By Michael Marsh
I first became acquainted with Marcus Johnson’s music with his release of a CD entitled “Just Doing What I Do” in 2004, and I immediately fell in love with it. “Just Doing What I Do” was an excellent CD, and it was good enough to make me want to search for more of Johnson’s music. That led me to the 2005 re-release of Marcus Johnson’s very first CD, entitled “Lessons In Love”, which he had originally recorded in 1997. After doing a little research into Johnson’s background, I learned that he self-recorded, self-produced, and self-distributed “Lessons In Love”, while attending Georgetown University, where he was enrolled in law school and pursuing his MBA at the same time. Obviously, we’re talking about a very intellectual brother here. Johnson was able to put his business education to very good use while still in college, and was able to sell 40,000 units of “Lessons In Love” back in 1997, without any major record label backing. From those humble college beginnings, Marcus Johnson launched his professional music career and that has led to the July 17, 2007, release of his ninth CD, “The Phoenix”, on the Three Keys Music label. Without a doubt, this is Johnson’s best work yet. “The Phoenix” gets off to a great start with track one, a funky groover entitled, “Side Steppin’ “. "Side Steppin’ " is a little odd in spots, as Johnson takes the groove off in two different directions at the same time, but it works in a strange sort of way, and I like it. You’ll just have to hear it for yourself to know what I’m talking about. On the second track, Johnson gives a nod to his Washington, D. C. roots with an upbeat, smooth jamming number entitled “Potomac Ridge”, which features excellent interplay between Marcus Johnson’s piano and Phillip Martin on saxophone. "Potomac Ridge" is definitely one of my personal favorites on the CD. Phillip Martin’s sax can also be heard with Johnson on tracks one, six, nine, and ten. The jam session keeps rolling along with the third track, a funky latin flavored number entitled, “Road To Los Suenos”, which features a very nice background vocal provided by Nikki Gonzalez. “Road To Los Suenos” has a certain Sergio Mendez and Brazil ’66 meet Bootsy Collins flair to it, once it really starts cooking. You’ll find it very difficult to remain still, as this one thumps along with a heavy helping of salsa groove. Johnson really works the piano keys on “Road To Los Suenos”, and he keeps the groove rolling right along to the very end. At tracks four and five, Johnson mellows the groove significantly with a couple of vocal pieces, “Believe” and “Love”, which feature vocals by Jarian Felton and Frank McComb. The pace picks back up again at track six, with a jumping jam entitled “Table For 2”, which once again features interplay between Johnson’s keyboard and Phillip Martin’s saxophone. “My Caddy” appears next on the CD, and I believe this is the song that is getting most of the airplay on the smooth jazz stations around the country. "My Caddy" is not my personal favorite song on the CD, but I do like it a lot. Johnson is joined by Stanley Cooper on sax for this cut. Appearing eighth is a real tasty selection named “Urban Trust”. Stanley Cooper also appears on "Urban Trust", but this time plays guitar, and adds an Isley Brothers flair with his sexy sounding “wah wah” sound wailing in the background. “You and I” appears at track nine. This one is a real slow dragger, and it drags just a little bit too slowly for my taste, as well as being extremely repetitive. In spite of the dragging parts of "You and I", Phillip Martin’s sax solo and Marcus Johnson’s piano solo sound real sweet and are well done. Even though I don’t care for “You and I” as much as most of the other songs on the CD, I’m sure there will be plenty of other listeners who like this one just fine. Johnson wraps up his project with two entertaining upbeat numbers, “The Journey” and “Make It Happen”. “The Journey” has a bouncy, light edge to it, while “Make It Happen” ventures more into an old school jazz sound.
Marcus Johnson has really nailed it with “The Phoenix”. He provides us with forty eight minutes of musical pleasure for our ears, on eleven very well done tracks. Just as the Phoenix, the mythical bird of fire, rises from the ashes, Marcus Johnson’s “Phoenix” should definitely be rising to the top of the charts among the current crop of smooth jazz releases on the market. This is an excellent CD and I give it five stars out of a possible five.
Michael Marsh is the jazz reviewer for TNCP. To make contact, you may e-mail him at [email protected] for review.