Marcus Johnson

Chocolate City Groovin'

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Electric and acoustic pianist Johnson from D.C. is a Ramsey Lewis wannabe in a Sun Goddess phase -- his simplistic, unchallenging melodies are pleasant enough, but come closer to disco than real R&B. Of these 11 cuts, they are even borderline on smooth jazz content. It's evident from the first three tunes -- the title track, "Out of Somewhere," and "88 Ways to Love," all easy dance grooves -- that the influence of Lewis is quite pervasive. Johnson goes it alone on "88" with multiple keyboard programming overdubs. He actually sounds good on Fender Rhodes for the cool funk "The Neck Factor," but also sounds outdated. He's more upbeat on "Doc's Groove" and "It's So Nice"; the former is predictable with snarly guitar from Stan Cooper, and the latter has a tick-tock rhythm that comes closer to authentic R&B. Tenor saxophonist Marshall Keys injects some real jazz into "'Til the Cops Come Knockin'," a rather disturbing song title unto itself, while Bryan Mills' faded bursts of sax sound set up a nice unison sax-piano vibe for the contemporary "smooth" ballad "Maxin'." Vocals are taken by Alyson Williams for the slow post-sex tune "Morning Light," while the supposed "instrumental" version of the same piece indeed has vocals. Johnson himself takes the mic and cops a Stevie Wonder/George Benson stance on "Won't You Let Me Love You." A pretty bland, formulaic, lazy "effort" all in all, and it's not likely to have much staying power.

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