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Jonah Parzen-Johnson: Remember When Things Were Better Tomorrow

Dave Wayne By

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In the hands (and minds) of certain artists, self-imposed limitations can actually become fertile ground for creative work- arounds, new strategies, new ways of seeing and hearing things. Multi-instrumentalist Jonah Parzen-Johnson is one such artist. Parzen-Johnson plays baritone saxophone and analog synthesizer simultaneously and spontaneously. No overdubs or studio trickery. As you might imagine, his music is quite distinctive. After listening to Remember When Things Were Better Tomorrow, I would say that what Parzen-Johnson is doing is attempting to merge two disparate instruments into a single, cogent whole. He's not playing duets with himself or attempting to function as a "one man band." Subtly, with sly wit, Parzen-Johnson's music forms itself within the interstices of electronic and acoustic sound: it is both and neither.

With the baritone saxophone, Parzen-Johnson uses circular breathing and other extended techniques quite extensively. At the same time, he is uncannily skilled at manipulating the electronics in a way that flows alongside the natural fluctuations of his saxophone. It's a fascinating sound to listen to, full of rich details in between the notes. Not unlike bagpipes, at times, but more attractive and varied. The only person that I know of in the jazz world who's come close to this sort of musical exploration—specifically involving the baritone saxophone and analog electronics—is, of course, John Surman. Unlike Surman, Parzen-Johnson generally eschews sequencers and wild improvisations, focussing instead on timbral and textural elements, almost to a fault. When Parzen- Johnson does use the electronics to generate gently pulsating rhythmic patterns, as on "Eyes Like Paddles" and "If You Can't Sleep, Just Shut Your Eyes," the effect is striking though not entirely without a little welcome déjà vu.

The music on Remember When Things Were Better Tomorrow is generally slow-moving and textural. The grainy surfaces of the baritone saxophone meld naturally into the similarly rough-hewn electronic sounds. Not all of it is "avant- garde" either. His solo baritone cover of Neil Young's "On The Way Home" is a case in point, as is "Eyes Like Paddles" which opens—and closes—with a lyrical solo baritone foray. By contrast, sections of "Never Stop Counting" and "Stay There, I'll Come To You" are primarily concerned with harmonics, standing waves and overtones; some of which will sound quite familiar to those who've encountered the music of Sunn O))). Several of the tracks, particularly "I Wrote A Story About You, Without You," "I Keep Thinking Sit Down," and "If You Can't Sleep, Just Shut Your Eyes" reminded me of some of Richard Pinhas' creations; both as a solo artist and with his band Heldon. Parzen-Johnson and Pinhas, in particular, share a fascination with drones, juxtapositions of electronic and acoustic sounds, and bleakly surreal soundscapes.

Remember When Things Were Better Tomorrow is a striking and impeccably-conceived foray into an authentically individualistic sound-world.

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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