Music from Steninge (Improvs and Soundesign)
LJ Records, Sweden - LJCD5239
Available at Jazz Now Direct CD Store
Tenor saxophonist Ove Johansson, first come across by me in these E-pages (did I spell that right?) on a very fine, often brilliant fusion CD by Susanna Lindeborg's Mwendo Dawa (also on LJ Records, a CD called TIME SIGN, and don't tell me fusion is music is dead; if you think so I invite you to check out Mwendo Dawa or Percy Jones' band Tunnels), has a solid and workmanlike tenor tone. Not as thick as Klaus Doldinger's or 'Trane's, not as thin as Jan Garbarek's alto has got over the years. The music here is Johansson on tenor and various synthesizers (mostly the EWI, which I believe may be a descendant of the Fairlight CMI). It's diverting, it's pleasant listening, and you will sit bolt upright no small number of times, but if you are like me and get a big thrill out of, say, Paul Dunmall or Alan Wilkinson (Brit saxophonists, both of whom should be better-known) probing the far reaches of the instrument's abilities, this may not do it for you. Johansson remains solidly "in'' throughout on these 59 minutes of improvs, a tendency to flurry and dip and leap aside, and often the attention will move toward the texture of the background. Yes, some of them are fun too! "Selected Idea" features some unison lines between sax and synth that make the eyes bug (a nice occasional walking 'virtual bass' and 'virtual piano' here too), while distant vocal choruses highlight "April 4-02," "Prochoice" and "Malrack," among others. The thing is, I often find myself wondering just how Mr. Johansson constructed this music. Did he improvise an EWI track and then fill out the supposed gaps on tenor? It just seems that 90% of the time the background EWI moves are leading the sax around by the nose. Admittedly it's all done by the same head at different times, but there's a feel of improv that isn't' here. No, it isn't sterile; just a bit 'off.'
Maybe I'd like MUSIC FROM STENINGE better if there were more breathing room between notes. The CD booklet kindly provides a beautiful shot of what may be Mr. Johansson's front yard (Steninge in Sweden); if I may be so bold as to surmise, maybe the not-endless-but-close storms of notes from sax and EWI are an attempt to fill the silence he hears on that gorgeous shoreline? Makes me think back fondly on Jan Garbarek's trio CD with Ralph Towner and God (actually, a massive wind harp on the coast of Norway; sorry!) on ECM in the mid-1970s: as J. G. was still experimenting with the tenor at that time, it was rather thrilling to hear Garbarek blasting chords across the immense amoeba-like cluster of tones emanating from the windharp, while Towner's acoustic guitar would drift in and out like a swami on a magic carpet. But it was the silences that made that record. Every once in a while I think the composer has to stop (even during the composition's run time) and let the listener react to what he/she's heard. Frankly, by the time track 10 ("EWI + Design 3") came up, I was beginning to feel a little battered. I began hearing references to "Freedom Jazz Dance" that weren't really there. Not a good sign!
Mr. Johansson has excellent technique on actual and virtual instruments alike, but some pruning may be necessary. Si vous voulez...
by Kenneth Egbert
Ove Johansson - Music from Steninge (Improvs and Soundesign) is available at Jazz Now Direct CD Store