This box set of 9 heavyweight 180g LPs comprises a collection of recent recordings made during the shooting of the documentary film Blue for a Moment as well as historic material, including a concert by the Schlippenbach & Johansson duo recorded in the late 1970s. The compilation showcases the protean qualities of an essentially unclassifiable artist.
Liz Allbee trumpet
Burkhard Beins percussion
Florian Bergmann clarinet
Pauline Boeykens tuba
Rüdiger Carl clarinet
Rhodri Davies harp
Axel Dörner trumpet
Erik Drescher flutes
Alistair Duncan bass trumpet
Hilary Jeffery trombone
Sven-Åke Johansson accordion, percussion, voice
Martin Klingeberg baritone horn
Richard Koch trumpet
Annette Krebs e-guitar, electronics
Hannes Lingens bass drum
Christian Magnusson trumpet
Theo Nabicht clarinet
Andrea Neumann inside piano, electronics
Alexander von Schlippenbach piano, trumpet
With an introduction by Karl Bruckmaier
LP liner notes by Thomas Milroth
Graphic design Laurent Daubach/designbureau
Produced by Antoine Prum for Ni-Vu-Ni-Connu Productions
"Yes, Afro-America first pointed at the wounds. But Europe has its own wounds. The expressivity of the blues on the Hudson River becomes the entomologist’s curiosity on Hudson Riv. With a cool – or Nordic, if you like – gesture, Johansson dissects the structures of improvisation. For who else could do it better than the bard on drums? His beat has also to do with politeness. His furor is called restraint. His sourdough rises thanks to pop music and operetta and march music, and dons a string of lights on its head. The music doesn’t cry out for blackness, grime and makeup – it’s only blue for a moment – but whispers of the Djungel, of Schlingerland, the ballistics of European life realities. And somewhere far out there, Ol’ Man Rebop is listening to the stuttering of two-stroke engines. Because that’s the actual miracle, namely, that all things have a sound of their own, and yet no one hears it. This puts Johansson in the role of a go-between: with the sparsest of means, he lets things be wave and particle at once and, by reacting to this simultaneity in his performances, reports from other life-worlds. Do androids dream of electric sheep? Mais oui! Always performing in a suit."
The New York City Jazz Record, April 2018
Berlin-based percussionist, accordionist, vocalist, painter and poet Sven-Åke Johansson is an artist who defies categorization, even as much as European free music and “Berliner Improvisation” are handy aesthetic generalities that allow critics and connoisseurs to think that they know what they are getting themselves into. Johansson was born in 1943 in Sweden and decamped to Germany in the late ‘60s, gaining notoriety as a drummer with the groups of trumpeter Manfred Schoof and saxophonist Peter Brötzmann. His approach was controlled and resonant yet marked by dynamic impulsions, which is why he was a logical choice for Brötzmann’s trio their first proper recording, with bassist Peter Kowald, was issued privately in 1967 and reissued as For Adolphe Sax on FMP. Living and working in Berlin from 1968, Johansson directed improvising orchestras and joined increasingly madcap small formations, as well as waxing the fascinating solo LP Schlingerland/Dynamische Schwingungen.
The latter was released on his SÅJ imprint, later brought under the FMP umbrella as a home for (mostly) non-Germanic releases. In the ensuing decades Johansson has made field recordings, explored the world of torch songs (in a suitably Bertolt Brechtian fashion) and engaged seriously the tonal and rhythmic imprint of West Coast jazz. But as committed as that arc has been, Johansson can place his tongue firmly in cheek: in 2009 he assembled an orchestra of 12 farm tractors, their guttural pitches and engine timing commingling and falling out of phase like a ramshackle ensemble.
