Jonah Yano – Portrait Of A Dog

Tender tales of family dynamics and assimilation from the Montreal musician….

Jonah Yano’s pandemic-era album ‘Souvenir’ comprised stylistically ambiguous songs within songs; a hazy sense of belonging, the wounds of distant parentage and wider social alienation the threads the Hiroshima-born, Montreal-based musician pulled on. On follow-up, ‘Portrait Of A Dog’, out on Innovative Leisure, broader generational healing runs parallel to the reminiscence of a waning romantic relationship. Yano continues to memorialise his past; reconciling with once familiar places and the people that occupy it, revisiting and piecing together personal archives and mementos, reconfiguring elliptical moments into the everlasting.

Produced with regular collaborators BADBADNOTGOOD, ‘Portrait Of A Dog’ develops the gauzy sound sketches of Yano’s previous projects into a bolder and brassier iteration; meandering between traditional and new wave jazz, countrified folk and psychedelic rock moments – sometimes all in the space of one track. Yano appeals to this generation’s sense of displacement by embracing the rootless, extemporised feel of modern jazz: his version isn’t esoteric but intimate and inviting.

The emotional core of the album is the tragicomic ‘so sweet’, replete with prismatic bass melody and beatific strings (courtesy of Eliza Niemi, Leland Whitty, and Yano himself), overlaid with recordings by members of Yano’s family anticipating the looming death of his Grandfather. The track and much of ‘Portrait’ wrestles with the weight of familial legacy and how those relationships wither or evolve with time; on ‘always’, Yano holds a mirror to his younger brother healing from heartbreak, a tender moment of cathartic stillness and crescendo.

Closer ‘the ordinary is ordinary because it ordinarily repeats’, is 6 minutes of mosaic ensemble musicianship, cascading jazz performed with vim and free-flowing virtuosity. Much of the album overflows with that sense of freedom, a showcase of Yano’s growth not just as a lyrical storyteller but a conductor comfortably guiding the composite parts of his trusted band. ‘Portrait Of A Dog’ offers up a compelling glimpse into Yano’s chimerical interior world, deftly and sincerely, unfurling memory after memory without devolving into, and getting lost in, syrupy sentimentality.  


Words: Shahzaib Hussain

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