- Audio CD (May 10 1994)
- Number of Discs: 1
- Format: Import
- Label: Music Masters Jazz
- ASIN: B000000FS8
- Other Editions: MP3 Download
|1. Victory Stride|
|2. Harlem Sym: Subway Journey|
|3. Harlem Sym: April In Harlem|
|4. Harlem Sym: Night Club|
|5. Harlem Sym: Baptist Mission|
|6. Con Jazz in a: Mvt. I: Allegro|
|7. Con Jazz in a: Mvt.II: Adagio|
|8. American Sym Ste: Lament|
|9. American Sym Ste: Drums - A Symphonic Poem|
|10. American Sym Ste: Charleston|
Probably the best work is "Drums: A Symphonic Poem", an effectively orchestrated and rhythmically powerful piece with a sense of accumulating tension not dissimilar in concept to Ravel's "Bolero". The two extant movements of Johnson's 1934 "Concerto Jazz-A-Mine" are given a good performance. The first movement features a number of piano tricks drawn from Johnson's jazz repertoire, whilst the second movement highlights his gift for romantic melody. The "Harlem Symphony" is a programmatic suite, each of its four movements representing a particular facet of 1930s Harlem. The first movement, "Subway Journey", is intended to show a variety of communities within New York. The second movement, "April in Harlem", is another romantic theme. The third movement, "Night Club", is a jazzy piece, whilst the fourth movement "Baptist Mission", is a set of increasingly impassioned variations on a gospel theme. Johnson's orchestration is not particularly assured here, and at times the effect is reminiscent of a theatre pit band.
The weakest pieces are "Victory Stride" and "Charleston", both fillers transcribed from jazz recordings made by Johnson in the 1940s. Go and listen to the originals!
Johnson may not have had Gershwin's success as a "serious" composer (although he was his superior as a pianist), but these pieces are still well worth hearing. Marin Alsop and the Concordia Orchestra have championed these works, and along with pianist Leslie Stifelman, they offer a convincing case for reconsidering James P. Johnson as not simply a great popular musician, but also as an unappreciated talent in America's mid 20th century classical music scene.
(Incidentally, anyone who enjoyed this disc should hear Johnson playing 20 of his pieces, including "Yamecraw - A Negro Rapsody", the 2nd movement of the piano concerto and an abbreviated piano transcription of "Drums", on Smithsonian / Folkways CD 40812, "The Original James P. Johnson 1942 - 1945").