MARCUS JOHNSON: Poetically Justified (Label: Three Keys Music)

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MARCUS JOHNSON: Poetically Justified

Marcus Johnson is one of America’s leading contemporary smooth jazz pianists and any new release on him is eagerly snapped up by fans who know they’ll get more than the usual smooth or lite jazz package. Throughout his career Johnson has strived to ensure that all his work is based on strong, soulful grooves while on each release he tries to be just a little different. Not too experimental, you understand – his work is always accessible; but within each album there is a real variety that you don’t normally get (or even expect) within the smooth jazz genre. On ‘Poetically Justified’ there are 14 tracks with a generous four featuring two guest vocalists – Maysa Leak and Miles Jaye. The fabulous Maysa adds her emotive vocal to two cuts – ‘Master Of My Heart’ and ‘Hold On’. The former will become of 2009’s most cherished soul cuts. It’s a gentle Latin-esque swayer with a strong melody and a huge warmth generated by both Maysa’s vocal and Johnson’s playing. The latter is an up-tempo item that recalls the snappy best of Incognito. Eighties star, Miles Jaye works on two cuts too. On the chilly yet sensual ‘Capice’ his template is Barry White while a visit to his own ‘Heaven’ brings new life to a familiar song. Often on albums of this type, the vocal cuts tend to overshadow the straight instrumentals. However, that’s not the case here. The instrumentals all have their own strength and can easily stand on their own. Of the original material, ‘Cherish The Journey’, ‘Chillaxin”, ‘Say Yes’ and ‘In The Moment’ are intriguingly laid back but commanding while ‘Danni’s Song’, ‘Ellicott City’ and a cover of the Jackson’s ‘This Place Hotel’ feature live drums and thumping bass lines that really do mine a groove. ‘This Place Hotel’ is one of two big covers on the set; the other is take on John Legend’s ‘Used To Love You’. The tricky vocal lines are replaced by Johnson’s sparkling piano runs and it really does work. Its familiarity, set against the original material, adds to the album’s variety. ‘Poetically Justified’ comes hugely recommended to smooth jazzers and soul folk alike.
(BB) 4/5