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Henry Johnson: An Evening at Sea

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This An Evening at Sea wasn't planned, but came about at as a result of what turned out to be a fortuitous emergency. Henry Johnson was with Joe Williams on one of those floating jazz festival cruises (this one on the Queen Elizabeth) that Chiaroscuro likes to record. The quartet that was scheduled to play one evening had a problem and couldn't make it and Johnson was asked to form a band to take their place. The result is this album with Johnson leading a very fine quartet of players.

The Chicago-born guitarist has been around for a while. He performed with R& B artist Isaac Hayes as far back as 1963. Since then he has played extensively in the Windy City with his groups, with Sonny Stitt and Stanley Turrentine. He has worked for extended periods with Ramsey Lewis and was with Joe Williams off and on since 1985. Having flirted with George Benson like pop oriented smooth jazz, Johnson has returned to his straight ahead, R B tinged jazz roots. His guitar is now much more in the mold of Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell, for which we should be grateful. The result is an exciting album of standards, classic and jazz, all played with imaginative extemporizing. One of the set's highlights is a dazzling Kenny Drew, Jr. piano improvisation on There is No Greater Love. It's a credit to his artistry and concentration that he manages to find his way back to the melody line without stumbling. This track also confirms the Wes Montgomery influence on Johnson as he takes the last few choruses to a close a 12 minute exploration of this Isham Jones/Marty Symes chestnut. Johnson shows humor on "Oleo" as he refers to "When You Wish upon a Star". He also interpolates measures of "Swingin' on a Star" during "Wave", where he gives an especially fervent rendition of one of Jobim's most enduring pieces. Vanessa Rubin comes in for a bright, up tempo rendition of "I've Got the World on a String". Bassist Larry Gray and veteran drummer Paul Humphrey are faultless in their time keeping and their occasional solos.

Chiaroscuro's recording techniques fully capture the relaxed informality of a live session before an appreciative audience, judging by the applause. This is a good set and is recommended.


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