Doing it deep

If you think you've heard something like Jonah Parzen-Johnson, you're wrong. You haven't. And don't argue with me.

Jonah Parzen-Johnson
I Try to Remember Where I Come From
(Clean Feed)

Parzen-Johnson plays the baritone saxophone. Which is unusual enough. The bari sax is not used much in jazz, and it typically mimics the tuba and/or bassoon lines in high school bands. You've probably heard Steve Berlin on Los Lobos albums, but there aren't a lot of other mainstream examples. I think the bari sax is one of the coolest sounding instruments around, but it has definitely gotten the short shrift from "serious" musicians over the years.

Not only does Parzen-Johnson play a bastard child of an instrument, he plays it in a very unusual way. Using circular breathing, he keeps the sound going at all times. On this album, he augments the sax with synthesizer components that he plays while playing the sax. According to the notes, this album was recorded with no overdubs. If that's true (and I have no reason to doubt), then this is an amazing technical accomplishment.

But wizardry only takes one so far. Parzen-Johnson's pieces are stunning. He sets a scene and then tells a story within each work. And while the circular breathing and synthesizer elements can lead to something of a drone-line effect at times, this is an album that emphasizes movement and melody above everything else. He makes reference to "advanced saxophone techniques" in the notes, and he's not kidding. Often, he is getting two tones at once out of his sax. But the magic is in the works themselves, which are mesmerizing and engaging.

So, yeah. This is a singular effort. And it is one of the most captivating albums of the yeah. You have not heard anything like Parzen-Johnson before, but you'll walk away wanting to hear a lot more.

Jon Worley

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