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Gail Jhonson — HerStory

July 7, 2011

Some of the brightest lights seem to always glow from behind the curtains or just off-center of the performing stage. Such is the case with the brilliance of pianist/keyboardist and musical director for the masterful Norman Brown, Gail Jhonson, who’s already cranked out two sweet, melodic projects in the past (2004’s Keep the Music Playing and 2008’s Pearls). She’s back with all her jazzy charm and classy knowledge to seduce us with another heavy dose of contemporary jazz as it ought to sound with Herstory, a right-on assessment of her that she is quick to proclaim starts with her mom (“My Story begins with Herstory”).

Joined here on select tracks by the wonderful stylings of trumpeter Lin Rountree and smooth saxman Tom Braxton, Jhonson does some funky and sophisticated stuff bound to capture you in one way or the other. After a mighty and very danceable opening track, “Make It Happen,” she lays a super heavy jazzy track on us with “Electric Lady,” showing she is no tease on the ivories but, rather, one who truly knows how to get it done. She then throws in the funk with a totally charged “Cruisin’ After Dark” featuring Rountree, taking us on a glorious ride. That’s followed by some slick piano work on a mid-tempo smooth and funky jam titled “Dear Aaron,” and shows off her silky vocals on another mid-tempo track, “Still Care About Me.”

While she dedicates the entire project to her mother, one specific and beautifully written track is clearly directed to that love of her life. It’s called “For You Mom,” and I’m sure many can wrap themselves around it as they reflect on their own relationships with that central figure in their lives.

Quietly and effectively setting the ambience and musical agenda for the iconic Norman Brown has to carry a good deal of satisfaction in and of itself, but seizing the opportunity to work your own rousing magic has to take one to yet another level of satisfaction, and Jhonson has to feel that each time she puts her seal of approval on one of her own projects. Herstory weaves a beautiful tale of excellence in this business as she dances through these infectious tracks with ease and obvious joy. When one sets out to tell such a story, one should be prepared to spin it right. Obviously, Jhonson knows this all too well. – Ronald Jackson