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Lars Jansson Trio: Koan

Chris Mosey By

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A koan is a Zen Buddhist riddle that cannot be solved by the intellect alone. The best known, portrayed on the cover of Lars Jansson Trio's Koan, is "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" The koan has been described as a form of spiritual dynamite that can propel the mind into satori, or "spiritual equilibrium."

Swedish pianist Jansson sees his music as "a kind of koan." He says, "You can of course analyze music in terms of form, tonality, rhythm and chords, but the experience of it and how music affects people is beyond our rational understanding." He dedicates this album to the Japanese people and, in particular, the victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

This hugely talented musician offers the Land of the Rising Sun music that is original, rhythmic, melodic and thoughtful—a take on Japanese culture and religion filtered through jazz and Nordic idealism. The opening number, "Shikantaza," literally means "just sitting," but is actually a form of Zen meditation in which the mind strives to be brightly alert but free from thought. The music reflects both the interior struggle it takes to get there and the bliss of arrival.

Not all Jansson's songs draw their inspiration from Japan or Zen, however. "Romantic," one of the set's most interesting tracks, starts off sounding more like a folk song from its creator's own Land of the Midnight Sun, before turning into a highly rhythmic and penetrating musical exploration worthy of one of the greats.

The quietly funky "Jamal" is a salute to pianist Ahmad Jamal who, with Bill Evans, is one of Jansson's Precursors. On the understated swinger "Koan 2," young drummer Paul Svanberg pushes things along very nicely.

"The Organist," a lilting, melancholic ballad, features a fine solo from bassist Thomas Fonnesbaek. On the closer, the short "Hippocampus," Jansson is joined by five members of the classical Ensemble MidtVest, which played with him on his previous Worship of Self (Prophone, 2012). It—and the rest of the album—leaves hopes for motto: that's Japanese for more.

Track Listing: Shikantaza; Koan 3; El Piloto; A Gentle Heart; Iceland; He Who Sings And Sobs; Too Good To Me; Romantic; Uroboros; Jamal; Koan 2; The Organist; Hippocampus (Woodwinds 5).

Personnel: Lars Jansson: piano; Thomas Fonnesbæk: bass; Paul Svanberg: drums.

Title: Koan | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Prophone Records

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