Bassist Hellborg, drummer Anders Johansson, and keyboardist Jens Johansson enjoy equal time in the spotlight on this raw trio set. Jens does all his work on organ, mainly with Leslie off and minimal changes in registration. The organ's overdriven growl obliterates any soft spots overlooked by his colleagues' thrashing exertions. When played this loud and at these tempos, glitches are embarrasingly audible and solos can stumble over the slightest technical hiccups. But Johansson has the right combination of aggression, imagination and command to shine in this setting. Nothing trips him up: He and Hellborg devour unison lines with an almost gleeful virtuosity. On his own, Johansson plays with a volatile combination of power and precision: Listening to his solo on "Dog bar-B-Q" or in the last eight bars of "Mouteadne" is like watching a bull stampede through a house of mirrors. Images of Emerson flash past as tempos hit Mach One, and after it's over Johansson stands unscarred. The new acid jazz label doesn't quite fit here. Rather, Hellborg and company resemble children of a menage a trois involving prog, punk and old man fusion. With such a lineage, it's no wonder this album sounds so dangerous.
Jens Johansson, Swede in motion
Surviving Yngwie, on the subway upward
Through the tunnel, across industrial backstreets, up the stairs and inching toward dawn, the sound of a man working gets louder and louder. Anders Johansson is banging a ladder with drumsticks not to fix the ladder, not to fix the landlord's wagon, but to delight Jonas Hellborg, who hunches over Greenpoint Studio's console with his ponytail swinging in the faders. The decide they need a click track for an overdub but can't bother with the drum machine, so the younger Johansson, keyboardist Jens, punches at a fierce-looking machine in the wall, securing a button with duct tape so that a metronomic tick raps into his brother's headphones. Things get very quiet as Anders takes polyrythmic liberties and finishes his solo album. Jonas, a most accomplished bass subversive, is delighted. He retrieves another master tape and plays back the assembled trio's recent work some of the heaviest metal going, and a harsh, harmonically deep respite from their individual credits: Mahavishnu, Yngwie Malmsteen, Ronnie James Dio. The three Swedes are smiling.
You would rightly suggest that after experiencing Malmsteen, the Johanssons can play or endure just about anything. In the balcony at his first Yngwie show since departing the band, Jens grimaces at the guitarist's profane patter and drunken stage behavior. "This sounds like Survivor," he laughs; surveying backstage antics after the show, he gets depressed by the vapidity of the entourage, the contrived corporate sludge mentality that robbed the music of its fire. "There's no chaos; there's too much control here, in the band, in the sound," he says. "When we first came over frome Sweden, people were interested because we were doing something different."
Jens isn't strictly versed in the discipline of music theory fist-slamming a digital reverb in his bedroom a few days later, he betrays even less patience with technology though his music is happily twisted and his manned irreverent enough to allow him to move from Yngwie's demanding harmonic minor- and diminished-based dungeon rock to spare textures or traditional acoustic piano for Ginger. To grab the listener, he shapes his phrasing to emulate the fluidity of the human voice, and he relies on the pitchwheel for formal bending and as an organic substitute for programmed vibrato; he uses guitar effects to offset the static quality of most synthesizer generators.
Still, Jens is a calm savage with minimal interest in every current synth player except Steve Hunt, and that refined taste represents the tip of a deep reserve. On a subway one afternoon, he noticed that the two beeping tones accompanying the closing train doors descended a major third, and that both cars surrounding his own followed that same pattern, beginning on different notes. He memorized them and wrote out the resulting sequence three cars, six notes, two triads, and the kernel for "A Mote in God's Eye," the opening epic on Jens' Fjäderlösa Tvåfotingar. He worked the theme through several chords based on that parallel motion, beginning on a chord voiced A, D, E, then another a major third down, F, A#, C both over C#; for the second sequence, he puts a C bass note under the A chord to create a dissonant minor second against the C#, and an F# under the F. The progression moves through F#, B, C#/A, to E, A, B/F, then drops a half-step: E-flat, A flat, B flat/F#. The bass notes are set up to create very deliberate tensions.
Jens writes music on a computer program called Cubase, which stores entire orchestrations and allows him to modify specific parts without disturbing the whole. He advises composers who use sequencing programs to turn off the screen when listening back to their arrangements. "When you see the parts coming up you listen to it in a completely different manner," he says. "You see this two-dimensional picture of your piece with different parts, in a linear sequence; it's different from the one-dimensional thing you get when you're just listening and don't know what came before or after. You're at one particular point in time, and on the screen you don't feel that atmosphere."
