Eric Johnson – Europe Live (2014)

For all of his prodigious virtuosity, there has always been something different about Eric Johnson’s live performances, something in the vernacular — in the way that one thought flowed into another, into another still. That simply doesn’t always exist on his studio recordings, which often have the feel of something overthought, perhaps even over-recorded.

In an effort to show his wares, those albums sound too polished, too perfect.

Europe Live illustrates, in song after brilliantly erudite song, what cutting Johnson loose — without overdubs, without punch ins, without edits — adds to compositions both familiar (his hit “Cliffs of Dover,” John Coltrane’s titanic “Mr. P.C.,” the Grammy-nominated “Zap”) and new (“Fatdaddy,” from Johnson’s most recent album). Due June 24, 2014 via Provogue, the 14-track project finds Johnson working within a lean, spacious trio format featuring bassist Chris Maresh and drummer Wayne Salzmann, primarily performing at Melkweg in Amsterdam.

Their symbiotic interactions seem to push Johnson’s sense of craft, even as they free him to explore out to undiscovered areas of his muse — only, this time, there’s no going back, no opportunity for second thoughts. In those moments of high-wire creative fission, Europe Live shines brighter than most anything Johnson has put to tape in a studio thus far.

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.