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Chicago native Jonah Parzen-Johnson salutes the legacy and generosity of the AACM on his new solo effort

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Baritone saxophonist and Chicago native Jonah Parzen-Johnson uses his new album, I Try to Remember Where I Come From (Clean Feed), as a statement of thanks for his artistic roots. He grew up on the south side and became an adherent of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), studying under the great reedist Mwata Bowden, who imparted the organization’s communal sensibility to the young musician. The music Parzen-Johnston now creates in Brooklyn, where he moved in 2006, bears little resemblance to the output of AACM members, but its spirit of creativity and freedom certainly stems from his experiences here. In the press materials he notes that black music in America was developed under horrible circumstances in which art became a crucial tool of empowerment and protection from the oppressive forces surrounding the community. He goes on to acknowledge that the community members he interacted with “shared their traditions, their gatherings, their bandstands, their living rooms, and their musical insights with me in a generous and enduring way.” The new album contains seven tender, minimal original pieces that are built around rustic, folkish melodies—Parzen-Johnson used circular breathing techniques in his saxophone playing and controlled the simple analog synthesizer counterpoint with foot pedals of his own design. The synthetic pulses, bloops, and vibrato-rich long tones engage beautifully in a close dance with his grainy baritone, which occasionally sounds like it’s offering to complement the electronics. Whatever improvisation exists on the record is deeply entwined in the hypnotic, uninterrupted melody lines he blows on each piece.   v

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