Blue for a Moment is a seven-album boxed set (two of the enclosed albums are double LPs) that acts as a soundtrack, of sorts, for the Antoine Prum documentary of the same name, which premiered in 2017 (Prum has also directed superb films on British free improvisation and the late drummer Sunny Murray). Some of the performances were captured with the intent of being used in the film, but naturally they stand on their own as complete recordings; in addition to six albums of new music, one archival performance from 1978 of the duo with pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach is also included. The whole thing is a handsome package, housed in a heavy linen-bound box with a booklet containing notes by Thomas Millroth and Karl Bruckmaier, as well as a fancy fold-out shot of the 12 farm tractors being lined up for performance. The only bugaboo—and this happens often with heavy vinyl housed in similarly heavy, pretty-looking inner sleeves—is that the LPs get a bit scuffed and that can be a challenge with quiet, sparse playing of which Berliner improvisers are fond. Note to labels: include poly inners as well!
On to the music, of which there is much and resoundingly diverse: far from merely ‘lowercase’, the stasis and cool ruggedness that marks this Berlin school is often marked here by a steadfast motion, something to be interrupted by flits, electroacoustic glitches, erasure and palimpsests. While trumpeter Liz Allbee and guitarist Annette Krebs fizz and ululate late in the story of Frost, Johansson puts on an incisive softshoe, his brushy motion linking through parallel action the furrowed distance of the trumpeter and guitarist’s free play. Lind is a beautiful document of Johansson solo; recorded in 2010, the set presents 15 short unaccompanied works for fingers, mallets and feet, metallic warp and woof, directed voice-like growls and minuscule rattle, all carried with an earthy beat and warm, human touch. Compare this with the vocals and piano of Hudson Songs, warbling and with a gravelly, tart dissonance, poems and instructions delivered with pointillism and clustered harps falling somewhere between deadpan and wryly absurd (think Art & Language conceptual songster Mayo Thompson).
While most of these discs are small groups – trios with percussionist Burkhard Beins and harpist Rhodri Davies, or trumpeter Axel Dörner and piano string manipulator Andrea Neumann, for example – Johansson does present one orchestra. Das
Marschorchester is just what it says, a two-LP set of marches played by the cream of the European avant garde, elevating banality to spirited parkmusik with soli that sound as if they’ve been superimposed. Even without film, the sound and texts of Blue for a Moment present a vivid, rousing portrait of one of creative music’s most compelling artisans.
A column by Bill Shoemaker
Point of Departure, March 2018
Sven-Åke Johansson is the quintessential dotted line in the flow chart of European improvised music. First and foremost, in a genesis narrative that foregrounds national stereotypes – earth-scorching Germans, impish Dutch, and hair-splitting Brits – and whose initial wave of innovators travelled constantly but did not permanently uproot, the Swedish percussionist stands out as an ex-pat, having moved to Berlin 50 years ago this year. By then, Johansson was already embedded in the German emancipation from American jazz: he replaced Jaki Liebezeit in Manfred Schoof’s envelope-pushing quintet with Alexander von Schlippenbach and was on board for the pianist’s “Globe Unity ‘67,” performed at the iconic Donaueschingen new music festival; he also played on Peter Brötzmann’s first trio album and Machine Gun.
“Berlin was in the ‘60s a place for free thought in aesthetics and political thinking,” Johansson recently recalled. “A lot of upcoming artists went to Berlin to communicate; you could live in big apartments cheap because the rich left, afraid of the Soviets behind the wall. It was gas light and dark and no commercial thought in the art and music scene here.”
On the one hand, Johansson’s move to Berlin reinforced connections with first-wave exponents like Schlippenbach and reed player Rudiger Carl; Johansson has collaborated with both to the present in settings spanning free improvisation, sprechgesang, jazz repertoire, and orchestras that exclusively play marches. Berlin also proved to be a strategic base for Johansson’s evolution as a conceptualist and a composer. Some of his projects are enduringly notorious, particularly a 1979 concert in Peitz that juxtaposed an improvising quartet with the noisy onstage welding and hammering of a frame-like structure by three steelworkers, and a concerto for 12 vintage farm tractors presented at the 1996 “What are we hearing?” festival in Höfgen.
