Performing with the Dan Cray Trio, singer Marc Courtney Johnson brings us four jazz standards and several other fresh pieces that introduce his vocal manners to a wider public. The Chicago-based singer carries with him a hip swagger, a heartfelt passion for communicating with his audience, and a love for the tradition. A lifetime of singing in church choirs and touring with the Northern Illinois University Chorus has given him the necessary tools to step out proudly on his own for this debut recording.
While Johnson experiences several pitch problems during his slower ballads and appears indecisive at times, his cohesive demeanor with the piano trio resolves into a cool romp. His scat singing and clarion lyric delivery work well when surrounded by the trio and when delivered at faster tempos. With "Lush Life," for example, Johnson separates his phrases during the song's slow beginning and loses some momentum. Once the trio picks up its Latin beat, however, they all go into cruise control and the flow takes over. Singer and accompanists meld together as one.
Clocking in at just under 38 minutes, the session holds its focus on Johnson's vocals and provides only a few brief solo instrumental spots. Cray and his trio do provide stellar accompaniment throughout the session and support the singer well.
The singer's forte is his R&B ballad interpretation. Love songs and personal involvement appear strong. Scat singing with hip lyric interpretation, still keeping the jazz tradition sealed up tight, requires a little more patience. "Corner Pocket," for example, picks up on this quality and rolls with the groove. The singer drives with a carefree demeanor in the Count Basie tradition. With better control of pitch, however, Johnson could relax into an all-night-long groove and run the program with emotions bared.
Personnel: Marc Courtney Johnson: vocals; Dan Cray: piano; Clark Sommers: bass; Greg Wyser-Pratte: drums.