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May 1999

Randy Johnston
Riding the Curve
J Curve Records

On one hand, this New England-based guitarist lives the typical life of a musician seeking more exposure, as he balances teaching and playing. But whereas most players tend to become more entrenched in the classroom as time goes by, Johnston has evolved to the point where he can confidently lead a group of veterans like organist Joey DeFrancesco, drummer Idris Muhammad, and tenorist Johnny Griffin-which is exactly what he does on this potentially breakthrough project.

The organ trio setting promises and delivers a healthy serving of bluesy burning, witnessed by Johnston's searing fretwork on "High-Heel Sneakers" and during other funky moments where he tattoos rootsy licks with finesse. However, his advanced technique and approach cries to be set loose on more sophisticated material of the kind that makes up the balance of the album, exemplified by Cole Porter's harmonically thorny "All Through the Night," which Johnston nails with exceptionally deft lines, and "The Park," a relaxed Latin-tinged original that finds him organically moving from open, melodic phrases to tumbling cascades. In short, it all strongly suggests that Johnston has the staying power to be around for a long time to come.

Originally published in May 1999
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