Yet, Johansson’s compositions can wryly comment on canonical 20th Century music, the 1997 solo piano piece “Vom Gleichwertigan und Ungleichwertigan” (“Equal and Unequal”) being a case in point. In his essay for Steffen Schleiermacher’s Enfants Terribles, (hat[now]ART), which includes pieces by Tom Johnson, John Zorn, and the pianist, Art Lange cites how Johansson’s piece “mirror(s) Satie’s simplified patterns, childish demeanor, and labyrinthine, seemingly endless and illogical, chord modulations.” (The suggestion of a French influence should not seem unlikely; Johansson spent several years in Paris before settling in Berlin.) Additionally, the pace of the piece suggests a LP of Morton Feldman’s piano music being played at 45rpm.
Johansson refers to “a kind of continuity” in the avant-garde music created in Berlin over the decades, the years-long transitions from music created “in the shape of protest to the expressive free-form, into non-expressivity.” The latter refers to the Berlin-centered echtzeitmusik movement of the past twenty years, in which Johansson has played a catalytic role, most notably with the trio now known as Barcelona Series. Instead of the incessant drive that distinguished his free improvisations with Schlippenbach and others in the ‘70s, or the refined jazz chops he employed with his late ‘90s quintet with trumpeter Axel Dörner and bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall, the front line of the jazz-oriented Die Enttäuschung, Johansson painstakingly plies static colors and textures with Barcelona Series. It is an approach that allows for the full saturation of the soft smears, gurgles and glissandi of Dörner and the otherworldly sounds of Andrea Neumann, who extracted the strings, their cast-iron frame and sound board from a conventional piano to create a tabletop instrument easily augmented by old-school preparations and electronic interfaces.
Speaking to Peter Niklaus Wilson for the late author/bassist’s essay for Barcelona Series’ 2001 hatOLOGY debut, Johansson said the trio was cultivating “a mechanistic, almost non-expressive playing stance, with the aesthetics of renouncement or of leaving out instead of filling in.” In an essay included in echtzeitmusik berlin: selbstbestimmung einer szene/self-defining a scene (2011; Wolke; co-edited by Neumann), Thomas Milroth concludes that the trio’s “gestures are almost zero, the expression, therefore, all the more intense.” The intentionality of the music is clear. This area of his work was not “experimental at all,” asserted Johansson, answering the first of 27 Questions for a Start – a questionnaire devised in 2007 by Burkhard Beins, Bertrand Denzler and Phil Durrant, then working as Trio Sowari (Johansson is one of several musicians whose responses are included in echtzeitmusic). Instead, “this is but an accomplished method. Something is experimental if you don’t know if it makes sense, but I am not questioning anything. I’m making a proposition.”
Johansson recently made his most sweeping proposition with Blue for a Moment. The newest film by Antoine Prum (Sunny’s Time Now; Taking the Dog for a Walk), Blue for a Moment documents a wide swath of Johansson’s activities in Berlin (most of which have been collected in a massive 9-LP box set of the same name, issued on Ni-Vu-Ni-Connu), casting him as a unique rallying figure in one of the planet’s more vibrant musical communities. Although it includes a disc of 1979 duets with Schlippenbach that adds another distinctive facet to this partnership, the film and box set places Johansson’s relevancy not in history per se, nor even the emancipation trope of European improvised music; but in an ever-subversive pluralism.
Granted, the box set is silent on Johansson’s significant relationships with modern jazz and contemporary music; still, each of the various spectra of materials – of propositions – has an aura of irreducibility about it. The inclusion of discs not only by Barcelona Series, but also a trio with percussionist Beins and harpist Rhodri Davies (who, with cellist Mark Wastell, created a nexus between the New London Silence and the Echtzeit movement early in the century as The Sealed Knot), and another with guitarist Annette Krebs and trumpeter Liz Allbee (one of several noteworthy transplants thriving in Berlin), presents an emphasis on the granular, otherworldly textures and aversion to figuration that permeates present-day improvised music in Berlin.
