Saturday, 29 April 2017

"Katharsis/Earmeal/Presens" by JANNE SCHAFFER (April 2017 Beat Goes On Reissue - 3LPs onto 2CDs - Andrew Thompson Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Scandinavian Struttin'..."

For most British fans of the Swedish uber guitarist JANNE SCHAFFER - their knowledge of the man's axe histrionics comes from his first two solo albums - both of which come on like Jeff Beck's groundbreaking Seventies sets "Blow By Blow" and "Wired" – entirely instrumental Fusion Rock LPs with a Funky twist. 

The debut "Janne Schaffer" first appeared in his native Stockholm on Four Leaf Records in 1973 and promptly Prog Rocked its way to the No. 1 slot on their album charts (an impressive feat for the time). Such fan-frenzy soon got noticed over in Prog-mad Blighty by the eclectic Vertigo Records label - which then promptly reissued his debut as "The Chinese" in May 1974 on Vertigo 6360 107. The next year Vertigo followed that (as John Peel would say) with the imaginatively entitled "Janne Schaffer's Second" in April 1975 on Vertigo 6360 118 (called "Janne Schaffer's Andra" in his native Sweden on Four Leaf Records). After those initial flurries established him as a zippy-licks guitarist of note – Schaffer kind of disappeared off our radars until the Jazz Funk and Fusion explosion of the late Seventies took the music buying public by storm on both sides of the pond. Suddenly everyone was discovering their inner Narada-this and Mahavishnu-that. And that's where this rather fabulous BGO twofer CD reissue comes funkin' in.

What you're getting here is what happened next. Schaffer signed to Columbia Records (CBS in the UK and Europe) and pushed out these three lesser-seen Jazz Funk and Fusion gems in 1977, 1979 and 1980 - the first two in the UK and US - while the last album was in Europe only. They've been hard to find on CD for years. Here are the cathartic details...

UK released Friday, 14 April 2017 - "Katharsis/Earmeal/Presens" by JANNE SCHAFFER on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1289 (Barcode 5017261212894) offers 3 Jazz Fusion LPs from 1977, 1979 and 1980 Remastered onto 2CDs and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (64:26 minutes):
1. Bromma Struttin' [Side 1]
2. Stocking Suite (a) Allegro (b) Adagio
3. The Blue Gate
4. Dimbaa Jullow [Side 2]
5. Ramsa
6. Atlanta Inn 2419
7. The Red Gate
8. Wintergreen
Tracks 1 to 8 are his third studio album "Katharsis" - released April 1977 in the USA on Columbia PC 34499 and June 1977 in the UK on CBS Records 81733.

9. Hot Days And Summer Nights [Side 1]
10. Happy Feet
11. To A Beautiful Painter
12. Bromma Express

Disc 2 (60:58 minutes):
1. The Shrimp [Side 2]
2. Shrimp A La Carte 
3. It's Never Too Late
4. Oriental Sign
5. Frederick's Place
Tracks 9 to 12 on Disc 1 and Tracks 1 to 5 on Disc 2 are his fourth studio album "Earmeal" - released February 1979 in the USA on Columbia JC 35508 and in the UK on CBS Records S CBS 83002.

6. Mr. Allansson Pickles [Side 1]
7. The Tongue
8. Neonmoisture
9. March From Refresher Course
10. Fata Morgana [Side 2]
11. High Pitch
12. Evening At Alex
13. Open Eyes
14. Diesire
Tracks 6 to 14 are his fifth studio album "Presens" - released 1980 in Holland on CBS Records 84166.

