While many of Henry Johnson's 80s and 90s recordings were more pop-jazz oriented, An Evening at Sea, which was recorded live aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 in various parts of the Atlantic Ocean in November 1999, is a welcome return to his improvisational side. Joined by pianist Kenny Drew, Jr., bassist Larry Gray, and drummer Paul Humphrey, Johnson returns to his roots and performs nothing but straight-ahead hard bop. Think of Wes Montgomery in the late '50s and early '60s or a young George Benson playing standards on his early albums, and you will know where Johnson is coming from this time. Few surprises occur; the Chicago guitarist limits himself to standards that jazz artists have heard time and time again, and regrettably, he doesn't embrace any of his own material. But he plays those overdone standards (which include "My Shining Hour," "In a Sentimental Mood," and Sonny Rollins' "Oleo") with a lot of feeling and is consistently enjoyable even if he does play it too safe. While most of the performances are instrumental, singer Vanessa Rubin has a pleasantly swinging spot on "I've Got the World on a String" -- another standard that has been done to death over the years. Some would argue that there needs to be a moratorium on these standards; nonetheless, it's nice to hear Johnson stretching out and improvising for a change. While An Evening at Sea isn't the most adventurous CD in the world, it is still among Johnson's more respectable efforts.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson