What does it take to move music from the strictly aural to revealing the more tactile elements like texture and consistency? Vocal artist, composer and arranger Aubrey Johnson
, with her scoring hat on, demonstrates that intelligent instrument choice and subtle arrangement of notes in time coupled with sensitive sound engineering can produce music with a palpable touch and feel. On her debut recording Unraveled
, Johnson curates a delicate collection of original and originally-arranged standards with an authentic organic finish and sound.
Johnson is the product of much conservatory education. From Western Michigan University, where the singer completed her undergraduate studies while appearing on pianist Ron Di Salvio
's Essence of Green
(Origin, 2007) and Songs For Jazz Legends
(BluJazz, 2015). From WMU, Johnson went to study at the New England Conservatory, where she worked with Danilo Pérez
, Jerry Bergonzi
, Dominique Eade
, Allan Chase
, George Garzone
and Frank Carlberg
. That is a pedigree for which to be envious.
Johnson's wordless singing (not scat and not vocalese, but the voice as a true instrument) proved attractive to a variety of performers and composers, including: Janis Siegel
(Manhattan Transfer), Fred Hersch
's Pocket Orchestra, Sara Serpa
's City Fragments, John Zorn
's Mycale Vocal Quartet, Joe Phillips
' Numinous Ensemble, Andrew Rathbun
's Large Ensemble, Rose and the Nightingale, Travis Sullivan
's Bjorkestra, Jason Yeager
, and Randy Ingram
. No wonder Unraveled
is Johnson's debut; she has been busy perfecting and extending her craft.
The magic of Unraveled
begins with the inspired combination of Tomoko Omura's violin and Michael Sachs' bass clarinet coupled with her rhythm section of pianist Chris Ziemba, bassist Matt Aronoff, and drummer Jeremy Noller. This makes for an original and inventive sextet out to shake things up. It is all about the sound. Johnson sets up the violin and bass clarinet to perform in unison and then off of one another, as in her originals "No More 'I Love Yous'" and "Love Again." Effective is Omura's pizzicato playing against the woody grain of Sachs' bass clarinet. This relationship is shown in a myriad of colors and flavors throughout the recording. The combination proves almost rurally rough and fragrant. It is warm and comforting without being overtly soft and blurred, like being home for the holidays.
Three carefully considered standards are presented. On Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Dindi," accordionist Vitor Gonçalves adds just the right color to the piece without drowning it in nostalgia or romance. The effect is inspiring. Johnson's wordless singing is impressive. Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks" features playful accompaniment from Ziemba and Sachs, giving way to Aronoff's expert beat. It is a sound garden spacious enough to walk barefooted through, feeling the sun on your face. The greatest thrill is Johnson's vocal art on Egberto Gismonti's "Karate," where the singer becomes the song with her commanding control and confident tone. The result of this debut is music reimagined in order to be heard new and fresh and felt as temproally as a kiss.
No More 'I Love You's; Love Again; Unraveled; Happy To Stay; Lie In Wait; Voice Is Magic; The Peacocks; Dindi; These Days;