Max Johnson may be the only musician to have worked with legendary improvisers Anthony Braxton, John Zorn, Muhal Richard Abrams & William Parker, bluegrass royalty Sam Bush & David Grisman, in addition to rock pioneers Adrian Belew, Vernon Reid & the Butthole Surfers. That eclecticism is at work on his new album, “In the West”, featuring piano trio, augmented by pedal steel guitar. The album features Kris Davis on Piano, Susan Alcorn on pedal steel guitar, and Mike Pride on drums, in addition to Johnson’s bass playing and composing. Kris Davis is one of the most breathtakingly original voices on the piano in the modern era, and her multiple projects as a leader, in addition to working with luminaries Eric Revis, Tony Malaby & Bill Frisell, display her masterful control of sound. Susan Alcorn is one of the premiere innovators on pedal steel guitar, taking it’s roots in country and western, imbuing it with the lush harmonic beauty of Messiaen & Varese, and adding a frenetic wild free jazz energy, leading her to lend her amazing musical gifts to people like Mary Halvorson, Michael Formanek & Ellery Eskelin. Mike Pride has led an broad musical life, doing everything from improvising with masters Joe Morris, Nate Wooley, and Peter Evans, to playing hardcore punk with the legendary band Millions of Dead Cops, but it is his unique vision and mastery of the drums that have made him one of the most powerful and moving drummers you’ll ever hear. The combination of these four individuals is what makes “In the West” a compelling testament. Drawing on a wide world of sounds, this quartet shifts through audio landscapes, twisting through the open and remarkable compositions of Johnson, finding themselves finally at a patient and powerful medley from Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to “Once Upon a Time in the West”. The journey the listener embarks on is lush and beautiful, wild and thorny, strange and uncharted, but always a treat to the ear, and moving to the soul.
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