Wayne Johnson

Keeping the Dream Alive

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After focusing primarily on R&B for over 30 years, Motown started flirting with jazz when it launched its MoJazz label in the early '90s. Commercial, formulaic, radio-oriented releases by guitarist Norman Brown and others indicated that MoJazz wouldn't be a serious jazz outfit à la BlueNote, Concord, Contemporary, or Muse, and the label was dismissed by bop hard-liners as well as fusion lovers. But MoJazz did have a decent release in Keeping the Dream Alive, which provided a likable, improvisatory blend of jazz, rock, and pop and demonstrated that Wayne Johnson was someone to keep an eye on. Forming a trio with electric bassist Gary Willis (best known for his work with Scott Henderson's Tribal Tech) and drummer Bill Berg, Johnson shows himself to be a melodic guitarist whose main influences include Pat Metheny and Al DiMeola. But the improviser doesn't go out of his way to emulate either of them, and he comes across as his own man on originals that range from the Celtic-influenced "Bedrock" and the gutsy "No Excuse" to the lilting "Kite Music." Unfortunately, Keeping the Dream Alive received very little publicity and didn't do much commercially, but it's worth acquiring if you come across a copy.

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