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Jonah Parzen-Johnson: Remember When Things Were Better Tomorrow

Dan Bilawsky By

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Hymn-like melodies, oscillating and quivering sounds, and a mixture of solemnity and adventurousness all inform the solo work of saxophonist Jonah Parzen-Johnson. On Remember When Things Were Better Tomorrow, Parzen-Johnson is all by his lonesome with his baritone saxophone and analog synthesizer, creating what could rightly be described as trance spirituals for the modern epoch or, in the words of the man himself, "lo-fi experimental folk music."

Parzen-Johnson, a Chicago native who's now based in Brooklyn, was steeped in the creative ethos of the AACM from an early age. He studied with saxophonist Matana Roberts, attended many a jam session directed by the late Fred Anderson, and basked in the glow of the music created by many of that organization's forward-thinking members. Given those influences, it should come as no surprise that he's carved his own path and proven to be a highly creative nonconformist. While performing solo, Parzen-Johnson envelops his saxophone with hypnotic, pedal-operated synthesizer lines, creating a striking blend of sounds that can be peculiar and profound all at once. And through the use of extended horn techniques—circular breathing, vocalizing through his horn a la Colin Stetson, and working with multiphonics—he's able to take things even further, turning homespun melodic motifs into multi-dimensional offerings.

The music presented on Remember When Things Were Better Tomorrow can be eerie ("Eyes Like Paddles"), serene and endearing (Neil Young's "On The Way Home"), or trippy and soothing in nature ("Never Stop Counting"). Parzen-Johnson sings songs of praise through his horn, sets off arresting ideas with his analog synthesizer, and blends the two to create something singular in the process. And lest the skeptics think he used any studio smoke and mirrors to create this music, it should be noted that all of it was recorded live to two track tape with no overdubs, loops, or sonic trickery of any sort at play. This is true solo music that touches the soul, speaks to the mind, and captures the imagination.

Track Listing: I Keep Thinking Sit Down; If You Can't Sleep, Just Shut Your Eyes; Never Stop Counting; Eyes Like Paddles; I Wrote A Story About You, Without You; Stay There, I'll Come To You; On the Way Home.

Personnel: Jonah Parzen-Johnson: baritone saxophone and analog synthesizer.

Title: Remember When Things Were Better Tomorrow | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Primary Records

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