Sax machine!: Musician uses synth on his horn

Circular logic: Musician Jonah Parzen-Johnson will use circular breathing to create continuous notes on his sax at Union Pool on July 27.
Brooklyn Daily
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He’s no Kenny G!

At a concert next week, a Williamsburg saxophonist will employ the circular breathing method that dull-as-dishwater pop star Kenny G famously used to hold an E-flat note for 45 minutes. But Jonah Parzen-Johnson, opening for Tigue at Union Pool on July 27, does more than hold a single note — while he plays he creates hypnotic soundcapes, manipulating analog synthesizers with his feet to create lush, deeply textured music that is more than the sum of its parts.

“The idea behind my setup is to directly interact with the sax, but not alter its tone,” said Parzen-Johnson. “I’m playing the saxophone, and the saxophone is playing the synthesizer. Instead of feeling like a duet, it sounds like two instruments that have come together to play as one unit.”

The saxophonist first conceived of combining synth and sax during a visit to the North Carolina factory where Moog synthesizers are hand-built.

“I was really struck by the immediate physical quality of the instruments that they were making,” said Parzen-Johnson. “That got me interested — ‘Is there is such a thing as electronic music that’s not computer music?’ ”

To his delight, Parzen-Johnson discovered that the physical limitations of analog synthesizers let him make a musical statement by interacting with the electronics on a human level. But when he plays, he is careful not to let technology overwhelm him.

“I want to combine to create a cohesive sound and message,” he said.“I like to get on stage and say something clear and complete musically, creatively, and interactively with the audience.”

Parzen-Johnson, who also plays in the Afrobeat ensemble Zongo Junction, has released four albums of his self-described “lo-fi experimental folk” under his own name, including the recent “I Try to Remember Where I Come From.” And as much as he enjoys playing with other musicians, there are advantages to playing and touring on his own, he said.

“The green room is a lot emptier when you’re the only musician in the band,” said Parzen-Johnson “That means I spend a lot of time in the audience, talking to people and getting to know folks in different parts of the country — so every time I go on tour it’s also an informational tour.”

And there is another advantage to being a solo act, he added.

“It’s really easy to schedule a rehearsal.”

Jonah Parzen-Johnson at Union Pool (484 Union Ave. at Meeker Avenue in Williamsburg, July 27 at 8 pm. $12 ($10 in advance).

Updated 1:34 am, July 10, 2018
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