The Nice Guy Trio to release “Sidewalks and Alleys/Waking Music” on Sept. 20, 2011

With a name like The Nice Guy Trio, it should come as no surprise that trumpeter Darren Johnston’s singular ensemble knows how to make the most out of new musical friendships. Since Johnston joined forces with accordion ace Rob Reich and well-traveled bassist Daniel Fabricant four years ago, the Nice Guys have engaged in a series of stylistically unfettered musical adventures with a daunting array of artists, from Ethiopian-born singer/songwriter Meklit Hadero and clarinet explorer Ben Goldberg to tabla expert Sameer Gupta, pedal-steel guitar maestro David Phillips and versatile violinist Dina Maccabee.
Photo credit: Peter Varshavsky
Sidewalks and Alleys/Waking Music, the group’s second release for San Francisco’s Porto Franco label, documents another captivating excursion, this time in the company of an all-star string quartet. Commissioned by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the project features two very different five-piece suites. Reich’s picaresque metropolitan gadabout “Sidewalks and Alleys” is a wondrously evocative work that celebrates the transformative experience of exploring a city on foot. Inquisitive, fretful and frankly sensuous, it’s a soundtrack for an urban romance between a pedestrian and the naked city.

“This project is a continuation of what we’ve been working on, collaborating with artists from musically different worlds, which feels organic to us because the three of us come from completely different places to begin with,” says Johnston in a recent news release. “We have this hunger to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations. Working with strings is like venturing into a different culture where we have to compromise and ideally arrive at something we wouldn’t have otherwise. Hopefully, no matter where the music goes it always sounds like us.”
The project was originally conceived as a collaboration with the Grammy Award-winning Turtle Island Quartet, but when scheduling became too daunting, the Nice Guys decided to proceed with Turtle Island’s founding cellist Mark Summer and powerhouse Danish-born violinist Mads Tolling, who joined TIQ in 2008 and has toured and recorded with Stanley Clarke. They rounded out the quartet with violist Dina Maccabee, a longtime Nice Guy collaborator, and violinist Anthony Blea, a player equally versed in Latin jazz, European classical music and pop.
 A major force on the Bay Area creative music scene for the past decade, Johnston has collaborated with heavyweight improvisers such as guitarist Fred Frith, ROVA Saxophone Quartet and bassist/composer Marcus Shelby. Along with the Nice Guy project, he’s also releasing a bracing free jazz session on Porto Franco with a quintet of Windy City masters “Gone to Chicago.”


%d bloggers like this: