Category Archives: jazz

Jonah Parzen-Johnson – “Remember When Things Were Better Tomorrow”

Jonah Parzen-Johnson’s music is an eclectic mix of soulful, street-corner solo sax melodies, gritty multiphonics and microtonal excursions against a backdrop of analog synths and various effects. His tone is impeccably clean one second and drenched in layered waves of pulsating echoes. He plays both with electronics and against them, sometimes using them as extensions of his horn, while at other times he’s using them to create dense contrapuntal layers.

Across his album “Remember When Things Were Better Tomorrow” these incredibly complex and vibrant ideas take shape within each track. Each song is a journey with its own twists and turns, and its own highs and lows. Contemplative one second, resolute the next. In the video for “I Wrote a Story About You, Without You” we get a clear visual analogue to the sounds. Life rushes around, filtered through clandestine security cameras in downtown Chicago and New York; soon its seen through the frantic movements of someone desperately searching google maps. At first the track’s opening soliloquy begins an ascending scale that slowly speeds up, is mixed with bright and reverberant harmonies, and then takes off into the realm of something a little more synthetic and frantic. Parzen-Johnson’s circular breathing, prolonging lines well beyond a single breath, only adds to the tension and propulsion. “I Wrote a Story…” captures a sort of sentimentality, but also an uneasiness, a malaise; perhaps something we all feel as we go about our daily lives, trying to remember what it is that we were planning on doing, and why it is that we aren’t doing it. We go on about our daily business anyway, trying to figure a way out.

That sentimentality, that same subtle melancholy is also captured on the album’s closing track, “On the Way Home.” Stripped of any electronics, we are treated to an extended melody with absolutely brilliant phrasing and control. Each small break between the phrases has me listening closer, waiting, and hoping that there will be more to come. Eventually, of course, the last phrase comes and goes and we are perhaps left feeling a lack of resolution, a wanting. Or maybe it’s that we are left in deep contemplation.

The entire album is brilliant, and just came out earlier this week on Primary Records. Parzen-Johnson, a Chicago native by the way, is out on an extensive tour in support of “Remember When Things Were Better Tomorrow.” You can find dates below the video and you can also check out his website in order to get the album as a CD, digital download, or on limited 150g vinyl.

06/05/15 Seattle, WA Cafe Racer
06/06/15 San Fran, CA Center For New Music
with The Steven Lugerner Octet
06/08/15 Sacramento, CA Luna’s Cafe
Time: 7:30pm. Nebraska Mondays
06/09/15 Los Angeles, CA Moryork Gallery
06/11/15 Chicago, IL Elastic Arts
06/12/15 Milwaukee WI Frank’s Power Plant
w/Devin Drobka, Barry Paul Clark, and Jay Mollerskov
06/13/15 Madison, WI Bright Red Studios
06/15/15 Minneapolis, MN Ice House
w/ JT’s Jazz Implosion
06/16/15 St Louis, MO Foam
06/17/15 Louisville, KY Dreamland
06/19/15 Greensboro, NC New York PIzza
with Xelos Verv and Sun Swan
06/20/15 Durham, NC The Shed
with Polyorchard
06/21/15 Asheville, NC The Mothlight
06/24/15 Charlottesville The Garage
06/25/15 Washington DC 453 Florida Ave NW
06/27/15 Philadelphia, PA The First Banana with Accretionist, Daniel Fishkin, and LXV
06/30/15 Cambridge, MA Lilypad
07/01/15 Montreal QC La Passe Canada
07/02/15 Providence RI 186 Carpenter Street

Stream: Crown Larks – “Blood Dancer”

More often than not it seems that groups see the opportunity of entering a recording studio as a way to over-indulge. They spend thousands of hours on a single measure, making sure that absolutely every sound has been micro-managed to death. The end result is usually an album that is lifeless, unexciting, and devoid of all musicality.

“Blood Dancer” is very much not one of those albums. What you get from the second that you start it up is an album that slowly comes to life, developing over the course of its seven tracks. It’s pretty apt, then, that the first lyric on album opener “Gambian Blue Wave” is “Watch it unfurl…”  A song that sets the course for the floating, expansive ideas that form the foundation of all those that follow.

Each track finds itself somehow in the various worlds of krautrock, noise and experimental jazz-fusion, with trippy ethereal vocals popping up now and again. The best thing about listening to the album is the way that the band feeds off each other, and develops several different layers of sound slowly, steadily.

A generous mix of bleating horns, distorted guitars feeding back, and a barrage of drums brings us to “The Timebound Bloos,” which finds a strange way of starting a song in the middle, moving directly to a musical freak-out early Sonic Youth would be proud of.  Before long the song locks into a straight forward groove and promptly concludes.

I think that my favorite track is “Blood Mirage.” I have a tendency to fall for songs that have the ability to somehow sound as if they are dragging time backwards; somehow in slow motion and real-time at the exact same time. The way that everything lays so far back in the groove – the Rhodes and drums particularly – just makes you feel like time is moving so much slower. It’s a weird kind of transfixion, and the way that everything clears out toward the middle of the track to lock down a steady (and strictly in time) propulsive krautrock groove brings that meditative type state to a whole other level.

