Re-corded back in 2002, Tall Stranger opens with two group improvisations in which the players - Johnson, California drummer Billy Mintz, and treasured Seattle hornman Hans Teuber - feel each other out and enter an oblique, moody realm of light and shadow.
These are three superbly exploratory players. Mintz is a drummer like no other - he measures his attack as if determined to bruise no drumhead unless absolutely necessary; he caresses the cymbals and skins, alike, as if seeking their permission to leave any but the most modest impression; he keeps time among four limbs like an octopus seeks out its dinner with eight.
His variety of subtlety provides the perfect counterpart to Johnson's minutely gauged range of force and eﬀects, and Teuber's similar approach to tenor sax and bass clarinet. Both players, like Mintz, seem to consider every note, every phrase, and to convey, through reserve, a wealth of emotion and ideation. Together, the trio maintains a mystery - a quiet command and majesty - that is truly impressive. This is world-class jazz of an idiosyncratic, unpredictable variety, and Tall Stranger certainly must rate in any best-of-2008 consideration.