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50 YEARS

Tomas Janzon: 130th & Lenox (Changes)

A review of the Swedish guitarist's latest album

Tomas Janzon, 130th & Lenox
The cover of 130th & Lenox by Tomas Janzon

Even when guitarist Tomas Janzon is in full flight, his music is welcoming—he sounds as if he wants to invite us in, rather than intimidate or overwhelm us with his virtuosity. “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise,” the opener here, sets the tone: After a moody, Spanish-tinged introduction, Janzon swings into a gentle take on the standard, as drummer Chuck McPherson and bassist Hilliard Greene skip merrily behind him and vibist Steve Nelson drops appropriately liquid-sounding spatters. Janzon’s chording harks back to Wes Montgomery, but he’s in command of a melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic armamentarium all his own. 

Janzon’s quick-fingered runs on “Invitation” dance with blithe gaiety, yet his conceptions are crisp and challenging; Nelson, by contrast, sounds almost studied in his focus, yet his playing too is shot through with ebullience. In “Somewhere Over Stockholm,” ascending and descending patterns interweave and countermand one another, prodded gently but firmly by Greene and McPherson’s playfully off-kilter rhythmic impetus. The ongoing forward thrust dissolves into a holding pattern at times, creating a tension that’s then relieved by a dive into more of those horizontal crosscurrents.  

The unorthodox chordal resolutions and juxtapositions of Wayne Shorter’s “Iris” are deftly negotiated by Janzon. So fully realized is his reading, in fact, so resonant the depths and expansive the widths of his conception and execution, that a rhythm section seems almost superfluous; this one might have been even more compelling unaccompanied. Nonetheless, as throughout the set, the eloquence of Janzon’s own playing and his interplay with his bandmates (here including Donald Dean on drums and Nedra Wheeler on bass) are both heightened and enriched by the other musicians’ unforced panache. Sometimes, what goes down easiest is also most savory.

Preview or download 130th & Lenox on Amazon!

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David Whiteis

David Whiteis is a critic, journalist, and author based in Chicago. He is the recipient of the Blues Foundation’s 2001 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Achievement in Journalism. His books include Southern Soul-Blues (U. of Illinois Press, 2013) and Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories (U. Of Illinois Press, 2006). He is currently at work completing a book on contemporary Chicago blues and a co-written autobiography of the late soul singer Denise LaSalle.