As critical as these groups are in documenting Johansson’s relationship to the Echtzeit community, they only get one so far in assessing the totality of his work, and Berlin’s impact on it. Throughout these sides, Johansson bows, scrapes and rat-tails drums and cymbals as often as he uses standard sticks and mallets – one has to see the film to know what sounds a pair of zucchinis produce. The resulting sounds that often take on an electronic patina in these trios; but when heard isolated in the set-concluding disc of solo performances, they are squarely in a decades-long tradition of solo percussion music pioneered by Johansson and contemporaries like Pierre Favre and Eddie Prévost.
Projects like Das Marschorchester and Hudson Songs, a disc of songs Johansson sings in a nearly strangled voice, his piano accompaniment whittled down to frayed utterances, have no tangible relationship to Echtzeit; but, each of these endeavors can heard as a historical critique. Take his version of John Philip Souza’s “The Washington Post” (the common amendment of “March” is not the composer’s), commissioned by the newspaper for its essay-writing award ceremonies in 1889 – it is ebullient, but without the martial regalia often misapplied to the composition – an unostentatious brightness present throughout the 2-disc set, even in the improvised solos by Carl and others. This stands in stark contrast to the sarcasm of the marches by contemporaries like Willem Breuker and Misha Mengelberg in the ‘70s; it is far closer to Anthony Braxton’s beaming “Composition 58.” Hudson Songs suggests a post-Brechtian alienation, making the familiar context of the singer/pianist strange, and creating strangely compelling music in the process.
The overarching critique offered by Blue for a Moment is the folly of pigeonholing artists, even in the more subtle iterations of characterizing one idiom or another as the core of his or her sensibility. Johansson blows such constructs to smithereens. “Diverse” is inadequate to describe Johansson’s pursuits, particularly its implication of a compatibility between the constituents. Johansson simply confirms their co-existence in this rather massive body of work. When asked what proposition he was making with Blue for a Moment, Johansson replied: “I am declaring the humanist ideal.” Despite the aesthetic dissonances posited by this collection – or because of them – Johansson’s proposition rings true.
All About Jazz, August 2017
In conjunction with the film of the same name, the LP boxset Blue for a Moment was prepared as a limited release (250 signed copies) of Swedish musician Sven Ake Johansson’s music. It is in no way a complete retrospective. That endeavor, covering nearly sixty years of music making, would have required a hundred discs, plus visual and performance art, and poetry. The seven sessions included here, in total nine LPs, are taken from both historic meetings Ein Abend in Pöseldorf (with Alexander von Schlippenbach) and contemporary solo works and with the likes of Axel Dörner, Rhodri Davis, Rüdiger Carl, and Andrea Neumann.
