Ellen Johnson: Form and Formless (Vocal Visions)
Review by John Stevenson
Vocalist Ellen Johnson is accompanied by guitarists Larry Koonse and John Stowell and trumpeter Nolan Shaheed on ten tunes associated with jazz giants John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus and Sonny Rollins.
The tunes are very carefully selected and help to characterise her as a singer with much more than just fine taste in jazz and the blues.
That said, some tunes work better than others.
She wraps her supple and mellifluous pipes around ‘Round Midnight’, with no preconceived ideas, overdubs or special effects. Shaheed stands out with a scene-setting and bluesy accompaniment on this track.
Her ‘Sonny’s Isle of St Thomas’ is a sunny and winsome tribute to the legendary tenor saxophonist. The wordless take on ‘Naima’ is reverential. Mingus’s 1946 composition, ‘Weird Nightmare’ (aka ‘Pipe Dream’) is haunting and evocative. Johnson owes a stylistic debt to Sheila Jordan, her long-time mentor.