The best way to put it, I think, would be to say that the songs on “Blood Dancer” are a mix of “Dark Side of the Moon,” and “Bitches Brew,” filtered through Can’s “Ege Bamyasi.” And I could go into detail about each of the songs, as they each cover some particularly interesting territory and are worth multiple listens for sure, but I think it would be best to let you explore for yourself. Sit back and listen to the entire album in a sitting, and then start it over and do it again.

The album is available in every format you can think of, including deluxe 150 g vinyl and CD, by Spacelung/Landbreathing Records; and as an imprinted cassette through the Chicago boutique label Already Dead. You can order the album in any format, as well as stream it through the band’s bandcamp page.

Crown Larks are also on tour throughout the midwest, East Coast and even a few dates in Canada. You can check those dates here.



Stream: not the Wind, not the flag – “the starmaker”

It took me a really long time to get into the music of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and there were a few reasons why. First of all everyone that I ever came into contact was absolutely ecstatic about them and would insist repeatedly that I listen to them. That’s strike one. The other thing that I couldn’t get my head around was why the songs had to be 20+ minutes long. I didn’t have the patience. Get me to the loud, fast parts and then let me be on my way.

Obviously a lot has changed, and after seeing them live I finally “got” it. It’s really about the journey. Not the Wind, Not the Flag are crafting songs that are just that: about the journey.

Things are considerably freer here than on anything that you would find on, say, a Godspeed album. The sound is rawer, more exciting, more alive. As you listen you can hear the songs coming into focus, taking shape and continuing in a logical trajectory. Just listening to the gradual buildup of “many monsters stand between us” as it grows louder and more active, full of distortion and just about to boil over with feedback I’m waiting for the guitar to just break away and soar into a solo. When the short burst of virtuosic guitar comes to the front it’s heavily shrouded in the noise and feedback atmosphere from where it came. And just as gradually and organically as the song grew, it returns to the somber, echoed and chorused guitar chord swells that began the track.

This is a duo that makes a lot of noise, and they definitely know how to fill a space. It’s almost equal parts Lightning Bolt and free-jazz freak out. The next track takes a much different approach, adding saxophone to the mix for a lot more of a melodically driven composition. That song, “in the province of the mind, there are no limits” is a whole other beast completely.

Definitely worth checking out. Listen above or head over to their bandcamp page. There are some other releases on there for you to listen to, though “the starmaker” from last year is their most recent. Keep an eye out for them if you are in the Toronto area.

Jerseyband CD release show

I’ve written about these guys before when they were trying to raise funds to produce a new release. In that time they finished recording and pressing “Forever Hammer” a 4 song, 18 minute, EP of finely crafted jazz/metal/prog/fusion….well, they simply refer to it as “lungcore” and you should too.

In celebration of this latest release the band will be playing a show on August 16 at the Littlefield in Brooklyn, NY. Tickets are currently on sale and at $10 – $12 they are a steal! Also on the bill is Gato Loco and the Hirschfeld/Nazary Duo.

I’ve had the EP for a few months now, being that I dutifully contributed to the Kickstarter project and it’s great to hear them continuing to evolve their sound. The level of musicianship is way beyond anything else out there, and there really is no band that even comes close to playing anything resembling Jerseyband’s type of music. They are a genre unto themselves.

Unfortunately it looks like their web presence hasn’t been updated much since the release of their last full-length, the phenomenal “Beast-Wedding” from 2009, that can be heard in its entirety on their Bandcamp page. Their past releases “Little Bag of Feet for Shoes” and the live album “Lungpunch Fantasy” can also be heard on the site too.

If you are in NYC, go to this show, you’ll be sorry if you don’t.

Jerseyband: web | Facebook | Bandcamp | Myspace | Youtube | CD Baby | Twitter

Jerseyband Kickstarter project

This post was originally published at here at on April 15, 2011:


Jerseyband is a unique group. They play a style of music that they have dubbed “lungcore” – a hard-edged version of prog-metal fronted by a horn section. The amalgam of jazz elements with metal make complete sense in their hands, and they have happily produced six full length albums of fun, tricky and hard hitting music over the course of their decade of existence. I have personally been a fan of their music since 2006 when a friend let me borrow their 2003 album Little Bag of Feet for Shoes. What struck me right away was the perfection in their playing, the sudden turns, the death metal stabs of low end guitar and the way that the sax section really worked as one. Sure, they are blending several different styles of music, but they really make it something wholly original. I never thought I would bang my head to saxophone music, but I had never heard music like this before.

Their live album Lungpunch Fantasy showcased compositions that had never been committed to disc before, with the added bonus of putting their live chops on display. The amazing thing is that it serves to prove that their tightness is not a result of any studio trickery. These guys are the real deal. Discovering that they have all graduated from the prestigious Eastman School of Music brings things even more into focus.

