Aubrey Johnson delicately holds the mic in her hand as she sings into it with her eyes closed and brow slightly furrowed. She doesn’t strain to reach a particular note so much as to find the right tone to convey the intended emotion.
The Aubrey Johnson Sextet is comprised of Tomoko Omura on violin, Glenn Zaleski on piano, Matt Aronoff on bass, Jeremy Noller on drums, Michael Sachs on alto sax, and Aubrey Johnson on vocals. Their style is smooth and laid-back and perfect for a low-key Monday night spent tucked away in a corner booth at Zinc Bar.
A couple of measures into the first song and Aubrey joins the ensemble. The strength of her voice is evident by the distance at which she holds the mic from herself. Even after adjusting the preamp, she proceeds cautiously at first through Annie Lennox’s “No More ‘I Love You’s’” before assuming a self-possessed stride that endures throughout their set.
Indeed the entire band exuded a level of technical proficiency and confidence that never wavered, whether it was serving as a base for the vocals to vamp on or taking center stage to showcase their own abilities. The piano lithely played underneath the dialogue of the saxophone and violin, while the bass and drums locked into each other holding down the rhythm. This amounted to songs that managed to retain their individuality while still sounding like a unified whole.
The song “Lie In Wait,” about long distance relationships had the violin carry the melody as the voice flitted through scales and registers. The violin by way of being plucked distinguished “Antagata Dokosa,” the second of two songs sung in Japanese. “Voice is Magic,” a samba in 3 by the violinist, relied on a staccato approach by the piano and then a very satisfying solo. The song “These Days” was composed by Audrey with lyrics written by her brother. Far from the complete set list, these were just some of the songs that made up their repertoire and revealed the cleverness of the composing. They also did a great cover of “The Peacocks” by Jimmy Rowles, which was well received by an appreciative audience that included Aubrey’s father.
The Aubrey Johnson Sextet are regulars of the Manhattan Jazz scene. They will be playing The Cornelia Street Cafe on Nov 19. Check them out.