Born in Sweden 1943 Johansson, like Peter Brötzmann (born 1941), was a pioneer in European free jazz of the 1960s. A music very much distinguishable from American free jazz. Indeed, from its inception, European free jazz/free improvisation (and let's include Scandinavian free jazz) plotted a course untethered to that of American music. Johansson took up residence in Germany, and collaborated with Brötzmann, Manfred Schoof, Hans Reichel, and Peter Kowald. He can be heard on the groundbreaking recordings by Brötzmann For Adolpe Sax (BRÖ, 1967) and Machine Gun (BRÖ, 1968), and with the Globe Unity Orchestra. Like other European improvisers, his art was not limited to music. He was (and still is) a Fluxus artist, producing radio plays, theatre, poetry, and music. Always music. His performances have included 12 tractors, metal workers, and fire extinguishers. There has been a kind of rediscovery of Johansson lately. Now living in Berlin, he can be heard on the trio recordings by Neuköllner Modelle with Bertrand Denzler and Joel Grip, Sektion 1-2 (Umlaut, 2016) and Sektion 3-7 (Umlaut 2017), and slowly his recordings with the legendary Bengt Nordstrom, Bobo Stenson, and Per Henrik Wallin are being rereleased. Johansson even makes an appearance on Ken Vandermark's Territtory bands, Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Orchestra, Peeping Tom, Die Enttäuschung, and Johansson's Quartett, Quintett, and Ol' Man Rebop Ensemble), Andrea Neumann (Phosphor) a classically trained pianist who performs with just the insides of the piano and with electronics, and Johansson's percussion. The Trio's free improvisations, heard here on two LPs, were recorded in 2013. This is a rejoinder to their efforts from the 1990s that produced Barcelona Series (Hatology, 2001) and Große Gartenbauausstellung (Olof Bright, 2012). What has changed, maybe better stated, ripened, in this more recent recording, is less hesitation between the players. As with any minimalist improvisation, less is (quite often) more. Certainly, but what happens when three humans occupy that Mies van der Rohe construction for a lengthy period? Souvenirs are kept and maybe a familiarity between players allows for one performer to finish another's thought. What is evident here is that the three musicians are quite comfortable making sounds together. Each extends the limitations of their instrument with trumpet growls, percussive snarls, and the twang of strings and metal. If the purpose here is musique mécanique, then the result is a glorious failure. The sounds (I didn't say music) are continually compelling. Burkhard Beins / Rhodri Davies / Sven-Åke Johansson Fallstudien After a thorough search through the AllAboutJazz.com library a request to Mr. Google, I cannot find where these three musicians have performed as a trio before this recording. Johansson recorded <="" em=""> (Eventuell, 2003) with percussionist Burkhard Beins, and Beins and harpist Rhodri Davies perform in the quartet SLW (with Lucio Capece and Toshimaru Nakamura), and the trio The Sealed Knot (with Mark Wastell). Nonetheless, this trio is a natural fit. The instrumentation, percussion/harp/percussion, yields something one might mistake for laptop and percussion excursion. That said, each player is expanding the possibilities of their instruments. The 18-minute "For Harp And Percussion" can sound as if a jet engine is being fired or a storm has blown apart a sheet metal factory. The players are fond of juxtaposing the machine noise with the near silence of still chimes. Of the three pieces heard here, this track shows the most range. Davies' solo piece "For Harp, Black Beans, Rice, Red Lentils And Gunpowder Tea" (as pictured on the LP) plays with the sound made when the above mentioned items are applied to his harp. He can make it sound like a Japanese koto or a summer's rain storm. It is easy to imagine these are the sounds heard inside an hourglass. The shortest piece, "For Percussion," bangs and roils a swirling turbulence of scrapes and pulled/bowed strings. If sound can also be visual, this definitely is.
Sven-Åke Johansson Orchestra
As the classic Monty Python series proclaimed, "and now for something completely different." Indeed. Sven-Åke Johansson assembles a fourteen-piece band to cover classic marches, and does so without a hint of irony. Except, of course, they don't actually march. Nonetheless, listening to these twelve classic pieces makes you want to walk in a military manner with a regular measured tread, i.e. march (minus the military implications, of course).
Beyond the obvious smile material, there's history here. New Orleans musicians created jass from these marches some 125 years ago. As long as the second line parade was performing a march and they had you moving, why not also make you shake your ass. Johansson applies the shake, the shiver, and plenty of shudder to these marches. It is probably the closest he comes to the philosophy of his brethren Han Bennink and the ICP Orchestra.
The music is joyous and triumphant in the naive manner marches were intended. Johansson and his cast, we have Rüdiger Carl on clarinet and Alexander von Schlippenbach trading his piano for trumpet, wiggle a few wink and nod mawkish notes on the edges to let us know they are beating their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks.
