Rich Johnson

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Primary Instrument: Trumpet

One of the bold new experimentalists in New York City, northern Minnesota born trumpeter Rich Johnson explores a mix of trumpet, acoustic guitar and piano with laptop glitch, sampling, and musique concrète. Blending his many influences-including Bob Dylan, Don Cherry, Low, Kenneth Gaburo, Jimmy Giufffre, Fugazi-in creating Up the Turret Mil, his first solo release.

The fourth release on Eivind Opsvik’s Loyal Label, Up the Turret Mil is a collection of eleven generously diverse tracks. Many of the songs began as experiments with laptop and electronic-acoustic treatments on the trumpet...
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Where exactly does Rich Johnson fits is anyone’s guess. On his debut album, published on Eivind Opsvik’s Loyal Label, he flirts as much with experimental electronica as he does with avant-garde jazz. A trumpeter by trade, Johnson also works with acoustic guitars and pianos which he blends in with electronics and samples. With influences stretching from Bob Dylan to Low and Fugazi, the scope of his work could only be wide.

Sole operator on board, Johnson is found here occupying a ground stretching from the more experimental side of Rune Grammofon (think Supersilent or Humcrush) to more angular electronic forms, sometimes close to musique concrète. The music presented here is strangely fascinating and hypnotic, full of dense and sound formations which, while never really materialising into fully fledge melodies or grooves, hint at much more cinematic and haunting landscapes. It is as if Johnson was purposely bringing his compositions to repeated points of climax, but was then holding off just before.

Not unlike Arve Henriksen, Johnson extract some pretty unusual sounds from his trumpet, but the process is somewhat different. While the former uses his instrument in its prime form, the latter uses electronic treatments to create layers of various density, as demonstrated on the wonderfully vast and luminescent I Trap Totem Pulp or the more mechanical grounding sub-bass of After Tectonic Melt Purr. Elsewhere, the trumpet becomes primal and sanguine, especially on Ignite A Noise or The Loves Of Zero. At times, the music is extremely stripped down and minimal, evoking the shimmering assemblages of Icarus (Star Rover, Harvester), while the title track is ceased with rampant convulsions as it twists and turns with desperation.

Rich Johnson’s debut album is a vastly eclectic and thrilling collection which never quite settles for one genre or another, yet manages to remain fluid and consistent all the way through. Johnson has created with Up The Turret Mil a pretty impressive and unique record and positioned himself alongside some of the most exciting contemporary jazz musicians around in the process.


The Milk Factory

Rich Johnson's first solo release delicately meshes acoustic instruments (acoustic guitar, piano and trumpet) with technology (laptop computer and sampling) to create a fascinating collage of sound. Like seminal artists, the New York based musician is adept in both traditional and nontraditional idioms as witnessed on saxophonist Jason Rigby's Translucent Space (Fresh Sound, 2006) and on the music duo Opsvik and Jennings' Commuter Anthems (Rune Grammofon, 2007).

Though Up the Turret Mil follows the evolving electronica ideas, there is nothing experimental about these well thought-out compositions. Yes, there are computerized backdrops and processed rhythms, but Johnson's triumphs in giving the machine a soul by presenting music that has feeling as well technological advances. The surrealistic qualities of the opening ”Squinting Skyward” contain static trumpet-speak: mouthpiece whispers and elongated tones, all within a theme that moves like the opening of a door into another realm.

Johnson is like an aural alchemist, providing a careful stroke here, a tonal touch there, the inclusion of real and processed colors- changing mood or tempo as in the jerky sequences that bounce on “Ignite a Noise,” while juxtaposing with a muted-processed horn. One of the most moving compositions is “Harvester,” a simply gorgeous ballad with acoustic guitar, piano, and an array of noise.

Trying to recognize the intriguing host of sounds that Johnson manipulates can be fun while listening to the recording-toy-like, metallic, glass, bells, distortion, patched and synthesized, keyboards, or was that a sampled typewriter? All of these are used in a minimalist fashion, fading in and out, non-obtrusive and varied from track-to-track.

