Jul 16 2012
With the torrent of new releases that drop every Tuesday, things can get a little hectic. No matter how much I prepare for it, no matter how aware I am of the release schedule and familiar with the music, it’s a manic 24 hours. I spend most of the day doing nothing but writing for a couple sites, not to mention the various social tool interactions that result. My attention span is severely taxed. So it’s always nice when I encounter an under-the-radar album that provides me a momentary reprieve, a music eye-of-the-storm amidst the deluge of new albums.
The Jerry Johansson Quartet‘s House of Hope was one such album.
For myself, the pairing of guitar and vibes in a jazz setting has been something that’s floated my boat for years. The meshing of the vibes brings icicle precision and the guitar’s flickering heat entices the ear, and though each element is perfectly able to snuff out the other at any time, it’s their comparable strength of stringing together lines of bright notes that overcomes any cold vs. hot battle. The clash between the two engages the brain, while, simultaneously, the compatibility embraces the heart. It makes the kind of music easy to drift off into daydream, in the middle of a hectic day.
Your album personnel: Jerry Johansson (electric guitar), Mark Johnson (vibes), Jorgen Svensson (double bass), and Anders Winald (drums).
A live album, though one would only know it from the polite applause at the conclusion of every track. The sound is quite good.
The music has a hypnotic effect. When the quartet stretches out, it sometimes leaves jazz behind and enters some of the motifs of 70s rock-fusion… extended solos that rise and fall with a psychedelic grace. It’s nothing that will get confused with Mahavishnu Orchestra, nor even with the organic World Jazz trip-vibe of Oregon, but there’s traces of it present. At times, the hypnotic thrall runs closer to a modern drone piece, a la Chris Schlarb or Pollen Trio, which just amps up the dreamy strength of this release.
Johansson provides some nice accompaniment as rhythm guitarist, giving the music an easy shuffle at those times when the quartet threatens to break into a gallop. But it’s his way of playing way up close then gradually receding off into the background that exemplifies his best contribution to the album… he toys with the concept of distance on his guitar, making his presence almost ephemeral at times, tough to nail down, though a pattern can be sensed in the motion of the notes.
Johnson shows an ability to stretch out on vibes in all directions, but eschews a linear attack for something more resembling a circular shape to his improvisation, which not only enhances the alluring effect of the music, but also adds a layer of cohesiveness to the quartet, like wrapping it up in a bow.
Svensson’s bass imbues the album with an urgent pulse, so that even during moments of serenity, there’s an idea out there that maybe letting down one’s guard isn’t the best idea. He keeps the music on its toes.
Winald is sometimes chipper, sometimes rambunctious on drums. He has a conversational style, though sometimes his rhythms speak very quickly and dominate the room. The strongest moments are when he adds a necessary bounce to the music, a purposeful hop.
Album opens with the easy sway of weeping willows beneath an insistent breeze. Vibes and guitar trade phrases before bass gets the quartet moving forward together again as one. The edges of the music get sharper as the song progresses, and the instruments grow more in unison, providing a nice contrast to the casual ease of the song’s opening.
The second track has a pleasant skip and sway to it. There are some freer moments when one member or other of the quartet takes off on their own, and the middle section has a drum solo, but mostly it’s a walk through a sun-drenched field, the quartet layering their sounds atop one another like sheets of light.
Of the five album tracks, the third is by far the most serene. Johansson sweeps up and down the guitar, sound as waves briskly crossing the horizon, while Johnson’s vibes shine like light beneath the water’s surface, magical and other-worldly. Svensson keeps to the lower registers on bass, which, actually, gives a fuzzy warmth to the sound of the vibes. Winald doesn’t do anything special on drums here, but the amicable rhythms accentuate the congenial atmosphere.
A little groove and swing on the fourth track. An upbeat tune that has guitar and bass trading hi-fives while vibes and drums dance amongst themselves.
The album ends with an extended jam, a riff on the art of falling down flights of spiral stairs. Twisting lines of melody, choppy rhythms that get the head bopping, and a rising tension all combine to bring the album to a rousing conclusion.
Released on the Kning Disk label.
Jazz from the Goteborg, Sweden scene.