Verbal Penetration, Volume I & II
Jesse Johnson (Bellavenix Music)
By J David Silva, Sr.
Jesse Johnson has arrived.
Not "arrived" in the sense that he has finally found musical success. That happened almost 20 years ago when, as an original member of the seminal funk -rock group The Time, the guitarist melded snaky funk riffs with hard driving accents to help blur the lines between so called "black" and "white" music and create one of the most electrifying sounds of the eighties and early nineties. Johnson continued along this path by forging a successful solo career after leaving The Time. Through such albums as "Jesse Johnson's Review," Shockadelica," "Every Shade of Love" and the terrific "Bare My Naked Soul", Johnson deftly continued creating an extrordinary brand of funk, rock and pop that showcased his mastery of each of these musical styles.
But on his latest release, the stunning, 2 disc, 29 track "Verbal Penetration Volume One and Two," Johnson has reached a point of creative utopia. What has come before seems to have brought him to the place he is now.The artist still blends styles and defies labels, but he appears to do so now from a point of musical nirvana. At times the results leave the listener absolutely breathless.
From the opening groove of the title track, Johnson is in musical command. Johnson is an excellent guitarist and the songs don't skimp on his talents. "Verbal Penetration" (the song) is a gem, a workout with asense of urgency that includes one of those classic guitar solos. The song builds until you know Johnson is going to explode through his instrument. "Merciful" is an instrumental track again highlighting the artist's guitar prowess. Johnson seems to be one with his instrument; you can feel the passion in his playing, almost see the funk faces he was sure to be making when recording this one. The hard driving "In the Key of Nudity" keeps the guitar heroics going. Like great lovemaking, you actually don't want it to stop.
But Penetration isn't all about Johnson's guitar superpowers; the artist also knows how to blend his instrument into his songs with the right balance. On "Get Next to You" Johnson shows he knows how to hold back. The guitar is subtle, perfectly balanced in the groove. The guitar fills on the jazz influenced "Love Letters" show Johnson's guitar complementing all the other sounds around him. They never threaten to ruin the vibe.
To be fair, however, "Verbal Penetration Volume One and Two" is about much more than Johnson's chops on the guitar. Johnson impresses most when he displays an array of musical genres. "Sheila Rae" is a gorgeous slice of soul/pop/funk."Ali vs. Frazier" is firmly rooted in jazz, an intellectual and passionate piece of musicianship that actually forces listeners to think about what they are hearing. Lyrically, Johnson is also in fine form, touching on a variety of topics, such as unity ("U & I R We R Us"), blindly believing everything we see and hear ('Propaganda"), and social conciousness ("Slave 2 R Freedom.")
The collection also takes chances and shows a striking sense of innovation. "V.P. Credits" takes the artist's thanks usually reserved for the cd's packaging and presents them verbally, over a funky groove. "Reflections" is an "interview" with Johnson, where the musician answers questions put to him, with music in the background. There are also several spoken interludes, some of which serve as bridges between songs. Risky? Yes. Does it work? Absolutely.
The 2 discs close with the instrumental "Peace Be With You (Reprise)", where Johnson seems to be wishing us well and thanking us for taking this journey with him. The song is a rewarding and satisfying close to what appears to be the work that Johnson was born to create. If indeed with "Verbal Penetration Volume One and Two" Jesse Johnson has truly arrived, you would do yourself well to go where he wants to take you. It's a fascinating trip.
J David Silva, Sr.