Just for John
Just For John Saxophonist John Norment is the embodiment of taste, class and sensitivity - within both his human sphere and his musical orbit. When he transitioned to a higher place on December 13, 2005 he left for us a marvelous legacy of sonic delights. Equally proficient on tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, John was also a gifted composer - as this all originals collection testifies. His career was an exciting amalgam of performances and educational projects. In the latter role, he was always committed and sympathetic to his young students, sharing much of the artistic wisdom he had garnered over the years. He spent several years on the Carnivale Tropicale Cruise Ship and played in St. Louis, MO, at the Fox Theater, The Sheldon Concert Hall, the Black Repertory Company, the Delmar Restaurant and Bar, Riddle's Penultimate, the Moose Lounge, the Engineers Club (booked by The Crusaders for Jazz), and enumerable other venues. Voted the 2003 Riverfront Times " Best Jazz Artist," his humility always overshadowed his considerable talents. In recent years, he combined his professional playing experiences with regular appearances at Resurrection Lutheran Church. Born in St. Louis, MO, in 1942, the slightly built maestro had a sound infused with a calming warmth that reflected his spiritual consciousness, yet could elevate to a fiercely searching pitch when called upon. Drummer Jerome "Scrooge" Harris is clearly the group member who has the greatest history with John. Although the ensemble as a whole exudes a remarkable chemistry, Jerome's and John's association dates back to high school in the mid-50s. As Scrooge puts it, "John and I were always close as we were both born under the sign of Pisces, so our spiritual connection was very strong. John had a keen sense of direction in his music, and was composing tunes then." Throughout the years, he recalls they were involved in musical projects together and separately, "but we always managed to talk about the music and direction we wanted our concept to go." It wasn't until the late 90s, however, that the pair began to talk about a group - ultimately the one represented here - with John composing and playing all original music he had written. As for Jerome's percussion prowess, he has played with exceptional command - in a four decades plus career - in virtually every drum scenario imaginable. He has performed with the likes of Regina Carter, Claude "Fiddler" Williams, Oliver Lake, John Hicks, Arzinia Richardson, Mary Stallings, Lester Bowie, John Mixon, Bobby Timmons, Eddie Harris, Freddie Washington and countless others. Bassist and Holland native Willem von Hombracht, a large, imposing figure, is a gentle, thoughtful soloist and accompanist who discharges timely power surges within his solid, baggage-free finesse. An accomplished writer, composer, he has played with Andrew Hill, John Hicks, Eric Person, John Esposito, Godie Harris and Billy Higgins. His expansive repertoire extends to Russian and Eastern European folk music. Pianist Lawrence Fields, the yearling of this seasoned herd, is the first recipient of Berklee's "James Williams Award." After astounding native St. Louisans with his understated virtuosity during a brief tenure with saxophonist Willie Akins, the lithe and gracious artist has moved on to perform with Nicholas Payton, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Alvin Batiste, Rodney Green, 2005 "Thelonius Monk Guitar Competition" winner Lage Lund and Oscar Peterson. One high point of this burgeoning journey is his quartet leadership at the 2006 Monterey Jazz Festival. The title track, Just For John, begins at a strolling pace with Harris' fluid trap mastery underpinning, then urging Norment's luminous tenor excursions. Von Hombracht's insular bass and Fields' timely comping and prancing rhythmic cushions precede the youthful pianist's intial singular brilliance, as he ventures into a comfortably contained run - ushered by the multi-faceted Scrooge. Next, von Hombracht offers a succinct, soothing incursion, before the leader restates the head. The piece flows throughout, showcasing the rich textures of John's tone and ideas and foreshadowing the intoxicating mosaic that follows. Track two, Four Runner, introduces a glowing soprano - serene and pensive -- as the youthful keyboardist deftly defines the race through his uplifting assertions, and Harris sprints softly with muffled sticks and shimmering cymbals, aligned with Willem's muted foundation; then, Fields' gentle canter stretches the space, while Norment nurtures the ride with endearing melodic turns. Scrooge's stint in the spotlight is distilled fury at low decibel levels, at once joyful and laid back - champing lightly at the bit. Hesitation finds the crawl space in John's house on Track Three, with a measured, spell-binding alto exhalation over Lawrence's relaxed levitation and Jerome's massaging trap support. The pianist's maturity is manifest in a passionate allegiance to the languid pace, artfully refusing to abandon the mood or tempo, and von Hombracht's whispered assonance completes this heart felt meditation. On Track Four, It's All Good, the irrepressible reed man fattens his tenor voice and dials up the cadence. Harris gladly joins the celebration and the rest of the rhythm section obliges in a festive mood, short of inebriation. Fields' poignant licks ring playfully over Scrooge's precisioned energy and Willem's faithful acumen. After von Hombracht's abbreviated acoustics, John brings it all home. Blues On The Steps is further evidence of Norment's compositional excellence, heard on Track Five; at first, reaching into the bottom of his horn, then lyrically raising the tenor to a swinging medium tempo, fully complemented by his sure-footed accomplices. Harris teases cymballically and von Hombracht's gliding accents sustain the drama. Then Lawrence's clever commentary colors the leader's blues a radiant hue and 2 Scrooge's minimalist inserts snare the imagination, toying with John's tenor replies. Track Six, Eye Of The Beholder, recalls Sunday nights at Riddle's Penultimate, where John memorialized this theme. Fields' flawless fingers elegantly escort the powerful tenor into the fray, as Scrooge's sticks and cymbals shower the senses. Willem muscles up on the contrabass and Lawrence exuberantly opens pupils/ears, with tasteful comping and an insightful harmonic foray - never fully exploding - over Harris' ongoing rage. Norment's return is happily bolstered by the most sustained group energy brandished to this point of the disc. Von Hombracht's upright sings an arresting interlude, affirming his rightful place in the puzzle and the wily percussionist displays his superb knack for aural augmentation, accelerating, ascending and declining in perfect synergy with his cohorts - employing the full complement of his kit. John's bold head restatement again summons Jerome's skills as the two Pisces enjoin their astral logic to finish with a flourish. The final selection, Vernon's Vibe, is most likely an homage to a beloved cousin.. A resolutely lyrical tenor enters, as mood and pace reflect an initial detour from the previous track. Norment narrates with a fervor, defining his route with melodic ferocity. Scrooge and the rest of the squad are up to the task with ebullient backup: Fields customarily excels when enlisted - articulating each note with a blossomed refinement -- and Willem extends his husky support role here with a full-scaled solo essay. John's coda reverently concludes this haunting mystery. For some who would suggest that a recording comprised solely of original compositions is a might ambituous, this wonderful mélange of musical exotica - mixing tone, timbre and tenacity - affirms the triumph of such an adventurous effort. Upon first (and repeated) hearing, I was convinced that Just For John is, most certainly, also 'Just For Us.' Roscoe Crenshaw. May 2007.