SVERRE KNUT JOHANSEN: Distant Shore (94-14)
“This is a surprising album where the talent of Sverre Knut Johansen at the level of composition shows similarities with the great Mike Oldfield”
1 Distant Shore 9:54 2 Nippon Dawn 4:36 3 Ascension 9:28 4 Hovering in Thin Air 5:52 5 Fragments 8:46 6 Eruption 6:25 7 The Seed 6:04 8 Transition Suite 17:39 9 Distant Shore II (2014) 6:47 Sverre Knut Johansen Music (CD/DDL 75:51) (V.F.) (Orchestral, cinematographic and E-Rock)
I like to review these albums which were released in the 90's. In the finest hour of an electronic rock MIDItized, of the over sampling and of the New Age which had won the first round over this EM of the Berlin School style. It's at this time that was conceived Sverre Knut Johansen's very first album! Realized and distributed by the Norwegian label Origo Sound, DISTANT SHORE respected literally the new perspectives of EM with rock and pop structures sprinkled of sonic honey. Nice arrangements, nice melodies. Cinematographic visions, saxophone, guitar and beat boxes! We have all these elements here which invent a music without soul or a music as rich and stunning as the immense creative possibilities of Sverre Knut Johansen. Let's go for option 2!
And we find these ingredients in the title-track which allies good orchestral arrangements, by the presences of violins, cellos and pianos, into some phases more rock, amiability of Børge Pettersen Øverleir on guitars, and other more disturbing phases with a surprising layer of old organ as much intense as unexpected. Here, as in most of the titles which compose this album, the opening is built on luxuriant soundscapes which glitter of the meaning, otherwise of the sound visions of the Norwegian musician. The music thus flirts with these elements, structuring an evolutionary rhythm which caresses some romantic passages, and others more poignant with guitar solos raging of tears and vibratory notes from an overexcited piano. And we have to get used to these structures which move immensely in short lapses of time. They are legion on DISTANT SHORE. Now, imagine the evolutionary structure of Distant Shore with perfumes of East and imagine Kitaro doing Pop and you have Japanese Dawn. Built around good arrangements and a very alive and melodious panpipe, played by Roar Engelberg, the music lulls between a rock, the percussions are not unconnected to the rock appetites of the album, and an approach of Japanese romance linked by good arrangements and by some fluty harmonies which give the shiver. Ascension Day is a more interesting title with a music which is more in the kind of Yanni, Keys to Imagination and Out of Silence era. And like the percussions, the guitar also injects a more rock dose into this music as well as all over the album by the way. Far from being usual, Hovering in Thin Air is a title without rhythmic life but endowed of an incredible liveliness. The saxophone of Torus Brunborg multiplies its harmonious lamentations, which melt sometimes into the layers of voices and/or synth, on a nervous texture sculpted by motionless riffs. The play of Brunborg is simply striking.
We also find his perfumes in Fragments, where he doesn't appear in the musicians' list, another title constructed on the bases of classical music which gets transformed into a contemporary electronic ballet. The dance of swans is simply masterful. And there is a passage in this title which is filled with effects of percussions so simply overturning for that era. Eruption is a big nervous and noisy electronic rock which leans strongly on the orientations of Tangerine Dream from the 90's, when Linda Spa and Zlatko Perica were aboard in the Seattle years. We can say the same thing about The Seed and its effects of saxophone on a soft structure is more in a style of electronic ballad of another kind. It's really in the spirit of the 90's when the EM of the 70's looked for its origins through many styles. Transition Suite is a track in constant movement with a very cinematographic vision in a dreamy introduction which is sculpted in meditative orchestrations. These orchestral areas are going adrift with a quiet swiftness in the tone, mainly propelled by a Babylon approach from the orchestral drums. One would say a Stomu Yamashta in a music school of Vangelis. It's moreover these big bass drums which drive the music towards a more Dance style of the Disco years with nervous riffs and these layers of violin which filled the airs of secondary harmonies. The music evolves then towards a mood of electronic Flamingo with the agile fingers of Børge Pettersen Øverleir on guitar. The transition goes to a soft but lively electronic rock mode. The guitar is so much seductive and its solos lead Transition Suite towards an ambient phase where diverse sound elements shake up its orientation. Little by little, the music finds its balance with an electric six-strings inspired and in fire. Its solos weave sharp allegories which go in transit towards another brief structure of melody which make our soul sigh. The last transitions of Transition Suite go by a duel between an electric guitar with rock solos and an acoustic guitar in mode Flamingo. Another section of melody, weaved by a Chinese violin, buds and calms the pain connected to the numerous transformations of this long title which at the end goes out in a distant shore. The album was reedited in 2014 by Sverre Knut Johansen's label; Origin Music. Available as much in CD as in downloadable format, this new version includes a bonus track; Distant Shore II (2014) which proposes a more rock vision of the title-track.
I may not like the kind, but I have to admit that this album has literally seduced me. And at many levels! Nevertheless, my first attempt has given me a rash! New Age, Easy Listening and rose water orchestrations… I have already given when Berlin School EM had totally vanished out of my landscapes in the years 80-90. Except that DISTANT SHORE is more than this in the end. Beyond all this are nesting some great arrangements as well as cinematographic visions and ambiences which add constantly treasures, especially at the level of the melodies and the effects which are just in time, on a music which surprises by its multiple evolutions. And if I am surprised in 2018, imagine a little those who discovered this album in 1994!
Sylvain Lupari (February 18th, 2018) *****
Available at Sverre Knut Johansen's Bandcamp