Johnson Trio returns to 98 Bottles
Steph Johnson continues her musical journey with the expert support of bassist Rob Thorsen and drummer Fernando Gomez.
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.
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.
More like this:
- Steph Johnson Trio: Jazz Live — June 12, 2013
- Steph Johnson Trio: Jazz Live June 11 — June 5, 2013
- Steph Johnson: Nature Girl release party, March 16, @ Sunset Temple — March 13, 2013
- Steph Johnson Trio + Dave Millard Rock 98 Bottles — July 29, 2012
- Steph Johnson Trio Live at 98 Bottles — April 7, 2012