Veteran tenor saxophonist Johnson has been a prime mover on the West Coast jazz and studio scene for several decades, but there are very few of his recordings as a leader. This one showcases the old smoothie on a series of standards, many of them done in ballad format. His tone rarely wavers, keeping an even, silky keel, and his dynamics are amazingly fluid. His improvisations are patiently constructed, and his voice on the instrument is still pretty strong. There are two different bands, both featuring bassist Richard Simon. Either the unheralded pianist Brian O'Rourke and drummer Johnny Kirkwood or the vaunted Ross Tompkins (piano) and Paul Humphrey (drums) back Johnson through these 11 cuts. The straight ballads are "You've Changed," "I Should Care," "I'm Through With Love" and "Little Girl Blue," all proper yet impassioned. Occasionally Johnson gets a mushy, overly pronounced sound out of his legato tenor lines. Even more molasses-like, "It Had to Be You" shows the leader in ultimate after-midnight slow mode, with Tompkins, Simon and Humphrey digging in while trading fours. Tompkins in particular shades and embellishes these melodies to their logical conclusions despite the lack of quick tempos. He does turn it up a few notches after a patient intro on "Take the A Train," his roiling solo a highlight. The pianist is also in on the best midtempo swing of the date, "Mean to Me," where Johnson leaps out of his shell on more extroverted, animated, choppy staccato lines, actually going into tonal flurries at the coda. Bright piano leads off on another midtempo number, "Cheek to Cheek," as Tompkins states the theme first all the way through as Johnson plays the second-line melody. O'Rourke also proves a facile interpreter and quite a capable accompanist. The spirited "Who Can I Turn To?" also gives the spotlight to Simon's substantial arco bowed bass solo, while "The Touch of Your Lips" sports the bluesiest incursions, of which Johnson has always been a master, over a slightly larger beat and some outrageous pianistics from O'Rourke, definitely a name to follow in the future. With the paucity of documented work as a leader, this probably is one you'll want to find, especially if cool mainstream jazz is your thing. Recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos