Swedish-Finnish guitarist Harri Ihanus took the backward route of discovery that many guitar players have. Sparked by rock and blues, he soon fell under the grandiose spell of McLaughlin, Metheny and Coryell, then naturally turned to Pass, Burrell, and horn players like Parker and Coltrane—the roots. And that's where he has stayed. His Imogena debut, Eye Opener, features nine original compositions. They are modest, loose structures that favor relaxed tempos and leave ample space for soloing.
Ihanus’ quartet fluidly interprets his tunes. Tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi delivers strong, lyrical solos, while bassist Filip Augustson and drummer Jukkis Uotila provide a supple, swinging backdrop for both leads. Their support on the ballad “The End” creates smooth transitions between the solos, unobtrusive but firm. They push Ihanus and Bergonzi on “Skating in Spånga” with a brisk tempo, bringing out Bergonzi’s bop side, while allowing Ihanus to unwind spiraling lines and drop in clipped chords and brief accents.
Mid-tempos and soft dynamics are the most prominent here, as they let Ihanus insert tight clusters of single notes and unfurl soft, ringing chords. His tone has the warmth of Montgomery, but it lacks his rhythmic panache. Ihanus prefers suspenseful, hanging chords to riffing, and his solo on “Coming Up” follows Abercrombie’s abstract path. He builds knotty phrases, tying them together, only to let them unravel ambiguously.
Eye Opener never wavers from its traditional base. Ihanus uses effects only once, a lush chorus on the title track, and as a result the album is a refreshing set. The guitar can be a monster instrument, and too often is. Ihanus brings out its gentler, lyrical side.
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