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Marcus Johnson: The Phoenix

There’s not much to dislike on pianist Marcus Johnson’s new light jazz-funk and R&B CD, unless of course you don’t like light jazz-funk and R&B. Like all of his music, there’s much to enjoy, especially when he steps out of his comfort zone on the club/electronica vibe of “Side Steppin'” and the tropical muse of “Road to Los Suenos” with Nikki Gonzalez’s “ba-ba-ba” vocalese. More predictable are the vocal tunes: the quiet storm of Raheem DeVaughn’s “Believe” with vocalist Jarian Felton and the bouncy “Love” with Frank McComb. Don’t forget Johnson’s mid-groove ballads like “My Caddy” and “Potomac Ridge,” which are pleasantly unassuming in their, well, pleasantness.

Johnson earns extra kudos for going down a road less traveled-OK, still a little beaten-with club beats and interesting sax and guitar solos by Philip Martin and Stanley Cooper, respectively. The best cut is the deepest and last on the album. With “Make It Happen,” Johnson digs into a great groove surrounded by David Dyson’s popping bass line and Wah Wah’s electric guitar-hero riffs. Still, Johnson has suggested on previous works that he is capable of moving way beyond the fringes of piano-based smooth jazz with his obvious jazz sensibilities. That’s his strength, and that is what’s missing here.

Originally Published