As always with these BGO CD sets - the outer card slipcase lends the whole reissue a feeling of class - while the jam-packed 24-page booklet features new and in-depth liner notes from Mojo's noted Jazz columnist CHARLES WARING. There are original musician credits, black and white cover artwork and new interviews with Schaffer on the making of each LP and the heady times they were recording in (he famously sessioned on over fifty ABBA tracks including early monster hits like "Waterloo", "Dancing Queen" and "Mamma Mia"). Talented contributing musicians like the Porcaro Brothers from Toto on the second LP are discussed (Bruce Botnik of Doors fame producing) - John 'Rabbit' Bundrick of Argent and Traffic - and many more. But the big news is truly spectacular new Remasters by ANDREW THOMPSON at Sound Mastering. These were superbly produced LPs in the first place anyway - but these new transfers have brought out that amazing musicianship like never before. Playing something like "Atlanta Inn 2419" from the "Katharsis" album is likely to have listeners reaching for that Steely Dan adjective – both musically and sonically. A very nice job done...

Ex Argent and Traffic Keyboard wiz John 'Rabbit' Bundrick adds his chops to the opening "Bromma Struttin'" on the 'K' spelt "Katharsis" - a track that immediately feels like old Janne has been pigging out on Jeff Beck's Epic Records output - the George Martin produced "Blow By Blow" and "Wired" from 1975 and 1976. Nice use too of the voice box made popular by Joe Walsh ("Rocky Mountain Way"), Peter Frampton ("Show Me The Way") and Steely Dan ("Haitian Divorce"). That is followed by nine and half minutes of instrumental virtuosity. "Stocking Suite" - part (a) is super funky while part (b) mellows right down into some truly gorgeous Santana type guitar - very Soulful and soaring in all the right ways. Side 1 ends on some cool slap bass that's quickly joined by doubled-up guitars - al of them slow-funkin' their way in through "The Blue Gate". There are parts of "The Blue Gate" that feel 'so' instrumental Steely Dan - the same applying to "Atlanta Inn 2419" over on Side 2. The LP ends on the really pretty "Wintergreen" where finally the Acoustic Guitar comes out in Latin flicks and flourishes - a double-bass accompanying - there but staying just enough out of the way of those fret runs.

The second LP "Earmeal" was the first recorded away from his native Stockholm - Produced by Bruce Botnik of Elektra Records fame in the States with most of Toto on board as sessionmen. It's clearly aiming at the Miroslav Vitous, Weather Report, John McLaughlin audience - funky fusion with wild passages of ridiculously accomplished playing. "Happy Feet" feels like The Brothers Johnson have mated with Deodato and Narada Michael Walden to produce a groover 12" single - the kind of pleasing shuffler you could skate around the roller-rink to - neck-jerking as you shimmy and shammy towards the satin-bottom in front of you. "To A Beautiful Painter" is gorgeous stuff with passages that feel George Benson "Breezin'" one second - Phil Upchurch "Darkness, Darkness" the next. Best bits on Side 2 include the seriously funky "Shrimp" (followed by a gorgeous one-minute melody on strings in "A La Carte") and the Con Funk Shun shake-your-booty of "It's Never Too Late". Production-wise the finisher "Frederick's Place" is a feast for the ears - three minutes of acoustic guitar and piano playing off each other while an expertly plucked double bass anchors it – bringing a very sweet LP to a properly tasteful close.

The last album "Earmeal" feels at times strangely heavy-handed compared to the deftly handled “Earmeal” – big guitars and even messier production values on tracks like "The Tongue" and "March From Refresher Course". Things improve with the vibes of "Neonmoisture" – a slow guitar groove possessed of a melody that rises above just clever playing. Unfortunately "Fata Morgana" again feels overwrought and the boppy "High Pitch" is dreadfully Eighties - and not in a good way. Doomy and aimless keyboard notes carry in "Diesire" at the end of the album followed throughout by echoed guitar soloing – but it all feels like too much damage has been done by the rest of the record (shame).

This is a typically superb BGO reissue – making available rare and desirable albums by an artist who deserves rediscovery. I’d have to say for me album number three lets the side down somewhat – but those first two are corkers.

Well done to all the super-troopers involved – and fans of the 71 year-old Schaffer and Jazz Fusion/Funk are advised to dive in pronto...

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