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Album Review

There is both good news and bad news where Gail Jhonson's Pearls is concerned. The good news: Jhonson is a talented pianist, keyboardist and composer who gets a lot of direct or indirect inspiration from artists like Joe Sample, George Duke, Lonnie Liston Smith, Herbie Hancock and Rodney Franklin — 1970s pianists/keyboardists who had serious jazz chops but also liked to get funky. The bad news: Pearls, like a lot of smooth jazz releases, is usually too produced for its own good. Going for a lot of production is fine if your focus is electronica, hip-hop or dance music, but Jhonson's focus is a mixture of jazz, R&B and pop. While Pearls isn't meant to be straight-ahead hard bop by any means, jazz is still an important part of the picture — and if you are trying to bring together jazz, R&B and pop the way that, say, Sample did on Carmel, the soloist shouldn't be smothered by the production. The soloist should have some breathing room, which is something that Jhonson doesn't have nearly enough of on Pearls. That said, there are some attractive grooves on this 46-minute CD — and when Jhonson has enough room to stretch out and improvise, one catches some glimpses of what she is capable of as a soloist. Take "Whisper Yours" and "Let's Do This," for example. On those tracks, Jhonson is not suffocated by an excess of production and programming; as a result, she achieves a healthy balance of melodic accessibility and jazz spontaneity. Unfortunately, too many of the other selections downplay her skills as a soloist. Pearls has its moments, but Jhonson is capable of a lot more.

Pearls, Gail Jhonson
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