Follow Your Heart

Johannes Luley

My Sonic Temple, 2021

http://johannesluley.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/07/2022

While plenty of progressive rock has been described as jazzy, and plenty of jazz has been described as progressive, the overlap between the prog and jazz genres has for the most part been the stuff of somewhat obscure niche recordings, generally eluding a wider audience (the exception that springs to mind being Phil Collins’ late-’70s tenure as drummer for Brand X). What has always been clear is the healthy respect that many thoughtful musicians in both the jazz and prog arenas have for leading figures in the other.

Johannes Luley is an artist who came to my attention through his terrific work as guitarist, producer, co-composer, and driving force behind modern prog outfit Perfect Beings, which delivered a trio of increasingly complex and creatively adventurous albums between 2014 and 2019 before the remaining principals (Luley, singer Ryan Hurtgen, and keyboardist Jesse Nason) parted ways. Prior to forming Perfect Beings, Luley had worked with a diverse range of artists including synth-pop trio Camouflage, Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, and late ’90s Elton John protégé Ryan Downe. A stint as the latter’s touring guitarist led to the pair co-founding the prog quartet Moth Vellum, whose single 2007 self-titled album—in many ways a precursor to Perfect Beings—remains a cult favorite.

With Perfect Beings now defunct and the world thrust into lockdown, in 2020 Luley stepped away from music for six months before returning with a pure passion project: a solo album consisting of covers of instrumental jazz tunes composed and/or made famous by some of his favorite artists in the genre. The truth behind Luley’s choice to name the album after one of two John McLaughlin tracks covered here is self-evident: the artistic decisions made are all about following your heart.

Fortunately, in addition to a passion for this music, Luley possesses other key elements for success: abundant gifts as a guitarist and arranger, a “Contacts” app overflowing with talent, and the technical prowess to engineer and produce a lockdown album recorded in three different locations that nonetheless sounds both crisp and organic, as if it was all recorded live in a high-end studio.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The lineup heard here features Luley (electric and acoustic guitars), Jonas Lindeborg (trumpet, flugelhorn), Max Kaplan (soprano sax, bass clarinet), David Hughes (bass), and former Perfect Beings colleague Dicki Fliszar on drums. Together this quintet tackles nine classic cuts from jazz masters while putting their own unique stamp on the music.

“Yellow Fields” by Eberhard Weber opens things up with a flowy free jazz feel as Kalan’s sax takes the initial lead over Luley on acoustic, a restless mid-tempo number with a somewhat bright-and-shimmery aspect. “Brujo,” a Ralph Towner piece, starts out featuring Luley’s almost classical guitar before he dives into some nimble, rather Spanish-inflected riffing. The track develops nicely with Lindeborg’s trumpet, a skittery, morphing rhythm section, and sometimes melodic, sometimes dissonant riffing from Luley; it’s exploratory and atmospheric in a way that suggests Miles Davis in musical communion with John McLaughlin.

Speaking of McLaughlin, his “Follow Your Heart” follows in a smoky lounge-blues arrangement, with Kaplan’s bass clarinet at the forefront early on and especially in the solo section starting around 2:20. By the sixth minute the spacious arrangement and airy vibe gives off whiffs of Quincy Jones’ soul-jazz classic Walking in Space.

“Telegram,” the first of a pair of John Abercrombie compositions here, has more of a slumbery feel as Luley focuses on electric and adopts a supple, silky tone that inevitably reminds of the great Wes Montgomery. A second McLaughlin tune, “One Melody,” manifests a rather mystical yet restless vibe, picking up speed and momentum as it goes; by the fourth minute this one is nearly throwing off sparks. That trademark Wes Montgomery elegance comes to mind again as Luley and company tackle the Bill Evans - Miles Davis classic “Blue In Green,” lending it a gorgeous swing.

The group’s approach to Manfred Schoof’s “Ostinato” takes a while to develop, opening at a ponderous pace, albeit with nice trumpet work from Lindeborg. By the sixth minute the focus moves to Luley’s electric guitar, and in the eighth, bass player Hughes has his moment in the sun. It’s a lengthy piece that feels a bit drowsy in places, but nonetheless delivers a number of beautiful vignettes. “Heyoke,” composed by Kenny Wheeler, opens up feeling like classy lounge jazz, another solid and interesting number before the band wraps up with John Abercrombie’s “Greenstreet” offering a gentle, introspective denouement.

Follow Your Heart is an example of doing exactly that: following your passion wherever it leads you. In this case it led talented guitarist/producer Johannes Luley to reimagine nine jazz classics with his own hand-picked quintet, delivering an album that’s richly musical, full of passion, and mercifully free of commercial calculation. I dug it.

Rating: B+

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