Liz Allbee / Annette Krebs / Sven-Åke Johansson
If you seek the ineffable, then maybe free improvisation is your thing. If not, you may perceive it, and its instant creation, to be without meter and rhythm. Those two elements either define you as an adventurist or a listener who requires some structure. In other words, you want your surprises to be a bit predictable. Frost by Liz Allbee, Annette Krebs, and Sven-Åke Johansson is that beyond description performance. One that finds fascinating rhythm in its (un)pulse. Or maybe better stated, in its new-pulse.
Johansson, American-born Berlin resident trumperer Liz Allbee, and German guitarist Annette Krebs create the musical equivalent of James Joyce's Ulysses. By that I mean, everything happens here on one day -one recording session, yet the experience is immense. Although, Krebs and Johansson released the duo Peashot (Olof Bright, 2011), this appears to be the first occasion the three have worked together. As Berliners, these musicians certainly travel the same circuit and are quite comfortable performing together here.
In the hands of Allbee, the trumpet is a wind machine or a train whistle. She can turn an acoustic instrument into a machine. Likewise, Krebs' electronics and guitar often appear as a ghostly chimera, haunting the ticks, rubs, and sandpaper sounds of Johansson. Our hero often attempts to jettison rhythm here, but it leaks out of the crevices of his performance.
Alexander von Schlippenbach / Sven-Åke Johansson
Ein Abend in Pöseldorf
The historical document in this LP boxset is Ein Abend in Pöseldorf (An evening in Pöseldorf). Recorded in March 1978, this previously unreleased session follows the now out-of-print LP Kung Bore (FMP, 1978), as well as the subsequent and now long out-of-print FMP titles Live At The Quartier Latin (1976), Drive (1981), Kalfaktor A. Falke Und Andere Lieder (1983), and Blind Aber Hungrig—Norddeutsche Gesänge (1986). The significance here is that we can grasp the development of both musicians and their concepts.
The pair had made a connection in Paris 1964, and collaborated as a duo beginning in 1974. Besides their duo sessions, they can be heard on Peter Brötzmann's 1979 Up And Down The Lion (Olof Bright, 2012) and also on the small wonder of a boxset Night And Day Plays Them All (Edition Artelier Graz, 2003) playing 156 standards with bassist Jay Oliver and saxophonist Rüdiger Carl.
The three tracks totaling 35 minutes evidence Schlippenbach and Johansson registering, then discarding, the music of Cecil Taylor and Sunny Murray. The pianist shows early indications of his predilection for Thelonious Monk's angularity, and Johansson agrees to be the motor on the opener "Opfsteinpflaster (Muster)," after he switches from accordion to his drum kit. The highlight here may be ..." Abends Geht Man Gern An Die Luft." The pair trace a melody from bare bones to a nonsense sung chorus over accordion into a political rally of percussion. Thus a new genre is born, free vaudeville.
Alone at a piano, Sven-Åke Johansson is all-at-once, a poet, a tone generator, a percussionist, and an encrypting vocoder. His performance here from 2007 proffers his stories spoken/sung in English. That last point is important; his presentation is not in his native language, nor his adopted tongue of German, but in a more conscious (for him) language. What we hear is a clear pronunciation of the words, often nonsense or found poetry. Johansson's delivery causes the listener to alternately focus between sound and meaning. Here meaning can be both literal and aural.
The closest comparison here is the music of Alessandro Bosetti, an Italian artist also living in Berlin. Both artists walk the line between cacophony and euphony. The best example is "The Ant-Eater's Visit," an animal fairy tale that might be identified as a Kenneth Patchen story. As the ant-eater pokes his way into the ant hill, the ants discuss the possibilities of a sell-out before deciding to defend their homeland. Sure, it's quite silly, but also compulsively entertaining.
Any retrospective of Sven-Åke Johansson's music requires a solo performance. Lind, recorded in 2010, some 38 years after his self-produced free jazz solo recording Schlingerland (Atavistic/Unheard Music Series, 2000), doesn't so much revisit Schlingerland as it directs a micro view on his previous macro work.
