Randy Johnston: Live at the Smithsonian Jazz Caf

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Randy Johnston
Randy Johnston: Live at the Smithsonian Jazz Café
Mel Bay

Archtop guitarists don't come more highly qualified than Randy Johnston. This live trio date finds him in excellent form, backed by bassist Tom Pietrycha and drummer Tony Leone. After an opening groove-jazz version of Hendrix' "Up From the Skies , Johnston wends his way through four originals and tackles classics such as "Impressions , "Secret Love , "Billie's Bounce and "Body and Soul . His tone is rich, his phrasing steeped in the blues, his chops impeccable - although Johnston travels well beyond safe licks, stretching adventurously on these 12 numbers. His laid-back, gritty sense of swing is especially clear on "If Ever I Would Leave You . His harmonic sophistication comes through on an unaccompanied reading of "Here's That Rainy Day . Of the originals, the boogaloo-based "Fringe Benefits and the lively minor-key swinger "The Nite Bird showcase him at his burning best.

The visual component, however, doesn't do Johnston justice. If the Smithsonian Jazz Café resembles an airport lounge, surely better camera work could mask this effectively. As it is, we see people nonchalantly walking into and then out of the frame, on their way to the restroom or who knows where. One camera angle unintentionally captures the soundman nodding along to the music, fiddling with his headphones and even engaging in side conversation. Aside from some off-camera applause, we get very little sense of the audience. Yes, jazz is often best when presented in the raw. But this filming is sloppy to the point of distraction.

Tracks: Up From The Skies; Green Curry; David's Theme; Fringe Benefits; Here's That Rainy Day; Impressions; Seems Like Times Are Changin'; Secret Love; The Nite Bird; If Ever I Would Leave You; Billie's Bounce; Body And Soul.

Personnel: Randy Johnston: guitar; Tom Pietrycha: bass; Tony Leone: drums.

Production Notes: 110 Minutes. Recorded live on March 18th, 2005 at the Smithsonian Jazz Cafe.

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