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Ronny Johansson: Japanese Blue

Jack Bowers By

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Abandoning for the moment his usual piano-bass-drums format, Swedish pianist Ronny Johansson has the stage to himself on Japanese Blue, an album whose name and spirit epitomize a country in which Johansson has spent many pleasurable moments.

Aside from pointing out the obvious —that Johansson's harmonic figures are engaging and his technique flawless —a number of salient qualities should be noted at the outset. First, the album has been wonderfully recorded, mixed and mastered by Lars Nilsson; every nuance (and there are plenty) is meticulously safeguarded and given a gem-like radiance. Second, Johansson's mastery is such that the presence of a rhythm section soon becomes irrelevant. Third, Johansson is an admirable songwriter and arranger as well, having composed more than half the album's dozen songs (if one includes the closing reprise of "Japanese Blue"). The others, all tastefully chosen and performed, are Rodgers and Hart's venerable "Have You Met Miss Jones," Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee," Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" and George Shearing's "She."

Tempos are slow to moderate, the notable exception being "Donna Lee," and Johansson is especially adept at eliciting the utmost warmth and lyricism inherent in each tune, whether his own or someone else's. His artistry is remindful of, say, Kenny Barron, Tommy Flanagan, Billy Taylor or Sweden's other contemporary master of the keyboard, Jan Lundgren. Among Johansson's originals, "Japanese Blue" is especially persuasive, with a haunting melody that all but pleads for a lyric. On the other hand, so does the graceful "Mori's Mood," while Johannson's other themes—"Ulla," "Some Like It Cool," A Tango for the Saints" (with its Carmen-like undertones), "Bye, Bye Vienna"—are equally pleasing in their own way.

Even in the most favorable climate, solo piano albums are difficult to manage. Here's one that weathers every storm to gladden both mind and heart. As such, Japanese Blue is unreservedly endorsed.

Track Listing: Japanese Blue; Mori’s Mood; Ulla; Some Like It Cool; A Tango for the Saints; Have You Met Miss Jones; In a Sentimental Mood; Bye, Bye Vienna; Donna Lee; ‘Round Midnight; She; Japanese Blue / Epilogue.

Personnel: Ronny Johansson: solo piano.

Title: Japanese Blue | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Imogena Records

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