Empathy has always permeated Jonah Parzen-Johnson’s music. In 2015 he released a book titled Three Reasons To Love Here. The book was written after a tour supporting his second solo album ‘Remember When Things Were Better Tomorrow’. During that tour he collected three reasons to live in each of the 34 US cities he visited.
This experiment clearly had lasting effects, as his latest album ‘Imagine Giving Up’ is based on his reflections about empathy, but also about life choices, risk and privilege. Parez-Johnson has channelled these thoughts into the kind of music that feels career defining. The six tracks that make up ‘Imagine Giving Up’ are his strongest to date and sees him taking a step away from the ambient jazz of his previous releases. Instead ‘Imagine Giving Up’ is grounded in drone with electronics and sax, blending in to create something abstract.
This is certainly true on ‘Focus Re:Focus’ and ‘We Stand Still’ which feel like Dan ‘Caribou’ Snaith having a bash at drone jazz. The electronics are hypnotic and give the sax space to swell, whilst never overshadowing the glorious, glorious drones.
The standout track on the album is ‘The Smile When You Fall’. Here Parzen-Johnson delivers his best sax performance on the album. Gentle breathy phrases are punctuated by guttural rasps, before the delicate run begins again. Instead of ramping up the rasps, to build tension Parzen-Johnson takes his time and continues to play captivating solo runs, then, with no warning, Parzen-Johnson’s starts to layer the track.
At first there is a sense of disorientation as the sax is out of sequence, but as Parzen-Johnson continues to add layers everything starts to overload and sound glitchy. Then as quickly as the maelstroms start, they cease, leaving Parzen-Johnson playing a whispering outro.
‘Imagine Giving Up’ consists of ludic moments, and motifs. As Parzen-Johnson’s sax drifts in front of you like an apparition the jarring synths remind you that this isn’t some dream world you are inhabiting. And it’s the start synths that are the main event. They underpin everything that Parzen-Johnson plays, heightening the emotion of his sonorous sax.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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