Martin Johnson B3 Quartet, Poole Lighthouse

Wednesday 16th February 2011, by Timothy John

IT’S hard to imagine a man happier in his work than Martin Johnson.
Sat at his Hammond B3 keyboard, his fingers flying across two decks of keys, Johnson closes his eyes, throws back his head, and occasionally yelps with joy.
Remarkably, he also supplies the quartet’s bass, operating a pedal box of oversized keys with his left foot while damping the volume with his right.
The B3’s iconic sound resonates through the intimate Studio room at the Poole Lighthouse, its sonic signature woven into the DNA of mid-60s Blue Note artists like Jimmy Smith.
Tonight, Johnson treats us to Smith’s Midnight Special, surprisingly the only offering from the oeuvre of the man synonymous with the B3.
Two numbers from Chic Corea – Captain Marvel and 500 Miles High – raise the energy levels to scintillating highs, allowing percussionist and Acid Jazz main man, Snowboy, to inject some Latin spirit into proceedings.
A slow and wistful beginning to Miles Davis’ Freddie Freeloader from his seminal Kind of Blue album builds to a compelling grove, Johnson sent on a dizzying solo while the band holds station.
Most of the songs feature blistering solos from guitarist Jim Mullen, who plucks at the strings of a gorgeous blonde wood Aria with only the thumb of his right hand.
A moody, contemplative solo on Matt Dennis’ Angel Eyes is Mullen’s standout contribution; bluesy, and full without being overblown.
Snowboy’s double conga set-up is augmented by almost every percussive instrument known to man.
Like an impulsive chef, he snatches up cabassas, wicker pots, and what seem to be seashells on a rope, briefly holding them to the microphone before seemingly growing bored with his selection and reaching for another spice to throw into the sonic stew.
The set closes with a riotous take on Elvis Presley’s That’s Alright, Mama, punctuated by an incredible drum solo from David Giovannini.