These fifteen, all very brief, snapshots of Johansson display his arsenal of technique. He can swing as he has on his reinventions of jazz standards or, as he does here, coax extraordinary sounds from his very simple kit. He plays with pitch on "Lindgren," scraping drumstick across cymbals in a most delicate manner. Then there's the tortured anguish of "Lindholm," performed as sort of an exorcism of sound. In between, we get the hippest swing on "Lindsjö," mastered with brushes and bass drum, a succession of nonpareil drum rolls on "Lindrot," and a meditative cymbal symphony "Lindman." As an artist, he works in a painterly manner focusing on color and texture rather than time. This must be attributed to his contributions to the minimalist improvisation movement of Berlin in the 1990s. It might be easier to revel in the roar of early free jazz, but Johansson succeeds in going deeper with an often quieter, insightful approach.
Orkesterjournalen, 4 2017
Ni-Vu-Ni-Connu Productions (ni-vu-ni-connu.net)
Sven-Åke Johansson i olika kombinationer på nio lp: med bland andra Liz Allbee tp, Annette Krebs g, Alex von Schlippenbach p, tp, Burkhard Beins perc, Rhodri Davies harpa, Andrea Neumann inside piano, Axel Dörner tp, Rüdiger Carl kl, med flera. Insp 1978–2015.
I dessa boxtäta tider är det ofta återupptäcktens känsla skivbolagen spelar på. Inte sällan handlar det om ”Complete recordings of …” eller obskyra inspelningar som när det begav sig aldrig såg dagens ljud. Även Sven-Åke Johansson har ägnat sig åt det senare, inte minst i hans omfattande bokslutsliknande cdbox-serien på egna bolaget SÅJ med titlar som Jazzbox, Early Works 1969-73, The 80’s Selected Concerts etcetera. När bolaget Ni-Vu-Ni-Connu släpper 9lp-boxen – sju individuella album – Blue for a Moment är det mestadels nutiden som speglas. Förutom en duoinspelning med pianisten Alexander von Schlippenbach från 1978 härstammar de andra inspelningarna från åren mellan 2007 och 2015. Kanske beror det på att boxen är ett komplement till den nyligen släppta filmen med samma namn, inspelad av Antoine Prum. I det hela är det en fantastisk box, snygg och stram i sin utformning, varierad och rik i sitt innehåll.
Vartenda av de sju albumen, varav två dubblar, står på egna ben. De står som parallella handlingar i ett och samma konstnärskap. För visst är det samme Johansson som framträder i slagverksstudien Varde – där han utmanar trumsetets konventioner – som i Hudson där han pratsjunger närmast dadaistiska texter till ett sorgset mollbetonat pianospel. Vad som sammanlänkar är exaktheten i utförandet och hans ihärdiga vilja att dra ut saker till sin spets, att hela tiden testa och fullfölja. Den fullkomliga kontroll han visar upp på Varde är imponerande. Skinnen sjunger och rytmiska mönster formuleras, eller så dras material mot cymbaler och trummor och rätar ut rytmiken i linjära streck eller böjliga former. Man hör hur han hela tiden arbetar fram ljuden, vilket naturligtvis skapar en inneboende spänning i musiken.
I mer än 50 år har han utmanat trumspelet, till en början med Peter Brötzmann i Berlin i det sena 1960-talet då de expressivt forcerade fram en ny form av europeisk jazz. Sedan under 70-talet med sina ”dynamiska svängningar” då han ledsnade på det högljudda och hittade ett nytt sätt att uttrycka sig på med ljudliga vågor i olika densiteter. Tillslagens naturliga pointillism byttes mot utdragna ljudrörelser. Taktspelet löstes upp samtidigt som rytmiken fördjupades och bredde ut sig på nya vis.
