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May 2001

Henry Johnson Quartet
An Evening At Sea
Chiaroscuro Records

Not knowing what other musical presentations were being offered on the QE II's Nov. 1999 transatlantic voyage, it nevertheless may be assumed that catching a set by guitarist Johnson's quartet would have constituted, at best, a relaxing interlude between other, more exciting, moments being played out elsewhere on board. Indeed, apart from the rousing opener, "There Is No Greater Love," and "Gone With the Wind," so glib are some of the tracks on An Evening at Sea's reconstructed set that one might be forgiven for regarding them as little more than a mildly pleasing intermission.

Johnson is a lyrically bent, digitally dexterous guitarist who offsets his cleanly executed single-note, bop-tinged lines with octave unison passages reminiscent more of Wes Montgomery than that technique's inventor, Django Reinhardt. Pacing him and sharing each of the eight tracks' solo space are pianist Kenny Drew Jr., whose facile arabesques frequently get in the way of thoughtful melodic statement; Larry Gray, whose amplified bass tones are sometimes boosted to the point of aural discomfort; and the dependable drummer Paul Humphrey. Pop-jazz vocalist Vanessa Rubin guests creditably on "I've Got the World On a String," while Johnson's closing numbers, "My Shining Hour" and "Oleo," impress the listener more favorably than such earlier heard, boring lounge warhorses as Jobim's "Corcovado" and "Wave."

Originally published in May 2001
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