Saturday, December 27, 2008

Mombacho - Mike Janzen Trio & Friends

A collaborator with Steve Bell indulges his passion for jazz

Artist: Mike Janzen Trio & Friends (
Label: Signpost Music
Length: 12 tracks/77:12 minutes

My introduction to Mike Janzen comes through Steve Bell. Janzen’s classical-tinged piano playing and his orchestration on Bell’s Symphony Sessions is impressive and indicative of his talent.

On Mombacho, his sophomore release, Janzen is indulging his passion for jazz. For someone like me who has limited exposure to the genre, it’s like listening to someone sing in a foreign language. But superb craftsmanship, the warmth of a live-feel and the technical precision of a studio recording make this inviting even for the uninitiated.

This jazz evolves through plenty of improvising. It’s energetic, vibrant (not somber) and creative.

The piano-playing is like a swollen stream darting here and there on its meandering journey. I enjoy the short, odd-sounding bass solos. It’s not often that you hear them. They sound like something unhinged, twisting in the wind.

Crisp-sounding drums are also allowed brief moments of abandon. All the instruments celebrate the freedom of liberation from simple pop and rock structures.

The sound is gloriously organic with no synths or overwrought production. It is keyboards, bass and drums with occasional sax and other support. The use of organ on a couple of songs and its use as the only keyboard on the title song add interest.

Most songs extend beyond five minutes. Janzen is the primary composer with collaboration from the others. Three notable covers: "Mrs. Robinson" (Simon and Garfunkel), "All the Diamonds" (Bruce Cockburn) and "God Put a Smile on My Face" (Coldplay) get a jazz makeover.

“Masaya” and “All the Diamonds” are the only tracks with vocals.

Janzen is a master of music, who makes this a fun listen and something different.
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