He hails up a neoclassical opus from his hard disk, complete with drums and simulated rythm guitar, that sounds good enough to be a record. It might turn into one; he's thinking of doing a group of such tunes to cash in on the visibility he gained with Yngwie, where he had the distinction of providing an integral second lead voice alongside the egomaniacal guitarist. If Yngwie was generous with Jens' solo time, the generosity stopped there; though he quit years ago, the keyboardist says he noticed at least one uncredited section of his own music on Malmsteen's latest CD. And though his fusillades in that band often pushed into the complex realm of heavy fusion, particularly on early pieces like Rising Force's "Far Beyond the Sun" and "Little Savage," Jens finds soloing fiendishly difficult to explain. He's trying to overwhelm his ears rather than his hands.
"The physical barriers are there," he says, "but I tend to think it's all the same, the psychological and the physical. There's so many barriers that you shouldn't really separate them. But if you do, the psychological's the worse, because you tend to like things you've heard before and you have to make yourself do weird things. You learn to like things more than you did when you first tried them out, but that's part of the charm of developing."
Jens' main board is a modified Korg Poly Six with painted keys, a sanded silver panel and the sound he says endures through it all. Also on hand are an Oberheim Matrix-12, two Matrix 1000s and a DPX-1 sampleplayer. There's also a Korg CX-3 organ, aLeslie and a MiniMoog, in storage back in L.A. since before the Yngwie blowout and the Dio gig. He uses a Korg PME40X modular effects unit for color, and composes on an Atari 1040 ST computer with the Cubase sequencing program, MIDI'd to a Roland D-20 and whatever other synths he has available especially that Poly Six.
Keyboard Magazine (October 1988, Page 54. By Freff)
OFF THE RECORD
JENS JOHANSSON Gives Yngwie Malmsteen a run for his money
The prototypical heavy metal hero is a guitarist playing in one of three gears: fast, incredibly fast, or fast beyond mortal ken. Other instrumentalists need not apply. The six-string pyrotechnicians lord it over the leather'n'chain roost, and keyboards (assuming they're used at all) are relegated strictly to a supporting role.
One blistering exception to this rule is Swedish keyboardist Jens Johansson, whose work with Yngwie J. Malmsteen's Rising Force proves that what counts in heavy metal is attitude, not instrument. Onstage he holds his own using an Oberheim Matrix-12 as his main controller, driving a rack of MIDI modules that include a Matrix-6R, DPX-1 sample player, and Korg DSM-1 sampler. In the studio, however, he prefers to avoid MIDI work, feeling that most synths don't respond rapidly enough to incoming data: "For soloing and stuff they just feel kind of sluggish." That would never do when trading lines with Yngwie, as in this series of synth and guitar phrases taken from the instrumental "Krakatau," on Rising Force's latest record, Odyssey (Polydor, 835 451-1). Jens' lines were recorded in one night, using a Korg PolySix with some distrortion and flanging. In fact, all of Jens' solos on Odyssey were recorded in one night. "We were recording in Austin, Texas, and I had a few cappucinos before the session so I was kind of wired from that. I remember we were flying to New Jersey* the next day, and I was convinced that the plane was going to fall down, so I thought I'd better get all the solos done right then."
Yngwie's guitar parts are notated at actual pitch, instead of the standard octave above actual pitch. On the recording his guitar is tuned down a half-step (Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb), and he is fingering his lines in E minor.
The solo has a quarter note = 66 feel, but we've notated it at half note = 66 to make it clearer. (Incessant 64th notes and 32nd-note septuplets have a way of looking like sanskrit.) The first 24 bars are played over a Bb dominant riff, and the rest over an Eb tonic. We stopped when Jens did, and didn't transcribe the eight bars of Yngwie's final response.
Jens has deliberately adapted and restricted his playing to impart a "guitar" feel to his lines. He stays within the same range as a guitar, bends pitch by whole steps, and adds on-the-beat grace notes that sound like pull-offs. The notes marked under slurs in his phrases are probably pitch bends.
The squiggle notation in measures 31-32 is an obscure symbol from the Swedish classical tradition, which can be taken to mean "Yngwie smokes." Seriously, if anyone out there can accurately notate those measures, call us. We might just have a job for you.