One of the key moments of Johnny Britt’s career happened in the early 90s when he was turned down for a Sade tour. While the multi-talented singer, songwriter, trumpeter composer and producer had previously spent three years as a musical director for the Temptations, he chose to step into the spotlight and, inspired by the music of Sade and Miles Davis’ posthumous release Doo-Bop, formed the trumpet-rapper duo Impromp2 with L.A. rapper Sean E. Mac.
Why is that significant as we review Johnny’s latest soul-transporting, multi-faceted album Mo Jazzin in 2020? It’s everything if you want to understand the significance of the title. The duo was one of the first artists signed in the 90s to the popular Motown jazz imprint MoJazz, which also had on its roster Wayman Tisdale and Norman Brown. Britt originally composed the tune that became the funky, dreamy and free-flowing title track for Boney James but wisely kept it for himself and dubbed it “Mo Jazzin.” Kind of a throwback to the label’s aesthetic (which set the pace for the genre’s urban vibe), the old school cool track is the perfect showcase for his crisp, snazzy and melodic horn fire and breezy vocal colors. True to its theme and Britt’s roots, it also features Brown’s tight, fluid lines to create the genre’s most dynamic reunion of the year.
That collaboration, which is currently rising on the Billboard Smooth Jazz Songs chart, lays an inspiring foundation for a generous 14 track set that ranges from silky, easy grooving feel good horn textured gems (“The Way I Feel,” “Good Feelin”) to sensual vocal, sometimes trumpet laced seductions (“Keep Workin It Out,“ “Is It Cool?”) and includes loads of pop, soul, jazz and gospel surprises.
While romance, infectious singing and playing are the driving forces throughout, Mo Jazzin transcends the typical genre album via a few unique twists. Two songs, the sultry “Let’s Get Down Tonight” and soulfully swinging “Can’t Stop,” are given both jazz and vocal versions; the jazz takes have more trumpet and only backing vocals. Another slightly off the beaten path tune is “Love’s Callin,” which features a dreamy, talk-sing lead vocal, that could be interpreted as a romantic expression but is also deeply spiritual. The Marvin Gaye styled vocal texturing is a callback to one of Britt’s popular 2016 album Marvin Meets Miles.
Delving more full throttle and directly back to his gospel roots, Britt takes us to church on the powerful worship song “There is Nobody,” which like so many great gospel tunes, starts with a solemn solitary vocal before a full unleash of the Spirit via groove and a full choir. Britt also shares a gospel-tinged flow of social consciousness on “Hold On,” a hopeful and inspirational anthem that meets our current fraught moment in history by addressing he pandemic with bold resolve and a promise that “a change is coming.”
As Johnny has contributed his multitude of talents behind the scenes in recent years to albums by smooth jazz stars Boney James, Jessy J and Nils, and pop works by Annie Lennox and Harry Styles, he’s slowly built a solid discography that includes his 2018 set So Hot. Mo Jazzin, his most dynamic and diverse collection to date, should be the breakthrough as an artist he’s been working towards.
Listen to Mo Jazzin here: https://open.spotify.com/album/6iKz4UwL4VtVKJsSTFVVoA