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CD review: Marcus Johnson 'Poetically Justified'

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Friday, December 18, 2009

MARCUS JOHNSON

"Poetically Justified"

Kindred spirits: Joe Sample, Kim Waters, John Legend

Show: Friday though Sunday at Blues Alley. Shows start at 8 and 10 p.m. 202-337-4141. http://www.bluesalley.com.

As popular as he is prolific, keyboardist-composer Marcus Johnson sent out several invitations before recording his 11th CD. A smart move, too. Saxophonists Najee and Marcus Anderson contribute cameos, along with vocalists Maysa and Miles Jaye, who play a significant role in pushing some of the performances on "Poetically Justified" beyond the realm of radio-friendly instrumentals.

Of course, longtime fans who appreciate Johnson's flair for tweaking smooth jazz sounds won't be disappointed by most of the offerings. Take, for example, "Chillaxin," with its synth-triggered washes and percolating beats "Ellicott City," a riffing, funk bass-anchored track featuring saxophonist Phillip Martin or "Cherish the Journey," a polished ballad that blends elements of pop and rock. The same goes for Johnson's bright, groove-happy takes on the Jacksons' "This Place Hotel" and the John Legend hit "Used to Love You."

As for the tunes showcasing the guest vocalists, they add plenty of lift to this 14-track collection. Jaye is in top form, especially on his self-penned ballad "Heaven," the CD's romantic pop closer, while Maysa charges "Hold On" with her customary mix of spirit, soul and personality.

-- Mike Joyce


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