Alphonso Johnson seems to me as a bassist whose contributions to the iconic fusion band Weather Report are rather under heralded. That could be because he was sandwiched in between their original bass player Miroslav Vitous and of course Jaco Pastorious. As a session man,he joined up with Billy Cobham on and off for many years. He also had stints back up Genesis/Phil Collins on multiple occasions as well playing on former LTD lead singer Jeffrey Osborne’s 1982 solo debut. The reason I personally tend to view Johnson as a rather obscure artist is because I only found out that he even had a solo career at all just under a decade ago. And have the feeling I may not be the only one.
One of the greatest things to happen in the post millennium internet age is the advent of two things: reissue record labels and YouTube. If it weren’t for those two things, this blog would be a lot different than it is. In 1976-1977 during his years with Cobham,Alphonso Johnson recorded three solo albums on the Epic label. These featured the backing of some of the major fusion instrumentalists of the time-all touched by the music of Alphonso in some kind of way. I have two on vinyl,since the CD versions were difficult to locate upon going out of print. Only his second album Moonshadows was something I was able to locate on CD. And one song that stood out on it for me was “On The Case”.
Alphonso starts off with a shuffling bass solo that has a bluesy,up-scaling melody that is very similar in tone to the electric piano solo on Steely Dan’s ” Black Friday”. Drummer Narada Michael Walden keeps that shuffle going while Dawilli Conga adds a counter melody on electric piano. Separated by progressive fusion bursts of intense drums, Alphonso’s solos expand along with the electric piano into fuzz toned psychedelia. On the second refrain,Lee Ritenour plays a mid toned rhythm guitar solo. This grows to a heavier intensity with the solo Lee takes on the third and final refrain of the song. Conga’s electric piano leads the shuffling rhythm to the songs fade out.
This particular song always stuck out to me with how much it finds the funk in the blues and the blues when it rocks. The rhythmic base of the song is in a strong groove-with Narada staying on the one primarily through the use of hi hat. And all of the musicians understanding of the jazz/rock fusion style comes out here as well. Alphonso’s funkiness on the bass gives it all a phat center that keeps the focus consistent. I’ve started to realize that rock ‘n’ roll is often a far simpler musical form than it might like itself to be. Yet with the combination of jazz harmonies and electric funk within the fusion genre,songs like this found a great middle ground in which to rock up the funk.