It has been quite a few years since Clarence Johnson III’s last album. Now with Watch Him Work, his new album, the saxophonist often identified with straight-ahead jazz is staking out some new territory. Call it smooth jazz, call it fusion—call it jazz lite. It doesn’t matter what you call it. It is an album with a lot of very listenable music, nothing experimental, nothing avant garde, just some very pleasurable sounds from an excellent musical talent.
Working with a variety of different musicians, Johnson has put together a set of 10 tunes, including eight original compositions, a funky cover of the Hugh Masekela hit “Grazin’ in the Grass,” and a sweet arrangement of the Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields ballad “The Way You Look Tonight,” which adds a little vocalizing to the mix.
Of Johnson’s compositions “Mamma’s Prayer,” “Cornerstone,” and “Like Father Like Son” suggest the spiritual nature of the man’s music. As he writes in the liner notes: “One of the greatest blessings in life is the power of prayer inspired by true belief.” Compositions like “Brian’s Journey” and “Joy” would also seem to reflect the spiritual journey and its culmination. Even the party atmosphere of “Struttin’” is a reaction to the “bliss felt in conquering demons and mountains.” This is prayer made manifest in music. Watching him work is watching God working.
Clearly for Johnson this is music with an implicit message.
Sidemen on the album include Bobby Campo playing trumpet and flugelhorn and guitarist Steve Masakowski on four tracks (including “Mamma’s Prayer”), trombonists Jeff Albert and William “B.J.” McGibney on two tracks each, and Mike Esneault on keyboards. He works with four different bass players and three drummers, but whoever he works with the music is emotionally powerful. It comes from the heart.