It’s not always easy to tell where a road begins. Originally a Jazz performer, now heavily influenced by Classical music, Arabic Music, African Nuba, Rai, Gnawa, and Berber traditions, and Balkan music, for the multi-instrumentalist, musician, songwriter, and producer Johno, the road to his first solo album The Road Not Taken began imperceptibly. Its unconventional path proved long, winding, and musically breathtaking, embracing music and musicians from around the Mediterranean and Ireland and poetry from Shakespeare to Mahmoud Darwish.
The wild trip that led to The Road Not Taken might have begun the moment when poetic inheritance unfolded for Johno over time, revealing hidden melodies and songs. “When you read the poems, they have these beautiful meters,” he reflects. “You just have to discover the songs in them. These poems were begging to become musical compositions “
Johno is a trained jazz musician but found himself increasingly in the recording booth on the other side of the glass. His skills were coupled with a growing fascination with the sounds, styles, and musical thought he discovered in other cultures. Over time, as he worked with more and more well-established musicians in far-flung locales, their music and craft began to seep into his own writing. It wasn’t, however, until recently that he resolved to step in front of the mic. He realized he had enough material to make his first album, songs he’d built up over years of travel and homecoming. ‘The Road Not Taken’ encompasses a fabulous musical expedition that celebrates the common threads of connecting people, places, and experiences while being on the journey of music.
As Johno quotes, “Like many writers, I sometimes start with a riff, but to work with these poems, I chose a more theatrical way. You take the poem and read it really slowly, repeatedly and theatrically, it’s embarrassing to even demonstrate. “After you do that, you have the scale. That scale is there, at the back of your mind, and it just blends with the cadence of the poem.” Once a song had emerged, Johno decided where the song could best be recorded, often fitting sessions into his travels as a producer. The resulting tracks are steeped in the sounds and approaches of these places, the bold horns of the Balkans, the elegant modal melodies of the Eastern Mediterranean, the rippling percussion lines.
Johno has worked with local artists in a number of countries and fuses seamlessly between traditional melodies and beats to advanced Jazz harmonies, and classical counterpoint. The compositions he discovered were radical departures from the poem’s origins, suggesting styles and locations for recording far off the beaten path. As companions to his original pieces, Johno chose several songs that fit the theme and resonated with the other works, and heard them through the same unconventional filter. This latest album begins with the musical adaptation of “Stopping By Woods,” the classic poem by Robert Frost. As Johno says, “I’m just mesmerized by this poem, I’ve known it by heart for most of my life now, and yet, I can’t claim to really understand half of what’s there.” In “Anthea,” Johno discovered modern themes in an antique text.
Johno is the director of the newly established label RNT Records, and the exciting new Delia Arts Foundation. 50% of the album’s earnings are put back to community cultural development in Johno’s various philanthropic collaborations.
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