Aaron Johnston stands at the helm of an ambitious live project that brings together virtuoso musicians across a broad span of genres; Aaron Johnston’s J.E.D.I. An acronym for “Jazz-Electronic-Dance-Improvised", J.E.D.I. is exactly what it suggests; a high-octane, hybrid-jazz fusion with a dance floor mentality and jazz fluidity. The group’s roster is improvised, too, in that it rotates and has included members of the String Cheese Incident and Thievery Corporation, among others. Recently, Aaron tapped the talents of Borahm Lee (Break Science, Pretty Lights Live), Dominic Lali (Big Gigantic), and Josh Fairman (SunSquabi) to take J.E.D.I. out of the live sphere and into the studio. The group is working with the upstart Color Red imprint out of Denver, a progressive new label focusing on jazz, soul, and the gooey bits in-between, to record and produce original J.E.D.I. compositions to be released on a monthly basis.
The third of these monthly tracks is “Momento”, a vibratory, seat-of-the-pants excursion into instrumental harmony. Bringing the sum of the band’s influences and styles under a single release, “Momento” sets the tone with a vivacious keyboard melody, slowly introducing the washed-out synthesis and low end. Not but a few measures in, the percussion punctures the stereo space with a drum and bass saunter that flips the atmosphere from pensive to industrial. All along the way, the saxophone takes the lead with a meandering legato, dancing above the instrumental interplay like the canopy of a forest. Bringing the energy to a ballistic climax, the percussion launches into a mad build-up, buoying the rising textures of interpolated synthesis around it. As the tension breaks, a simpatico of improvisation and instrumental dialogue sets off through the jazz multiverse. As the song reaches a break-neck conclusion, all instrumental elements are left adrift, slowly fading out through a haze of smokey tones and asymmetrical audio glitches.
J.E.D.I. found a home on Color Red through a chance meeting at Jazz Fest in New Orleans. According to Aaron:
“Eddie [Eddie Roberts, guitarist of The New Mastersounds and Color Red founder] and I had the chance to play together for the first time last year when J.E.D.I. played at Jazz Fest. I had played the fest earlier that evening with David Byrne so I was able to slip that one gig in between tour dates with David. So happy I did! Everyone just had a blast. I think it was refreshing for Eddie to be placed in a different element. We hit it off instantly and from there we continued working together when our schedules allowed, and then he basically brought up Color Red to me and the timing was right for me to start to get some music recorded and out there.”
The timing feels ripe indeed. The burgeoning sounds of modern jazz are in constant flux, and rightly so. It is an inherently amorphous genre that flows in and out of musical modality. Aaron Johnston is a quintessential audio astronaut and explorer, combining the cutting edge with an ability and desire to look back on our sonic origins. As a result, J.E.D.I. is a project with few comparisons. With Color Red connecting the group to extremely talented audio engineers (the label always prioritizes top tier mixing and mastering talent), and with Eddie producing and co-signing the vision, it’s no wonder this quartet feels like it’s been a decade in the making.