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Steph Johnson photo by TOM HARTEN

The Steph Johnson Trio returned to 98 Bottles last night, filing a new progress report on the singer/guitarist's incremental ascension into the jazz world--and earning high grades in the process.

The trio is an actual, organic unit--this isn't just some singer fronting a back-up band. Johnson's countless hours in "the-woodshed" are paying big dividends--particularly in her guitar work--and in her repertoire, with new originals and expanding assimilation of the Great American Songbook.

Her voice continues to impress: she can do the vocal-acrobatic thing--but she pares down the ornamentation to a naked essence--and it's impossible to hear her without thinking words like soulful, smoky and bluesy.

Rob Thorsen is the perfect bass player for this band--he's a total groove-master, and his dark, woody tone and supple lines light the path for Johnson to do her thing. Fernando Gomez is rock solid, and very tasteful.

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Fernando Gomez & Rob Thorsen by TOM HARTEN

Opening with a very loose adaptation of Nat Adderley's "Work Song," Gomez' catalog of rim-shots and Johnson's ever-more-natural comping set the stage for Thorsen to connect with his inner "blues-connotation" in a nimble solo.

"Speak Low," a new one for Johnson filtered her smoky vibrato around Thorsen's virtual "time-machine" walking bass lines. Johnson can swing, one of those required attributes that I'm not sure can be taught--Thorsen has long admired her rhythmic ability--no doubt one of the connections that make this unit sound full--even with just three players.

Johnson's ebullient, autobiographical, "Big Life," was next, and when she stepped back from the microphone three feet or so--her voice still filled the room like a Mack truck. Johnson even snuck a short, rhythmically charged guitar solo in for good measure.

"Compromised," another Johnson original, is a personal favorite of mine--ostensibly written for "a friend," the singer admitted she might qualify as the protagonist as well. The piece is a tale of online-dating, a propensity for choosing "Mr. Wrong" and the big, James Brown chord in the middle.

I like how Johnson keeps working at perfecting her craft. She's aware that this is a journey and she greets each day "loaded-for-bear" and ready to hit it.

Comments
1

What a great review of "The Girl". I raised that child and she still sweeps me off my feet.

Nov. 5, 2012

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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