On the positive side, the ensemble is tight in their melodic conception. This is obviously a group that has played together often and articulate phrases with a unison mind of accented nuances and lightly emphasized inflections. Their sound is easy and light with just the right amount of give-and-take in order to be supportive. It’s refreshing how they never go in for any heavy-handedness. Light’s Return and Movimento are good examples of these points. In the first tune both trumpeter John Worley and saxophonist Kristen Strom accompany Johnson’s singing in fine duets of lovely beauty. The instrumentalists have the ability to seamlessly match his tone and timbre creating an exquisite end product. In the second example the instruments’ rejoinders to Johnson’s sung lines couldn’t be played any more perfectly if they were the same person playing two lines at the same time.
As a composer Johnson has a real gift of how to turn a phrase in order to create maximum push and pull. His ability to keep the listener, for the most part, interested, is done in a tasteful and never heavy-handed manner. Scotch Baiao and Tara, for example, are delightful mixes of swing and Brazilian lines that effortlessly come together in tight compliment.
Individually there are some outstanding members in the band deserving of wider recognition. Trumpeter/flugelhornist John Worley plays some inspired solos. His turn on Light’s Return is one of the best solos heard in this style since Jerry Hey’s solo on Seawind’s He Loves You. Bassist Rene Worst, while rarely featured, is excellent in his support throughout. He intuitively seems to always know the right note to play at just the right time.
On the negative side, some of Johnson’s tunes have a tendency, at their end, towards a redundancy that neither does service to the composer nor group. For example, Exceto Nos ends with a really nice repeated groove that would work well live but in the recorded state becomes a bit dull. From a recorded standpoint, Kristen Strom’s saxophones, tenor and soprano, occasionally appear in different sonic guises. At times her sound is clear, but at others it’s thin and spread. It’s a shame a player of her abilities has her playing compromised by a problem in the recording.
On whole these problems balance themselves out. While this is not a homerun for Johnson, it is a step in the right direction.