The young baritone saxophonist Jonah Parzen-Johnson, a Chicago native and Brooklyn resident, has an enviable musical pedigree. With music degrees from NYU and Manhattan School of Music, he also studied under Mwata Bowden, of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and a member of the eclectic (but long defunct) 8 Bold Souls. Remember When Things Were Better Tomorrow is Parzen-Johnson's second release following Michiana (Primary Records, 2012)both solo outings.
Parzen-Johnson, while being strongly influenced by the AACM, is also partial to the spare sound of Appalachian Americana. If the two appear to be musically disengaged, it is no less a stretch than the technical aspects of working with an analog synthesizer directly connected to the sax and manipulated by foot pedals. On Remember When Things Were Better Tomorrow Parzen-Johnson searches out the aural potential of the sax and synthesizer marriage while staying true to his stated goal of telling stories through his music.
The deep, quiet sax that opens "I Keep Thinking Sit Down" merges with droning effects as a pronounced wave of lyricism floats in and out. "If You Can't Sleep, Just Shut Your Eyes" features more prolonged passages of electronic ambience but the melody is always near or at the surface. There is a particularly nice effect on "Stay There, I'll Come to You" where Parzen-Johnson's spot-on impression of bagpipes imparts a folky feel to the composition. A cover of Neil Young's "On the Way Home" wraps up the album and is the only piece that is purely a saxophone solo.
Solo outingsespecially on wide ranging instrumentsoften lead to the hard-to-resist temptation to emphasize technical functionalities in a prominent manner. With the expanded range of effects that Parzen-Johnson's synthesizer leaves at his disposal, it is even more admirable that he opts for a nuanced, and often lyrical, approach on Remember When Things Were Better Tomorrow. It's an unusual and engaging collection and Parzen-Johnson seems to have a bright future.
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.
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