Marcus Johnson’s a master at the sort of sophisticated, smooth piano jazz heard best underneath the chatter at late-night cocktails. But on his 11th CD he also keeps his ears tuned to what’s happening today, injecting enough urban-music staples to earn a sort of hip cachet. There’s also enough musical distinction to hold your interest.
There are three types of tunes here: mellow smooth-jazz instrumentals with classy piano; instrumental tunes with piano and often sax riding on top of in-the-pocket beats and hand claps; and sophisticated vocal tunes. The first is marked by songs like “Danni’s Song,” “In the Moment,” “Ellicott City” and “This Place Hotel.” The best songs are the funkiest: “Chillaxin,” which may be Johnson’s catchiest song yet; “Cherish the Journey”; and two tunes that make excellent use of the vocoder, “I See You” and the sublime “Say Yes” with Devin (D Monet) Doyd. The vocal tunes are led by “Capice,” with the signature voice of hit R&B vocalist Miles Jaye, and “Master of My Heart,” with the sultry vocal stylings of Incognito’s Maysa.