For his fourth album as a leader, bassist Jeff Johnson sets an exploratory course. On Tall Stranger, Johnson works with sax player Hans Teuber (with a bit of a free jazz bent of his own) and drummer Billy Mintz. The trio spends a lot of its time, however, seemingly working less as a trio and more as a collection of three independent players who happen to be in the same room. This isn't accidental, or an effect of the group not working well together. Instead, it's more of a free jazz idiom, collective improvisation that only tenuously holds one player to another. In this case, though, Johnson's bass comes out to the forefront much more than one might normally hear the instrument, and it's a very good thing. His mastery of the instrument allows him to stretch out with a particularly deep sound, the echoes of the bass' wood itself providing most of the timbre. Teuber provides a strong wandering line, roving the sonic possibilities, at times on his tenor sax and at times on bass clarinet, a deep woody sound that meshes well with Johnson's approach to the bass. Mintz stays hidden for the majority of the album, providing only the slightest accentuations in many of the improvisations, and only coming to the forefront for a subdued solo or two along the way. While Northwest jazz is starting to make a name for itself, with Johnson as one of its top proponents, this album strays away from the focus on melodic lines common to most Northwest. It's sparse, stripped down jazz, seemingly informed by European free jazz movements and Johnson's methodical bass in equal parts.