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Randy Johnston: Somewhere In The Night

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Influenced by Kenny Burrell, and with the experience of playing with numerous veterans (the likes of Etta James and Houston Person, who produced the project) under his belt, Johnston shows increased confidence and improvisational maturity on his fourth release for Highnote. Backed by pianist Uri Caine, bassist Nat Reeves, and drummer Mickey Roker, he grooves his way through a diverse set of standards and originals.

Tough tempos aren’t a problem for Johnston, who absolutely burns on “Secret Love,” showing little sign of stress as he masterfully spins out long phrases. (Taken a bit slower, the second version of the same tune makes a nice contrast.) He demonstrates that the blues is his bread and butter on “Dat Dere,” “Sack Of Woe” and his own “Blues For The Millennium,” which reflect grooves and attitudes that range from down home to up town. A tribute to Jimi Hendrix, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” begins with a funky slow introduction and eventually adopts a gospel-tinged groove that finds him nailing one funky phrase after another. An instructor at Connecticut’s University of Hartford Music School, Johnston proves that, at least in his case, a teacher’s domain can extend far beyond the classroom.