Clarence Johnson III is known for his straight-ahead work, but Watch Him Work dives into a mode he's always been dying to try his hand at but never had, until now. Work is a highly romantic anthology of Jazz Lite / Smooth Jazz songs, and you know that often spells danger, but not here. Way back in the 70s, when I was getting heavily into the ECM label, Oregon, John Stowell, and quite a few other jazz cats moving outside the borders, a fellow student in an art class turned me on to Hank Crawford and then Grover Washington, as I'd mentioned I regarded Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man as one of the all-time great soundtracks and music releases. From there, I developed a love of this lush style when its done with intelligence and class, and CJIII possesses both.
The apogee of the form is probably John Klemmers Barefoot Ballet (which is certainly the most romantic LP ever published) and much of what informed Klemmer is here informing Johnson as he creates intriguingly satiny numbers beside a highly complementary aggregate of session players. The Way You Look Tonight gains a Gershwinny flavor with a touch of Lionel Richie and others. The other old chestnut cover song in the disc, Grazin' in the Grass, takes even that easy-going track down a notch, still breezy and sassy but with a slice more mellow to it.
On the other hand, there are more than a few exuberant passages dotting the CD as well as a spacey-melodic cut or two, Beyond Words, for instance, drifting between city lights and the heavens until it awakens in splendor and dances in the clouds. Johnson's touch is always sensitive and assured, his tone sweet and alluring, but in that song is where the listener locates a bit of what he can do when he cuts loose. Watch him Work succeeds as night music and as rush hour driving accompaniment, soothing you out as that a-hole in front of you cuts in front and nearly sideswipes ya. "Yeah, okay, whatevers," you'll be thinking. "Tha's cool. Go yer way and just leave me to my tunes, man!", as you arrive safely home, pour a glass of wine, and listen to the rest of the disc.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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