Marcus Johnson — This is How I Rock

Sept. 1, 2010

Once again, Washington, DC-based and nationally and internationally renowned keyboardist Marcus Johnson proves that his music is still that mighty force on the scene that just keeps standing its mighty ground with each production. This time, turning his attention and creative talents toward covers of tunes he’s found worthy of highlighting, with the help of such luminaries as Najee  and Greg Adams, he presents This is How I Rock, a statement that clearly speaks truthfully to the funkiness and smoothness that has marked a flawlessly perceptive look at contemporary jazz throughout his career.

With so many descriptions of and attempts to pigeonhole Johnson’s music, I truly think it’s safe to say that here is an artist who gives 110 percent of some of the purest, smoothest, funkiest, contemporary jazz around with each and every endeavor, be it a project of original jams or one such as this delightful offering of covers that can only bring nods and smiles from the original authors. Tunes like Steve Miller’s “Fly Like An Eagle,” Sly Stone’s “Thank You (For Letting Me Be Myself” (and he uses the conventional spelling here as opposed to the version that Sly slipped to us once), Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity” (with violinist Bobby Yang putting in a superb appearance, by the way), and the smokin’ latiny “Mas Que Nada” are presented with all the pop and bounce expected from those very tunes that made us sit up, get up, and dance up.

Then, there’s the Beatles’ rocker and always one of my favs, “Come Together,” with Johnson taking it to the Rhodes and David Dyson doing his funk thang on bass.  Great touch. Now, if rock’s your thing (and, even though you’re here on this site, maybe you still have a penchant for it), try “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which explodes with some real fireworks, complete with a riff by guitarist Stanley Cooper. Mind you, Johnson is still very much on the scene with hot piano chops.

Johnson’s clear, crisp style on the ivories is made of the stuff today’s true contemporary jazz piano students ought to be studying. More importantly, they should be finding a way to feel this style, to be to jazz what Johnson has found a way to be to jazz. That may require a bit more than classroom time. That may require some introspection and some dedication to the desire to truly connect to the music.  That intangible which cannot be taught but only absorbed through the whole experience.  Johnson proves here again with This is How I Rock that, be it originals or covers, he approaches all with that same spirit, that same intangible. — Ronald Jackson