I have a penchant for sparse jazz. Two or three musicians, that’s all…a couple acoustic instruments…and a minimum of direction and lots of improv. Ahh…music nirvana. Something about the obvious yet complex interaction that is laid bare for the listener appeals to me. All you need is some bass, a little guitar, maybe some violin…take or leave the percussion. I was a shoe-in for loving this album, even before I heard it. I knew what I was in for: outstanding jazz.
There are only two instruments present on If Trees Could Fly: bass and electric cello. This is all: Mr. Johnson on the bass, Mr. Longsworth on the electric cello. The beauty of the music upon this album is the interaction between these two unadorned sounds. The bass typically paints a rolling background, when not off on a rhythmic tangent, and Mr. Johnson is always on top of his craft. So is Mr. Longsworth. The cello is sometimes staccato, sometimes swelling, always precise. The music, of course, is more than the unadorned voices of two men and their instruments. The instrumental record finds a third voice in the mixture and interaction of both the bass and the cello.
The bass slaps and saw-like cello on “A Blues” are fast and furious, the kind of fun, bouncy jazz that moves me. The next track, “Ton sur ton,” takes a slow turn and lolls along slowly, a sudden change after the fantastic scenery of “A Blues.” Many sounds on “Ton sur ton” are almost reminiscent of the guitar, strung tight and picked hard.
“Her Majesty (the Turtle)” is by far the most memorable of the 11 tracks. Stepping along, the bass walks the rhythm forward, but it’s the cello that steers the instrumental. The main melody is almost fleeting, the cello falling off in descending cascades. When the track takes a turn, it’s a melodious symphony of bass and cello rising and falling, sometimes breaking the unison, but always in synch. “Her Majesty (the Turtle)” still gives me chills when I listen to it.
This album is aptly named—if trees could fly, it would hardly match the musical accomplishment of these two musicians.