PHILLIP JOHNSTON -THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED – ASYNCHRONOUS

Johnston has long been pursuing his own brand of avant garde jazz, but this is the first time I have come across him outside of his band The Microscopic Septet (whose 2017 Cuneiform album ‘Been Up So Long’ is simply superb). A few years ago I was fortunate enough to attend a special showing of ‘Suspiria’ where Goblin performed the soundtrack live in front of the audience, and this album is a similar construct, in that it contains the music Johnston composed as a soundtrack for ‘The Adventures of Prince Achmed’, a 1926 silent silhouette animation that is a landmark in cinema history – the world’s first feature-length animated film. To breathe Reiniger’s silhouettes to life, Johnston composed a continuous score of 65 minutes of music to be performed live with the film by a quartet of soprano sax, trombone, and two keyboards, against a pre-recorded track of samples, loops and live drums. For this recording, the music is performed by Johnston (soprano saxophone) with Australian musicians James Greening (trombone), Alister Spence (organ, keyboards), Casey Golden (organ, keyboards), and Nic Cecire (drums), and broken by the composer into twelve individual tracks. 

This is a complex album, one that needs close attention paid to it as the musicians embrace themes which may or may not be repeated, going off in tangents to the original, with trombone often playing a heavy bass part to contrast against the sax. The keyboards and drums are often in the background, with the brass taking centre stage. It is an album the definitely requires repeated listening, as the first time I felt there were certain passages and sections which were passing me by, all of which made far more sense the more time I allowed myself with the album. Well worth investigating, I just hope that Johnston will feel fit at some point to pop over the ditch from Australia and have some performances of this with the film here in New Zealand, as it would be well worth attending.  8/10

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