Soul-jazz vocalist Steph Johnson threw a party for her Music Is Art record-release event on October 21 at Bread & Salt, drawing a standing-room-only crowd of dedicated supporters primed to cheer on her long-time trio of bassist Rob Thorsen and drummer Fernando Gomez. As on the album, that ensemble was expanded to include Kamau Kenyatta on sax and keys, Gregory Moore (of Earth, Wind & Fire) on lead guitar, Curtis Taylor on trumpet, and Tonga Ross-Ma’u on piano.
"Rich Like This"
...off of Steph Johnson's Music Is Art
The band led off the evening with a winding vamp to set up “Be Light,” where Johnson’s smoky alto filled the room, allowing space for Taylor’s Freddie Hubbard-ish velocity. Moore dominated “Feel Better,” with a screaming guitar etude that blended well with the singer’s fluid pipes. “Music is Art,” bounced around the room with Taylor’s fat, round tone and Moore’s ecstatic string bending, while “You and I,” a “lights-out” ballad, toggled effectively between Johnson’s muscular grit and Kenyatta’s serpentine calligraphy.
Thorsen is often the essential backbone to the Johnson aesthetic, and his solo on “Artist Supreme” earned waves of applause, even though it wasn’t well-served by the large room and muddy sound system.
Much of Johnson’s new record has a slinky, funk-inspired mission; more Marvin Gaye than Betty Carter, and it is an environment that suits her well — never more so than the slow-grind sway of “Rich Like This,” which had the audience dancing in the aisles — something one rarely sees in an art gallery.
Concert: Steph Johnson Band
Date: October 21
Venue: Bread & Salt
Seats: General admission