 album, has the two effectively channeling the spirit of the composer: Murray offers his woody, percussive bass clarinet, opening alone and then sounding the head, and Takase provides bluesy, stride-inflected rejoinders. It’s a joyful, exuberant outing, one of the disc’s highlights.

That track is something of an outlier, as the two are up to something completely different on the other compositions, starting with Murray’s gorgeous long tenor notes, undergirded by Takase’s fluttering figures, on the Takase-penned title track. The piece, inspired by a short story centered on the short-lived beauty of cherry blossoms, also features rambunctious  unaccompanied sections by each musician.

“Nobuko,” Takase’s tribute to her late mother, begins and ends as a stately ballad, enveloping the pianist’s long, free passage. Her “Blues for David” is a laidback ramble, with an unpredictable tenor head.

Murray offers three compositions, starting with the warm, slow-moving “To A.P. Kern.” He hints at Clifford Jordan and other influences on the zig-zagging “Stressology,” and closes the album with “A Long March to Freedom,” a poignant note of affirmation for a struggle that, in some respects, continues.

PHILIP BOOTH

 

 

 

 

CD review: Howard Johnson and Gravity, “Testimony”

gravityHoward Johnson and Gravity, “Testimony” (Tuscarora Records)

“I’ve been working for the Joneses, doing things I swore I’d never do,” Nedra Johnson sings on “Working Hard for the Joneses,” a swinging blues tune that’s a bit of a throwaway number on the latest from jazz tuba innovator Howard Johnson.

For decades, Johnson has been doing things on the tuba most folks swore could never be done. Namely, he plays with the kind of agility, and gets into the kind of treble generally not associated with his low-register instrument. A variety of jazz players and composers, including Charles Mingus, Gil Evans and Carla Bley, have tapped Johnson’s gifts over the years, as have the “Saturday Night Live” band and several pop artists.

“Testimony” is another testament to the tuba’s viability as a jazz instrument, and to the 75-year-old Johnson’s continuing vitality as a player. He’s again backed by his subsonic-toned Gravity, a group which, on some tracks, has the leader joined by as many as a half-dozen other tuba players.

That choir of low-low-brass horns makes for appealingly rich and dark textures, starting with Johnson’s title track, the first of several on which he shows off his chops as an improviser, bouncing over the mid-tempo groove provided by pianist Carlton Holmes, bassist Melissa Slocum and drummer Buddy Williams.

Johnson handily handles the lead of McCoy Tyner’s “Fly With the Wind,” slipping into the (relative) stratosphere and soloing before again passing the tuba baton to Dave Bargeron. Tyner’s “High Priest” has the leader switching to his other main instrument, baritone sax, for a quick solo turn; the tune also features an impressive improvisation by Slocum.

For all the tuba-does-jazz celebrating, the program is pleasantly varied, with the ensemble cranking up the gospel-blues textures and rhythms for Carole King’s ’71 hit “Natural Woman,” a showcase for the mellifluous playing of Velvet Brown, whose F tuba comes off as a trombone. And Johnson makes another instrument — pennywhistle — viable as a jazz vehicle on his “Little Black Lucille.” Neat trick.

Some of the disc’s richest, most sonorous tones are to be heard on Bob Neloms’ “Evolution,” which opens with unaccompanied brass, in a passage somewhat reminiscent of Gil Evans’ arrangements, before shifting to the head and vigorous solos by tuba men Johnson, Earl McIntyre, Bargeron, and Bob Stewart; Holmes quotes “A Love Supreme” in his solo.

“Way Back Home,” penned by late Crusaders bassist/saxophonist Wilton Felder, caps the set with a welcome round of down-home funk and more tuba acrobatics. The group modulates up a step at the end, amping the feelgood nature of it all. There’s plenty of inspired playing and fun to celebrate here, along with the low-end brass gravitas.

PHILIP BOOTH