Norman Johnson paints aurally on “The Art of Life”

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It is rare that an album of any kind shows up and exudes goodwill from just the liner notes. That is exactly what happens when a listener tries to find out about guitarist Norman Johnson. In addition to information about songs and the usual information found on CD packaging, Johnson tentatively hopes that his music can makes listeners smile. In a chaotic, contemporary world, that is sometimes a tall order for a recording. Yet, the work on “The Art of Life” manages to do just that.

“The Art of Life” by Norman Johnson is forthcoming Jan. 18, 2019.

About Norman Johnson

A self-described late starter, Johnson began playing guitar as a freshman in high school after hearing George Benson’s “The Other Side of Abbey Road” album. If his start was indeed late, it was more than compensated for as Johnson continued to work on his skills.

After high school, Johnson studied at both the Hartford Conservatory of Music and the Hartt School of Music and in quick succession of years, grew as an artist and became a busy guitarist.

Johnson’s style is derived from not only Benson, but also Earl Klugh. In addition, the Kingston, Jamaica native also “loves” the sound of classical guitar. At this point in his career, Johnson has appeared on more than 30 recordings as a sideman with such notable performers as Bill Mays, Harvie Swartz, Steve Gadd, Dave Brubeck and Jerry Bergonzi.

Johnson’s first two CD’s were considered successes. They were “If Time Stood Still” (debut), and “Get It While You Can.”

On “The Art of Life,” Johnson crosses over between smooth jazz, contemporary jazz and simply beautiful, melodic music. It is widely believed that “The Art of Life” is Johnson’s best work to-date.

“Slide” by Norman Johnson

The song has a lot of the r&b, pop and smooth jazz elements that are reminiscent of Benson. But Johnson doesn’t just play guitar on this heavily nuanced and deeply rhythmic track. He plays everything except alto saxophone, which is played by Chris Herbert. The saxophone plays an almost frenzied line around the rest of the instrumentation. A line of guitar and bass wraps itself around the main portion of the soundscape. Suddenly, that idea of painting a picture with sound comes to life, and listeners can see what Johnson was talking about. A similar feeling happens on the song “Old Skool,” too.

In a somewhat unassuming way, Johnson has reinvented smooth jazz. His eclectic influences add inflections to the music that make it unique. “The Art of Life” will be an album many jazz fans will find worth waiting for.

 

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