Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Felonious Funk of J.J. Johnson

Jazz trombone great J.J. Johnson composed and played on a number film and television soundtracks during the feloniously funky 1970s, ranging from blaxploitation potboilers such as Shaft (with Isaac Hayes) and Trouble Man (with Marvin Gaye) to episodes of TV's Starsky & Hutch and The Six Million Dollar Man.

Johnson worked with Bobby Womack on one of the best blaxploitation soundtracks ever, Across 110th Street. It opens with all the drama and soul one could ever hope for in a title theme. If it were the only good track, it would still be worth the price. Thankfully, it isn't -- this is a well rounded score. From there you get Johnson's funky instrumentals ("Harlem Clavinette"), mellow soul ("If You Don't Want My Love"), wise-ass dialogue ("Punk Errand Boy"), catchy up-tempo soul ("Hang on in There" vocal and instrumental versions!) and righteous blues ("Do It Right").

Johnson's score for Cleopatra Jones is funky, soulful and memorable, featuring instrumentals and songs sung by Joe Simon and Millie Jackson. This score's soulful groove never lets up. Most importantly, there's a great theme and great chase music, featuring the wah-wah rhythms, brash brass, jagged string arrangements, rolling bass, fatback drumming, funky keys, heavy flute.

J.J. Johnson also delivered a soulful and riveting score for the pimptastic Willie Dynamite in 1974. Featuring four vocal performances by Martha Reeves & The Sweet Things, Willie Dynamite strikes the ideal blaxploitation balance of soul and funk. While the vocal tracks are fine but not particularly essential, Johnson's action-packed instrumentals are the real attraction. Cuts like "Willie Chase," "Willie Escape" and "Parade Strut" combine big band brass with dynamic percussion, wailing organ solos and unusual harmonica effects.

All three killer scores place Johnson alongside such the blaxploitation masters as Isaac Hayes, Willie Hutch and Curtis Mayfield.

No comments:

Post a Comment