Tall Stranger is the fourth release from bassist Jeff Johnson as a bandleader and improvisational artist. Recorded on May 31, 2002 at the Cat House in Seattle, Washington, Johnson along with saxophonist Hans Teuber and drummer Billy Mintz create a free flowing exchange of musical ideas that traverse a wide array of eclectic-clad composites. The trio displays a boundless imagination which transforms their instrumentals into various shapes and sizes using numerous styles of cross-stitching from zigzagging to straight line and looping around each other. The trio’s interaction is laid-back as they articulate their notes using a stream of consciousness phrasing that makes the tracks sound abstract, and yet, click together to form solid links.
The trio’s outpouring is spontaneous and regulated by their individual sense of melodic timing, Mintz’s improvisations in the title track are bold and autonomous turning more softly toned and melodically imbued along the gently cascading ripples of “They Did What To You?” pervading a ‘60s accented cool jazz. These tracks produce a chill-out ambience for the listener. The trio’s free flowing exchange of ideas are grounded in cool jazz influences with a hard-bop persuasion liken to avant-jazz bassist Eric Revis. The trio’s melodic entanglements in “The End Of The World” produce a fair-weathered setting with angular twists and complex abstractions coated in a profound voicing. On the other hand, the southern twang in the whining chords of “Texas” has a country-tinged buckling that makes this track stand out from the others.
The tracks are a collaborative effort without the luxury of a blueprint. The trio plays aimlessly, and yet, seem led by an intangible force that keeps their sound cohesive. Their travels seem unintentional and their movements are unpredictable as they roam without revealing any clues as to where they are going. It is like flying without a safety net and throwing precaution to the wind. Jeff Johnson and company find guidance from following their individual instincts and sense of melodic timing allowing each player to remain autonomous while contributing to the whole. With their tentacles reaching out in every which way, they work as a solid unit inspiring and prodding each other to move forward.