Jerseyband has recently completed the recording sessions for what they hope to be their seventh full length album. This is where we come in. They need help funding the mastering, mixing and production and are trying to do so through Kickstarter. If you aren’t familiar with how the site works, basically someone proposes a project and it is only funded fully if enough people pledge money within the time limit. Though a lot of the projects may seem frivolous, there are quite a few that are worthwhile. I see it as a way to independently do anything. Visit the site, take a look at the goodies that can be had for pledging at a certain level, and consider helping this band bring some new music into the world. You can check out all of their music on their Bandcamp page and watch them in action on Youtube.




Album review: Colin Stetson – "New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges"

Colin Stetson is a saxophonist that is clearly out of his mind.

Sax players, in my experience, are a divided lot. They usually either stay on the side of jazz or classical and never the twain shall meet. More accurately, they will stick with party lines and immediately show their loyalty to their chosen side by hating the other group with every ounce of expendable energy that they have. This means that any energy that is left over after obsessive study of all things saxophone is dedicated to speaking down to the other side. I feel as though Colin Stetson may be an exception to that rule, or maybe he just didn’t get the memo. He clearly doesn’t think that there is a need to take a side. Perhaps he is creating a new side, because his music sounds like nothing I have ever heard before. If all contemporary composition for the sax sounded like this I would actually pay attention to contemporary compositions for the sax.

His music is a non-stop barrage of sound that searches for, and finds, ways to make a unilinear instrument such as his sound polyphonic. It’s not that it just sounds that way, it is. Stetson employs not only a complex melodic line that pops out over a sea of supporting, textural, notes; he uses everything that his instrument and he himself physically has to offer. Percussive key clicks serve as not only drums of sorts, but mimic the pitch and timbre characteristics of the pizzicato plucking of a double bass. Multiphonics, or complex clusters of pitches sounded simultaneously as a result of overblowing certain key combinations, help to not only thicken the sound, but provide unique colors to certain parts of a song.

The circular breathing technique, which is essentially breathing out while breathing in concurrently, means that there doesn’t have to be a single break in his melodic line. Ever. For minutes at a time the notes just flow. It’s remarkable.

Colin Stetson - "New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges"

While all of these things are great, they don’t make a song in and of themselves. All of these things would mean so much less if they weren’t coming from a virtuosic performer of such a high caliber.

“A Dream of Water” takes off like a rocket and doesn’t let up. Melodies are hidden inside other melodies, weaving in and out of each other. There is a constant flurry of septuplets rolling through the air while a plain-spoken voice enters, noting observations and asking some questions: “There were those who knew only the sound of their own voices, there were those who knew the rules, there were those who freed their bodies…what was it? What was it?” The voice doesn’t simply make the track more accessible to a certain extent but also serves to haunt the listener, making the pervasive rapid notes carry more weight.

With “Home” the percussive techniques are amped up while the general mood is considerably more sedate. Colin sings through his instrument, humming in a way that transforms the saxophone partially into a theremin in its thin and straight tone. He also sings on the track “Judges”, but there it is a bit more like a growl or a choked scream. His ability to circular breathe isn’t just used to crank out a million notes without stopping, but also to lay down a single foundational pitch like the flat bass pedal tone that remains throughout “Lord I just can’t keep from crying” while a soulful spiritual is sung over top. His inhaling can be heard while the bass note continues to grow louder and more intense while this time the sax seems to take on the sound of a didjeridoo.

An entire ensemble of percussive tongue slaps, key clicks, and growls are summoned in “Red Horses” while “The righteous wrath of an honorable man” is pure blazing virtuosity, fingers flying all over across (this time) silent keys. The notes pop and squeal, leaping out of the furiously fast line. The work on this piece is truly awe inspiring. Starting from nowhere and then soaring for two and a half minutes at breakneck speed before abruptly stopping. The end comes suddenly as a car slamming into a brick wall at 80 miles an hour with nary a note out of place.

The album closes with a track that layers multiphonics atop an endless pedal tone, just as in “Lord I just can’t keep from crying”. Here, however, multiphonics slowly turn to a growl as the volume grows, sounding like something between an overdriven guitar and a siren, until eventually the track slowly fades away.

One of the many great things about this album is that Stetson’s bag of tricks doesn’t grow tired by albums end. His technique is flawless and his songs are multifaceted. There is just so much to listen to and so much to listen for. On the one hand it’s great to just sit back and listen to all of the notes fly by in some of the tracks. Another listen and one can begin to hear the different melodies weaving through each other; another ten listens can easily be spent marveling at how he put this all together without recording over himself a million times.

This album has me spellbound in amazement at his superhuman abilities. “New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges” is quite an astoundingly daring, creative and virtuosic masterpiece of an album.

[audio:|titles=From no part of me could I summon a voice] [audio:|titles=Home] [audio:|titles=The righteous wrath of an honorable man]