Right up there in my top five smooth jazz tunes of all time, ‘88 Ways To Love’ written and performed by Marcus Johnson can be found on his 1998 album ‘Chocolate City Groove.’
Reviewing ‘Chocolate City Groove’ at the time of its release Michael G. Nastos described Johnson as a ‘Ramsey Lewis wannabe operating in his 1974 ‘Sun Goddess’ phase’. He referred to his music as “simplistic, unchallenging melodies that are pleasant enough, but closer to disco than real R&B.” Mr. Nastros is entitled to his opinion. He should however be aware that given the ‘Sun Goddess’ project was a collaboration for Lewis with the band that inspired Johnson as a youth, Earth Wind and Fire, the similarity should not be surprising.
In addition, for the true aficionado of smooth jazz, ‘88 Ways to Love’ is a real stand out track that demonstrates Johnson’s keyboard virtuosity. Although ‘Chocolate City Groove’ features nice side work from guitarist Stan Cooper and sax men Marshall Keys and Bryan Mills, plus vocals from Alyson Williams, he very much goes it alone on ‘88 Ways to Love’. His multiple keyboard programming achieves an easy dance groove that he overlays with excellent smooth jazz piano playing. It’s a wonderful example of smooth jazz that can also be found on the Jazz FM compilation ‘Pacific Coast Highway’.