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November 2006

Randy Johnston
Live at the Smithsonian Jazz Café

D.C.-based jazz fans know how valuable the Smithsonian Jazz Café is, offering performances by great local and national players at prices that wouldn’t get you halfway in the door at swank downtown jazz clubs. Randy Johnston visited the guitar-heavy venue in March of 2005, bringing along bassist Tom Pietrycha and drummer Tony Leone for a set of standards, a Hendrix tune and Johnston’s own hard bopping originals.

It’s a fine program from start to finish, and Johnston practices a dexterous yet elegant ’60s-era Pat Martino style that swings soothingly even at its most convoluted—somehow making even the gymnastic bop staple “Billie’s Bounce” sound lax. And while so many of his peers have gone the way of the stompbox, Johnston’s vintage cool-toned style reflects hard-bop’s timelessness: He’s soulful without overtly funking out and explosive without succumbing to rock pyrotechnics.

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