Bassist Jeff Johnson has built a stellar reputation in jazz circles, having worked with pianists Hal Galper and Jessica Williams and appearing on over two-dozen recordings for the Seattle-based Origin Records. For his fourth release as a leader, Tall Stranger, the Seattle-based Johnson, along with saxophonist Hans Teuber and drummer Billy Mintz, delivers an intriguing set of stripped-down compositions, emphasizing a free-form approach to group improvisation.
The trio converses in a confident, unhurried manner throughout the disc. Teuber's breathy, warm tone on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet complements Johnson's deep, woody growl and Mintz's subdued, contrapuntal approach. Together, the three create musical lines that intertwine and enhance each other's point of view.
The title of the opening track, "Patience," could serve as a mantra for the trio's collective concept. Even during moments of heightened intensity in "Pegasus in Harlem" and "Sabishii," the story-telling is seemingly deliberate and paced accordingly.
Teuber's "They Did What To You?" is one of the disc's more groove-oriented tracks, featuring bluesy lines and soulful double-stops from Johnson. Here, Teuber dances light-as-air around Mintz's swirling ride cymbal pattern. "Sabishii" is used by Johnson as an opportunity to apply unconventional bowing technique, harnessing an array of emotional display. The disc closes with "Texas," a simplified vamp that finds Teuber thumping upright bass while Johnson maneuvers impressively, with a blues-inflected twang on electric guitar.
Tall Stranger is a stop-you-in-your-tracks kind of recording. The combined musicianship is boundless, wholehearted and unselfish.