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The Steph Johnson Trio launched the Summer season of bi-monthly Jazz Live concerts on June 11, at the Saville Theatre and streaming on jazz88.org, another feature presentation from KSDS Jazz 88.

The soulful singer has been gigging plenty with this group throughout the year, and the experience is paying dividends as Johnson's skills continue to prosper under the deep guidance of uber-bassist Rob Thorsen and the steady dynamics of Fernando Gomez.

Even with all these gigs under their belt, there's a delirious jam-band kind of looseness going on with these three, sort of a garage-a-tois feel that translates the fun they're having onstage directly into the audience.

Opening with "Chocolate," Johnson's smoky vibrato and steamy observations on carnal desire built bluesy structures atop the salient groove-machine of Thorsen and Gomez.

On "Big Life," the autobiographical tale of the leader's transformation from corporate to bohemian life began with a loping ostinato over a symphony of clacking rimshots, as Johnson's minor chord vamp opened up to an almost "Theme from Shaft," hi-hat soliloquy.

Johnson's prowess on the guitar is evolving and her ability to integrate it as a complimentary organ with her hyper-developed voice is becoming more natural, as evidenced by a swinging turn on "Speak Low," soaring on the remarkable pulse of walking bass and whispered bushes of the rhythm section.

She took a solo feature on a radically re-tooled "What a Wonderful World," accompanying herself with simple, brushed chords for an affected, sincere exposition.

Thorsen's African-inspired vamp and Gomez' intricate Elvin Jones-ish lockstep transformed "Summertime," into an entirely different animal, and the original "Artist Supreme," found the group stretching, and rocking out to the delight of a supportive and full house.

Photo by Michael Oletta

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