July 19, 2024

Johanna Burnheart – BURNHEART


British jazz in a very healthy place right now, despite the lack of live music and, paradoxically, part of the evidence is this German violinist, singer and composer. We’ve seen Moses Boyd getting nominated for awards, live jazz on the TV and the London scene seems to keep expanding. This album, alongside Johanna’s violin, sees a talented band of British artists playing double bass, keyboards, wurlitzer, dustbin lids and bottle tops. Yes, it is quirky but it’s accessible and smooth too.

The opener, Box Office, has a solid simple bass pattern at the outset, with an atmosphere of tinkles and a bow fluttering on violin strings, like some jungle scene. That’s just the set-up and a violin melody is introduced, sawing around a theme. It’s no ordinary violin; it travels to some spacey places atop the coolly poised backdrop. Burnheart studied classical violin, piano and voice as a child but grew into a love of jazz. Just as well; since Stephane Grapelli, there hasn’t been a whole lot of violin in jazz, leaving Burnheart a handy niche. Let’s add a taste for the electronic in her love of Techno and House music to make something different. That said, let’s not box her in: I hear Celtic hints in Forever Dance and the beats, whilst nicely moving, never move close to Techno or House, tending more to gentle Blue Note breakbeats.

At times we have nicely gentle exploratory piano noodling (sample Mensch) or atmospheric pulse-free interludes or treated sounds like the breath of wind. Once in a while, as in Silence Is Golden, we edge to easy listening but the heart remains in modal jazz. Sisyphos has a locked beat that could almost be the burbling motorik of Krautrock, were it not for the improvised comings and goings.

As a set, it hangs together very nicely, straddling modern jazz sounds and post-club chilled sounds. For me, it is the space and the thoughtfully exploring solos that give the album a signature sound and it is well worth exploring, whatever direction you approach from.

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