The overall tone of the recording is mysterious, similarly traveling into unknown yet mesmerizing locations: the sound of a new India in ”The Loves of Zero,” with its exotic percussion-like cadence; space travel to an alien planet in “I Trap Totem Pulp”; or one of the strangest hip-hop jazz clubs (most likely not on Earth) in “After a Tectonic Melt Purr,” where Johnson delivers some nifty drum-sequencing.

The title track totally rocks out with thrashing guitar synth sound yet without a raging backbeat (subliminal perhaps?), which brings up a debatable point: can a musician create art with just a laptop and few instruments? The answer is, as Rich Johnson proves on Up the Turret Mil: most definitely.

By Mark F. Turner
Rich Johnson at All About Jazz.
Visit Rich Johnsonon the web.

Read more reviews of Up the Turret Mil. 


One more gent that deserves some spouting off before the year’s end, as ‘some’ Norwegian label has seen fit to release his solo debut. Our dude hails from New York but has priorly gotten down with Nordics on a Rune Grammofon outing last year. As eccentric as Opsvik & Jennings might be, it’s no surprise now it was Rich also shaking that tree. Quite a nice axis of jazz/folk/laptop lunatics right there. I gather Rich is just another living by the saying “It never happened”, and as much as I can appreciate that kind of postmodern philosophy, I’m glad it did, whether he is in denial or not. Turret Mil… cute, quirky & gentil, say what you will.

Starting quietly, the album smolders over two tracks until igniting suddenly on the appropriately entitled ‘Ignite a Noise’, jazz trumpet and skittish electronic rhythms colliding in stuttering happiness. Although the music is strange and experimental, it never becomes harsh or discordant, maintaining an inner harmony and a fragile surrealism, vibrant yet controlled. Definitely a grower, Up the Turret Mil is an album that can surprise every time it is heard, the lightness of touch just one of its many wonders…"


Its not cool to say so, but sometimes I just fail to understand things. For instance the release by Rich Johnson, which I spun twice in a row and then still didn’t understand it. Johnson is a trumpet player, who also touches the acoustic guitar, piano, laptop and mixes it with glitch, sampling, musique concrete. His inspiration comes from Bob Dylan, Don Cherry, Low, Kenneth Galburo, Fugazi and Jimmy Giuffre. What gives me a hard time, is what to think of this? The eleven pieces are a mixed bag of goodies. There are gentle glitches, there are heavy guitars and computer distortions (in the title piece), there are traces of improvisation. That’s all clear. What I don’t seem to get right is this: do I like this? Is it good? Or is the variety of the material in its way? I don’t know. With some of these pieces, like the title piece, I think its all too plain and simple, but then its not bad either. Then I play it again, listen more closely and think: yeah, no, this is great.

Nicely atmospheric, put together in a nice way, good moves, nice pieces. I read in the press text that ‘this is a grower’ and I think, you’re damn right, this album is a grower. An odd bunch of pieces, more like a compilation, but then one in which all the pieces seem to fit in neatly. A grower indeed. (FdW)


"'Up The Turret Mill', I suppose, could be likened to Terry Riley meets Stockhausen; take the more melodic, trance-like Riley and shake in some of Karlheinz's angular and spiky outpourings and you'll start to get a little closer to where Rich Johnson is going... His music has a feeling of intelligence from an intuitive perspective - it's as if the inner, slightly more introspective musician is vying with the outer, extroverted techno-wizard... 'Up The Turret Mil' by Rich Johnson is experimentation with heart and soul - there is a point to this work and there is an end product - if you can get your head aligned with Rich Johnson's oscillating musical world you might just find that heart and soul for yourself and be able to drink in its unique and quite intoxicating elixir - you might just find the gold in the potion..."



A nice blog about "Up the Turret Mil"


"Rich Johnson's atmospheric and rewarding debut album focuses on textures more than beats. It smoothly cuts and pastes laptop glitch with samples of trumpets, guitars and piano. The effect is to produce the type of lush experimental ambience that graces established labels like Leaf and Rune Grammofon. It comes as no surprise to learn that Johnson has already contributed to recordings on the latter.

