Johnny's Corner Song is the first album by drummer/composer Gerry Hemingway's American-based quartet (as opposed to his other small group, the now defunct European-based quintet), which on this CD is rounded out by tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, bassist Mark Dresser, and trombonist Robin Eubanks. Recorded live in 1997, the four pieces heard here are each distinct from one another, yet they go together nicely and make for a well-rounded program. The title track is a loping, bluesy shuffle with wah-wah trombone from Eubanks; "On It" is an up-tempo burner, loosely based on the "I Got Rhythm" chord changes of Sonny Rollins' "Oleo," that has the horns simultaneously playing in different tempos; and "Gentle Ben" is a gorgeous, peaceful ballad (composed by sometime Hemingway collaborator Mark Helias) with a wonderfully expressive trombone solo by Eubanks that really nails the mood. The closer, "Toombow," is inspired by South African kwela music, and has a sunny, infectious horn line and a complex, yet genuinely danceable groove that leaves plenty of room for Eskelin to solo. Three of the pieces begin with extended, more abstract improv sections, but these are smoothly integrated into the album's overall flow, just as the more abstract or avant-garde of elements of Hemingway's composing are grounded by strong melodies and rhythms, and also by references to familiar touchstones like Ellington, the blues, bebop, South African music, and others. This is excellent modern jazz circa late '90s.
AllMusic Review by William York