With his group Divine Order, Johnson fuses the sounds of gospel, jazz, blues and classical music. But this is gospel unlike anything you’ve encountered. Providing the instrumental foundation for the six singers (four women and two men) were Johnson’s trio, The Young Lions (comprised of Kris Finn on acoustic bass and Quincy Phillips on drums), and Bryan Davis on saxophone. A testament to Johnson’s miracle-working skill was his arrangement of the “The Lord’s Prayer:” he managed to turn one of the worst songs ever written into something of grace and beauty. The song started out with a flowing piano bass figure in 7/4 time, moved through the familiar melody harmonized with lyrical jazz chord progressions, took a side turn through improvisatory instrumental divagations, and ended with a swinging, Brasil ’66 style vamp based on the tune “I’m Looking for a Miracle.”
Even for somebody like myself not steeped in the gospel tradition or accustomed to listening to inspirational songs, the music was powerful and intensely moving. This was musicianship of the highest caliber from accomplished jazz musicians. I can’t tell you how many times the hair stood up on my neck and arms like an electrical charge flowing from the music right through my body. Music brimming with spirit, indeed.
Johnson was mentored by the great jazz legend Calvin Jones while a student at the University of the District of Columbia, and succeeded Jones in 2005 as director of the jazz studies program at the school. He is a native of D.C. and has a growing library of works for ensembles of varying sizes and instrumentation, according to Divine Order’s website. Although you may not be fortunate enough to hear Divine Order in a live setting, Johnson and The Young Lions regularly perform after-hours sets at the Bohemian Caverns. If you are planning a visit to the capitol, this is something not to be missed.