If there is one thing that sets great guitar players apart from the rest, it is their ability to transform studio recordings into improvised works of musical art during live performances. On Europe Live, virtuoso Eric Johnson does just that, enhancing many of his studio cuts with multiple tempo and dynamic changes, showcasing his multitude of musical influences and his incredibly clean, technical guitar playing. This live album accentuates the chemistry between Johnson and his backing band, comprised of drummer Wayne Salzmann and bassist Chris Maresh, and their ability to execute complex songs effortlessly.
Recorded at a number of different locations in Holland, Germany and France, the album is full of rich blues, soft rock and jazzy tracks. With a clean, signature guitar sound resembling guitar greats Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, Johnson’s solos are full of blues and jazz influences that create frenzied and melodic phrases, never losing creativity and clairvoyance. His proficient playing is more prevalent than ever on his cover of the jazz great John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C,” showing Johnson’s ability to replicate Coltrane’s saxophone and make the song his own. Johnson’s classic hit “Cliffs Of Dover” benefits from a dynamic change in the middle of the song that breaks into a jazzy groove, contrasting the uptempo melodic nature of the studio track.
Whether it’s the gritty Texas blues sound of “Last House On The Block” reminiscent of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, the jazz-infused “Manhattan,” or the sitar-like guitar work on “Fatdaddy,” Eric Johnson’s guitar playing is as intriguing as ever, but his bandmates both have their share of highlights, especially Maresh’s bassline on the instrumental “Zenland” and Salzmann’s drum solo on the aforementioned Coltrane cover. For guitar fans, this is an essential album that prevails over the studio efforts of Eric Johnson, and an enticing listen for new audiences unaware of his prowess.
In A Word: Interpretive