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Molly Johnson Offers Winnipeggers an Eclectic Mix of Music

Paul Ryan By

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Molly Johnson
2006 Jazz Winnipeg Festival
McPhillips Street Station
June 25, 2006

Looking very elegant in a shimmering knee-length skirt, matching high heels, and white tank top, vocalist Molly Johnson delighted a sold-out crowd on the final day of the 2006 Jazz Winnipeg Festival.

Johnson may not be a familiar name to American jazz fans, but she is well-known in her native country and is quite popular in France.

She began with "But Not For Me , a tune she recorded for her latest album with trumpet and flugelhorn legend, Guido Basso. A latin-tinged ending included some "commentary from saxophonist Colleen Allen.

The vocalist then showed her Billie Holiday side with a rendition of "If You Know Love .

Throughout the evening Johnson engaged in good-natured banter with the crowd. When introducing one tune ("Let's Waste Some Time ) she said, in self-deprecatory fashion, "I got to do this lyric thing and I'm a bit of an air head. I need teleprompters.

The aforementioned song had a bossanova flavor to it, while the tenor solo was reminiscent of Stan Getz and his very sublime sense of phrasing.

Drummer Mark McLean arranged Prince's "Tangerine , which included a strong soprano solo by Allen. McLean's crisp playing reminded one of the fire and soul of the late Billy Higgins. The reedist, meanwhile, displayed solid intonation on a notoriously difficult instrument to play. Allen and pianist Andrew Craig also contributed backup vocals.

"Diamond in My Hand , was described by Johnson as "my country tune , and featured some vocal interplay with Craig.

The sextet's performance was tight, especially in the ensemble playing; the affinity and sympathy they had for each other was most evident.

Following a standing ovation, Johnson returned for an encore ("Summertime ) with only bass and drums in support. Bassist Mike Downes, who is from Winnipeg, was given an opportunity to display his considerable chops.

The rest of the group returned and the evening closed with a blues that the pianist composed while "riding in the van in France , according to Johnson. Everyone had a chance to "blow , including guitarist Rob Piltch and Allen again, this time on clarinet, whose solo evoked some spontaneous applause from the packed house.


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