The minimalist tone makes it an album that creates a gentle mood and one which glides calmly rather than imposing on the listener. The sharp trumpet blast at the start of the appropriately titled 'Ignite A Noise' makes for a jolting constrast to the mellow feel established in the opening two tracks. Such moments are rare, however, as Johnson favours the understatement of hypnotic tracks like Trap Totem Pulp and 'Following The Transparency Monodies'.

If the spirit is willing, the album's understated organic pulse is one that has the capacity to be both absorbing and transporting."  

Whisperin' and Hollerin' - Martin Raybould


Blending traditional instruments, trumpet, guitar, piano, with laptop and sampling, Rich Johnson has a wide palette from which to craft his music, the pieces ranging in influence from slow jazz, to folk, to experimental and Musique concrete.

Starting quietly, the album smoulders over two tracks until igniting suddenly on the appropriately entitled “Ignite a Noise”, jazz trumpet and skittish electronic rhythms colliding in stuttering happiness. Although the music is strange and experimental, it never becomes harsh or discordant, maintaining an inner harmony and a fragile surrealism, vibrant yet controlled.

Definitely a grower “Up the Turret Mil” is an album that can surprise every time it is heard, the lightness of touch just one of its many wonders.



RUM - Rádio Universitária do Minho

Online broadcast of "Up the Turret Mil" on 97.5 RUM - Rádio Universitária do Minho in Portugal.

97.5 RUM


From trumpet, samples, piano, acoustic guitar and laptop, Rich Johnson has produced his first solo recording. Liberal helpings of introspective ambient space are encroached with free and cool jazz, folk, musique concrete and occasional low-key glitchy techno. The calm, serene and organic nature, of the majority of the CD, is augmented, not overshadowed by the avant-garde free-jazz intrusions (“Ignite a Noise” reminiscent of Basil Kirchin’s Quantum-era call and response brass birdcalls). It’s title track serves as a late attempt to shake up the proceedings but following it’s brief excursion into tech noise it lulls to it’s minimal and familiar pace.

Leicesterbangs - Will F.


“...trumpeter Rich Johnson plays muted, dancing with Rigby’s tenor with an ebullient elan...”


“The free jazz implications of “114” (with guest trumpeter Rich Johnson) bring to mind the ideas of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry.”


If something exists in the netherworld, it is said to be “living in hereafter,” or the ”afterworld.” This ethereal theme, with it's delicate, vaporous connotations is the subject matter of trumpeter Rich Johnson's “Up The Turret Mil”.

While not a native of the Netherlands in either possible connotation, this New York artist produces sounds from somewhere beyond music, a region located between sound and feeling. His early training was in classical trumpet, before studying jazz at the Manhattan School of Music. He is a member of We Can Build You, with Jason Rigby and Jonathan Goldberger, and Voice of the Turtle: a laptop duo with Scott Anderson.

This disc was conceived, recorded, and mixed by Johnson in 2007, with him playing all parts on trumpet, laptop and guitar. This might suggest that “Up The Turret Mil” could be a reworked (or overworked) affair--it's not. The stark minimalism (or restraint) is that of simple sonorities and patterns. His trumpet manipulations are reminiscent of Jon Hassell, Rob Mazurek and Ben Neill.

Although a trumpeter by title, Johnson doesn't present a top-heavy brass record; his spartan delivery is the trick here, neither flooding the music with natural or manipulated sound. Choosing his words (notes) carefully, he divines this otherworld of buoyancy-he is just as apt to rely on guitar, or computer flutter as the center of a track. The netherworld Rich Johnson occupies makes ambient music interesting and improvisation unnaturally coherent.

All About Jazz
By Mark Corroto

Style: Fringes of Jazz

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CD/LP/Track Review

Up the Turret Mil by Nic Jones

Up The Turret Mil by Lyn Horton

Up the Turret Mil by Mark F. Turner

Up The Turret Mil by Mark Corroto

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