Att detta passade utmärkt när den berlinska echtzeitmusiken växte fram på 90-talet är inte alls konstigt. Lågmält och ljudskapande, utfört med okonventionella tekniker, det kunde inte bli så mycket bättre och Johansson blev en föregångsfigur när såväl staden Berlin som mycket av musiken som skapades där förändrades efter murens fall. I denna box är det framförallt gruppen Frost med Johansson, trumpetaren Liz Allbee och Annette Krebs på e-gitarr och elektronik som lutar åt den klassiska Berlin impro som utvecklades då. Det handlar om ett ljudskapande på hög nivå. Ett samspel som hela tiden förflyttar musiken framåt. Susningar och väsningar viskas fram, tomrummen blir till kontrastskapande tillstånd och allvaret går ibland över i lek där svårdefinierade ljud möts i call-and-response-övningar. Men långt ifrån allt handlar om främmandegöring av klangerna, Allbees trumpet dyker upp i någorlunda konventionella skepnader och inte minst Johanssons virvel ljuder igenkännande.
Kanske bildar dessa påminnelser länkar till historien, till det förgångna? För det finns en dialektik här, Johansson pendlar alltid mellan då och nu. Utan problem kan han finnas i den absoluta framkanten, samtidigt som han älskar bebop och tidig jazz, fluxus och andra konstnärliga former i det modernistiska 1900-talet, men också det folkliga. Att dessa olika sammahang kunde gå hand i hand visade Johansson tydligt, bland annat med sina traktorkonserter i Skåne. I denna box är det dock marscherna som gör sig gällande, för även om de var militaristiska till sin natur var de även folkliga. Här har han satt ihop 13 improvisationsmusiker som spelar kända marscher under ett helt dubbelalbum! Och de varken ironiserar eller omformulerar. Mestadels spelar de rakt av. Men inte riktigt hela tiden. I Rüdiger Carls klarinettsolon och Liz Allbees trumpetsolon finns en del skevheter och i Treu Knappen spårar det ut lite. Själv behöver jag dessa anomalier för att riktigt uppskatta det hela. Men det är intressant hur han med hull och hår tar sig an denna musik som en gång var lika betydelsefull som den är bortglömd idag.
Jämför man duon med Alexander von Schlippenbach med trion Fallstudien med slagverkaren Burkhard Beins och harpisten Rhodri Davies är de varandras motsatser. Trion är den kanske tystaste inspelningen i boxen med sitt närskådande perspektiv. Det är lågmält och lågdynamiskt och både Beins och Johansson är mästare på att räta ut slagverksklangerna. Davies låter bönor och annat rinna på strängarna. Mer effektfullt än man kan tro. Mötet med Schlippenbach är desto mer expressivt. Johanssons dragspel gör entré men det är ändå den mastiga piano trumset-formationen som sätter prägel med tryckande frijazz. Intressant är att de tar olika vägar, Schlippenbach pekar hela tiden in mot jazzen i sina improvisationer medan Johansson distansierar sig från den samma med ett spel långt bortom de konventionella taktmarkeringarna. Cymbal, baskagge, pukor och virvel bildar snarare en pulserande och organisk kropp som rör sig framåt.
Boxens höjdpunkt är ändå trion Barcelona Series med Johansson, Andrea Neumann med sitt inside piano, innandömet av en flygel, samt trumpetaren Axel Dörner. Gruppen bildades redan på 90-talet och alla tre var då med om att omformulera improvisationsmusiken. Koncentrationen är lika stor nu som då, men de har släppt något på stramheten. De försöker inte längre att avskärma alla konventionella klanger. Här finns dock inga solister och rollfördelningen är inte spikad. Det är en organisk musik som är försiktig men samtidigt väldigt konsistent och distinkt. Luft pressar genom trumpeten, trumspelet lämnar tillslagen därhän och lägger tonvikt på längsgående rörelser och tangentfria piano slås an med klubbor och andra föremål. Det finns en tydlig kroppslighet i musiken. De känner varandra, lyssnar och följer eller kommenterar varandra. De är bättre än någonsin.