New York bassist Max Johnson is back with a new trio for his third release of this year. Big Eyed Rabbit features Johnson, as well as Ross Martin on electric guitar and Jeff Davis on drums. Despite Johnson and Davis being more known for left-of-center New York jazz, their teamup here with Martin is actually a bluegrass recording. And listening to this release will help drive home the difference between “bluegrass” and “country” – the latter closer to pop and the former more soulful.
Martin’s guitar sets the mood for this release, as he picks through covers and originals. At times the melodies are catchy, though the atmosphere is that of haunted Appalachia. For instance, Cluck Old Hen and Poughkeepsie Ridge are both tuneful and foreboding in their own ways. Without Martin’s playing being what it is here, I don’t think the loose label of bluegrass would apply at all.
As for the other tracks, Brown County Breakdown is almost a dance tune, though with a rhythm too disjoint for that activity. One of My Happiness is mostly upbeat, though with a sadistically complex bass line. Fisherman’s Footlocker follows in suit, while My Last Days on Earth is slow, noisy, and free.
Genre-bending can be hit or miss. Big Eyed Rabbit is not exactly jazz…not exactly country…not hillbilly music. Instead, it is bluegrass informed by modern free improv and stellar musicianship. Martin, Johnson, and Davis hit this bent genre out of the park. A remarkable effort that goes places not expected.