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Johansson is a musician largely lost on American jazz audiences. Though he was a seminal force on Peter Brötzmann’s legendary Machine Gun (fmp) and collaborated on various occasions with pianist Alexander von Schilippenbach in the 1970s his discography has been something of a recondite affair, revealed only to those musical archeologists willing to dig. In like fashion, this album, originally self-produced and release, had an initial pressing of only several hundred copies making it’s rarity fit well into the rubric of John Corbett’s Unheard reissues series.
Sticking solely to drum kit throughout the disc Johansson uses the three tracks, two lengthy and the third serving as a comparatively cursory interlude, to delve headlong into the myriad rhythmic options achievable through the substances of skin, metal, plastic and wood. “Nahbild” starts almost imperceptibly with the swish of cymbals and snare. Building gradually along a polyrhythmic path Johansson starts out promisingly, but eventually diffuses into a continuous, though fluctuating series of press rolls replete with cymbal accents. His patterns are tribal and tidal in scope resonating outward through lapidary waves of repetition that entrance the ears at the same time they lull them.
For a disc dominated by drums this set is surprisingly subdued and quiet. Johansson doesn’t seem to be concerned with testing the levels of bedlam and din achievable through his kit. He’s far more occupied with plumbing the possibilities of texture, timbre and space. In many respects this album is the antithesis of its companion in the Unheard Music Series, Han Bennink’s Nerve Beats. Noise and bombast are at the core of that latter effort whereas Johansson largely eschews them here. Though there’s audibly a great deal going on under his sticks the dearth of volume sometimes creates the illusion of sameness between pieces. A carefully focused ear will discern otherwise, but simple surface listening may prove frustrating, a testament both to Johansson’s artistry and his courage.
Track Listing: Nahbild/ Kurze Studie/ Etwas Entfernt Vom Mikrofon.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.