Saturday, December 3, 2022

Tomas Janzon Leaves Harlem to Go “Nomadic”

Cover of the album being discussed (courtesy of Tomas Janzon)

I first became aware of Swedish guitarist Tomas Janzon when he released his 130th & Lenox album, named after where he was living in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan. That context of “having a base” has been uprooted with the release this past October of his latest album, entitled Nomadic. It would be reasonable to assume that the eleven tracks on this recording reflect his life under pandemic conditions and his response to the recent lifting of constraints. Thus, the advance material I received for this new album included what amounts to current impressions as a reflection on those past constraints:

Not being held down by time and place.
Going for movement not being landlocked, things keep evolving
allowing for different perspectives.
Focusing on the ideas and the music itself.
Different players and their unique styles.
Expansive, reflecting on where we are.
This is a snapshot of what’s been going on.

That reference to “different players and their unique styles” bears some consideration. On 130th & Lenox only three of the tracks were Janzon originals with an impressive diversity among the remaining “standards” tracks. Nomadic, on the other hand, has eleven tracks, eight of which are composed by Janzon. These rub shoulders with Sonny Rollins (“Valse Hot”), “Search for Peace” (McCoy Tyner), and a “medley track” of “SubconsciousLee” (Lee Konitz) and “Hot House” (Tadd Dameron).

Six of the tracks offer some thoroughly engaging interplay between Janzon and Steve Nelson on vibraphone. Those tracks were recorded this past March 2 in Brooklyn with rhythm supplied by Hilliard Greene on bass and Chuck McPherson on drums. The remaining tracks were recorded in Pasadena in June of 2021 and April of 2022. That cross-country span should suggest that Janzon’s “nomadic” disposition involved travel between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts!

Where my own personal tastes are concerned, I would have to confess that my eclectic background drew me to Janzon’s “Letter from JSB” track. My guess is that most listeners will recognize that the initials refer to Johann Sebastian Bach. To be more specific, Janzon took the Sarabande movement from the BWV 1011 solo cello suite in C minor and used it to develop a dialog with Nelson’s vibraphone work. This involved more than a little deconstruction of Bach’s extended phrases into more compact motifs, which then seed the improvisation that unfolds.

Given how much attention is given to guitar performances here in San Francisco, I can only hope that a bit of that attention will go to providing Janzon with an opportunity to visit our city.

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