Aubrey Johnson: Unraveled

C. Michael Bailey By

Sign in to view read count
Aubrey Johnson: Unraveled
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.

Track Listing

No More 'I Love You's; Love Again; Unraveled; Happy To Stay; Lie In Wait; Voice Is Magic; The Peacocks; Dindi; These Days; Karate.


Aubrey Johnson: voice / vocals; Chris Ziemba: keyboards; Matt Aronoff: bass; Jeremy Noller: drums; Michael Sachs: clarinet, bass; Tomoko Omura: violin; Vitor Gonçalves: accordion.

Album information

Title: Unraveled | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Outside in Music

Post a comment about this album



Shop Amazon



All About Jazz needs your support

All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded albums and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, limited reopenings and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary step that will help musicians and venues now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the sticky footer ad). Thank you!

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.