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Mark Johnson: Deep Focus

Switching from piping soprano to rich tenor commentary within the context of a single song, saxophonist Mark Johnson speaks out in complicated, layered conversations. On Deep Focus (JVC-2058-2; 52:04), his third solo album, Johnson’s lead voices are consistently intriguing, though the arrangements sometimes wander away from his anchor, into the glossier, smooth jazz radio realm. There are elements to like on every track-from the R&B soul sax blend marking “Ocean of Love,” to the stately, melodic soprano played against Chuck Loeb’s acoustic guitar texture on “Mediterranean”-but the best cuts are marked by tighter arrangements. “Smoke and Mirrors ” is a slashing, brass-based blues, with solid support from George Lake on organ and Gerald Veasley on bass, and “Afrique,” with its brisk percussive underbeat, gives Johnson room to sing on an upbeat, relaxed melody. A soulful cover of Squeeze’s “Tempted” finds Johnson’s multitracked brass punching into a spirited jam which will hopefully fortell the future of this talented artist.

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