may remind you of the British punk rock band The Clash's first hit single "Train In Vain" (1980). Like Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, Johansson's career has been one that has worked to challenge the language of American music. In The Clash's case, it was American pop and disco. For Johansson and his European colleagues (Peter Brotzmann
In the middle of recording The Clash's seminal London Calling (CBS, 1979), the rebellious punk band went about making an American-styled R&B single. "Train In Vain" sounded more American, then American singles as it shot up to number one in the States. Johansson's career has tracked the European free scene since his earliest recordings with BrotzmannMachine Gun (FMP, 1968), Schlippenbach's Globe Unity Orchestra, Per Henrik Wallin
session. Johansson's command to maintain the melody is paramount. The quartet is fronted by trumpeter Axel Dörner, known as a minimalist improviser, who has a knack for interpreting the music of Thelonious Monk
. Knowing the pedigree of these players, you might expect the avant-garde, but the melody doesn't fall far from the tree. The cleverness here is the simple commitment to the original song. The quartet's less is obviously more. Even the less than familiar tracks penned by Dörner (there are five) are strikingly spare and beautiful.
The quartet stretches to the Cool Sextett with the inclusion of saxophonists Tobias Delius
and Henrik Waldsdorff on three tracks recorded live in 2009. In this setting the music expands and so does the presentation. Delias honks a bit, intertwining his horn with Waldsdorff as the music migrates from the studio to the club. Johansson revisits vocals on "Night In Tunisia" and "You've Changed" as he did on Hudson Riv (Grob, 2003) with his unique Swedish/German accent. His accent draws back the curtain for those mistaken into believing the music is just a reissue from the Prestige Records vaults.
The two strongest volumes might be Tune Up, a quartet with Delias, Roder, and Japanese-born, Berlin native pianist Aki Takase
. Her comping behind the saxophonist's blabbing horn provides a running commentary until she takes an aside of a solo on "Tangerine." The music here seems rooted in the antics of the Amsterdam's New Dutch Swing and perhaps that is the influence of Delias.
In Trio, the strength of Johansson's vision is amplified. With brushes on his drum pads, he spurs Dörner to the clearest expression of melody and the brightest music. Their double- time take on "The Way You Look Tonight" and the Sonny Rollins
favorite "I'm An Old Cowhand" are as hip today as they were in 1957. The disc ends with "Stars Fell On Alabama," a song certain to stump nearly anyone taking a blindfold test. They will certainly identify the Americans Freddie Hubbard