John Swana, Abohm

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Jazz just got back from the future.

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Crawford Philleo | May 4, 2012

Cover art

As far as jazz tape labels go… there aren't very many. Currently, there is really only one that I know of, and it's called Galtta Media, a tiny imprint run by a certified jazz geek/saxophonist named David Lackner who is currently based in New York after starting the label some time ago in Philadelphia. Jazz trumpet veteran John Swana carries the byline for Abohm, one of the label's latest entries, and it is… well, it's pretty weird. In fact, Abohm is something of a monster. But it's also a cute and friendly monster. A thing of magnanimous and intimidating presence that shrinks itself down into something else entirely. Something tame, tempered and pretty fun when you actually sit down and get to know it.

Swana combines elements of modern electronic music and jazz in what feels like equal measure throughout the album's 70 running minutes, which actually fly by given the sounds and hyper-brevity of ideas that flood both sides of the tape—35 tracks stuffing the magnetic strip to the brink of sensory overload. But for as eclectic, sporadic and random as a lot of this sounds (not to mention the alarming pace at which Abohm whirs past the ears), much of it manages a cool, collected listenability. Odd time signatures, oblong forms and angular chord progressions aside (elements that appear in damn near every single track), Swana reigns it all into something oddly recognizable and wisely keeps these little experiments neat, tidy and compact. Mini futuristic soundscapes gently lull for brief periods before giving way to more beat-oriented electronic jams that recall vintage Boards of Canada, which are quickly followed by micro-melodic motifs that dance around with childlike wonder, and then later you might be treated to a tasty bossa groove, all of it wound around with psychedelic colorings. You'll also hear the EVI playing. Electronic Valve Instrument. Swana plays it—nay—Swana destroys the Electronic Valve Instrument. With extreme prejudice. He's just so fucking fast at that thing it's absolutely bonkers, flying through enough scales to fill a fourth-year Theory text with incredibly smooth runs, furiously/sensually soloing over impossible chord changes. And he does it all with an astounding grace—jagged in design perhaps, at times aggressive in execution (or at least confident) but the end result comes out soft and pastel, translating to a surprisingly light and airy breeze of a listen.

It should be noted that Swana wasn't alone in the making of Abohm, which represents his home recordings; “What he does … when no one is listening” says the one-sheet from Galtta. In other words, this is his project for fun. On the record, he's also joined by his daughter Rosalie, Italian percussionist Massimo DeAngelis as well as David Lackner. You can hear sythns, effected voices, electronic and live drumming and various other instruments floating in and out from track to track, all elements that contribute to the album's striking sonic variety and stylistic acrobatics. The biggest draw is Swana's chops, though, and how he uses them. Despite the obvious fact that he's had plenty of legit training on the trumpet, he's still willing to put himself out there try out some weird (very weird) new stuff, display that high level of technical proficiency in very non-traditional ways and have a lot of fun with it all at the same time (see: track titles like “Oh Shit!,” “Ode to Star Trek,” or my personal favorite, “That's Some Dark Shit!”). All told, Abohm is simply an amazing work of neo/future-jazz from the mind of a true master, and whether or not he's really serious about it, this is still some serious shit.

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