Release Date:
June 2, 2009

Reviewed by:
Anne Aufderheide

Within fifteen days of the album’s release, award winning contemporary jazz pianist Marcus Johnson’s newest album Poetically Justified debuted at #5 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts. Known for his prowess as a composer, producer, record-label founder, and businessman, Johnson’s 11th solo jazz record hit the streets on June 2, 2009, on the Three Keys Music label.

Having initially digested this impressive album, I just have to say “WOW!” There’s a lot going on here.  It’s an elaborate production with multiple, textural layers of elegant, soulful piano performances, silky R&B vocals, electronica interwoven with hip hop rhythms.   There’s so much going on in each track, it will take multiple listenings to fully appreciate the extensive production talents of Johnson.

His most unique and multi-textured album yet, Poetically Justified showcases Johnson’s exquisite piano style in 14 unique tracks, combining acoustic and electronic sets of contemporary smooth jazz, hip-hop rhythms, a funky urban groove, with the soul of R&B. Featured guest artists include R&B vocalist Miles Jaye, the beguiling Maysa (Incognito), and consummate jazz saxman Najee.  This collective of star talent is capably backed by a tight, professional band and vocalists, from Freddy "Boom Boom" Moses (synth/drum programming,) Marcus Anderson (EWI/Vocoder, sax,) Stanley Cooper (guitar,) Terry "20" Poindexter (synth/drum programming,) Phillip Martin (sax,) Bryan Mills (sax,) Robbie McDonald (strings/synth/drum programming,) Steven Perkins (percussion,) Sean Geason (bass,) David Dyson (bass,) Duane Thomas (drums,) Deven Boyd, Deborah Bond and Lorree Slye (vocals.)

 Marcus Johnson composed nine of the 14 tracks.  With two compositions by the soulful Miles Jaye. These powerful tracks combined with Johnson’s masterful cover of Michael Jackson’s “This Place Hotel,” Kayne West’s & John Legend’s “Used to Love You,” and a Marsha Ambrosius (Floetry) composition “Say Yes.”  You could say this is an album of reconfigured R&B hits, but it’s a lot more than that.

What an intriguing way to open this record, with a Johnson composition “Chillaxin.” This mid tempo funk jam has a major bottom end entwined with textures of electronica, percussion, hints of middle eastern grooves, and very cool keys.  Next follows “Capice,”   written and sung by Miles Jaye whose deep soulful voice is a hit maker.  Marcus Anderson brings a cool electronic vibe with an EWI/Vocoder.  This track is multi-layered with intense rhythms, lead and backing vocals, and Johnson’s piano in improv style.  The bridge brings a break from the intensity and is breezy and smooth. “I See You” has a highly rhythmic yet somewhat discordant feel until, half way into the song, Najee blows in a bright, pleasurable, upbeat solo. Anderson brings in the EWI/Vocoder vibe again and Deven Boyd’s vocals add to the many intriguing elements.

Maysa once again masters my heart with her beautiful voice.  She steps out with that smoky quality and really delivers in her gorgeous lower register “Master of My Heart.” Johnson brings some great piano work woven in with Maysa’s vocals. This romantic ballad was produced by Johnson and Raheem Davaughn producer, Robbie McDonald. This track is currently in heavy rotation on adult-contemporary radio station WHUR-FM in Washington, DC.  The original instrumental, “Danni's Song,” is a funky DC bounce. There’s full band sound with sax, based in a strong groove of a great bass line. This is a very beautiful piece, one of my favorites and the piano work is lovely.

Next we are treated to a slow jam remix of the neo-soul hit “Say Yes,” written by Floetry’s Marsha Ambrosius.  Johnson plays with great tenderness and soul, tugging at the heart. “In the Moment” is a very smooth piano piece layered with percussion, strings, and bass.  I like the way it builds in intensity as Johnson jams.  Moving right into a cool slow jam, “Stand By Me” has that romantic vibe that MJ is known for, with Marcus Anderson delivering some really lovely sax work and Marcus Johnson doing some awesome synth/drum programming - an insistent high hat percussion.  Johnson’s piano is strong and purposeful, and there’s delicious interplay with piano and sax, which takes the melody to very interesting places in the bridge.

With a strong bass line keeping time, “Ellicott City” is upbeat and bouncy like Johnson’s live shows.  Here the sax takes the melody and runs with it, at times, playing in unison with keys. step out playing the theme and goes off into a fun little lick improv. The mood changes with “Cherish The Journey,” another moody, romantic piece with great piano playing. It’s a track with lots of things going on – electronica, DJ-like scratching, bass, drums, organ and the piano carries a strong melody as Johnson moves those fingers into the upper register.  As the song draws to a close, it’s down to piano and electric organ doing double time, then just solo piano to close.   

How poignant and prophetic is the inclusion of Michael Jackson’s “This Place Hotel?”  This production has such a positive vibe, with that live DC bounce vibe. One of my favorites on the record, Johnson does justice to the really nice melody and gets things swinging.  I like the fun bridge where Johnson gets to step out. In a kind of boogie style, the drumming is hot. The track closes from a slow boil and builds to an intense driving beat with the sax and piano cookin’!  It just so happens this track is the lead single for smooth jazz radio.

“Used To Love You” is a creative remix of John Legend and Kanye West's classic, but this time with killer piano and Vocoder. Johnson keeps up the breathtaking pace, playing his fingers off in an intense, driving groove.  More of Maysa’s beautiful vocals are featured on “Hold On.”  With layer upon layer, it’s filled with beats and counter beats, organ, and percussion.  Closing this dynamic set is another outstanding Miles Jaye composition “Heaven.”  It is an upbeat jam and these delightful vocals have a Luther vibe. Johnson has a bright solo which builds to an upward key change.   

I know I’m not done with this album yet.  There’s so much more to discover and it’s going to be pure pleasure exploring further.

In a recent interview with the Washington Post Magazine, Johnson best describes his philosophy:

“In everything you do and dream, know it is possible. Know that you can and will be successful, keep the determination and persistence...and know that with all of this and faith, you will have a long Poetically Justified Journey.”

For more Marcus Johnson information and music samples, visit