You may not know Jonah Yano. But you might know BADBADNOTGOOD, Toronto’s eclectic jazz quartet.
In fact, “Portrait of a dog” is a collaborative album between the alt-folk singer and the alt-jazz band.
Jonah Yano was born in Hiroshima, grew up in British Columbia and now lives in Montreal after passing through Toronto. “Portrait of a Dog” is his second album, after “Souvenir of 2020”. There was previously an EP called “Nervous”, in 2019.
Let’s say it right away: the graft between Yano and BBNG is a successful operation. Folk and jazz fit together perfectly. Add a third layer to this musical mix: the string arrangements, mainly cello, of multi-instrumentalist Eliza Niemi. She too is from Toronto.
Jonah Yano’s tenor voice ties it all together. The young man expresses himself with a whole lot of emotion, always with an absolute sweetness. With sometimes very nice harmonies.
Portrait of a dog begins with Leslianne, a meditative folk song. Then we go on with “Always”, which becomes more and more jazz and improvised.
Then, in the magnificent “Haven’t Haven’t”, in the form of a crescendo, we hear excerpts of conversations between Jonah Yano and his grandparents, who are in the twilight of their lives. One will hear these small pieces of dialogue throughout the disc. “Portait of a Dog” is a reflection on identity and roots.
Mixing styles doesn’t always work. But here Jonah Yano, Eliza Niemi and the four members of BADBADNOTGOOD have found the right mix. Everything flows. The arrangements are creative, but they don’t try to overdo it. Sometimes I would have liked more cymbals and broomsticks on the drums. But that’s a downside.
Consisting of Felix Fox-Pappas (organ-piano-wurlitzer), Chester Hansen (bass-double bass), Alexander Sowinsky (drums) and Leland Whitty (electric guitar-saxophone), the quartet doesn’t have as much fun as in his personal albums (namesake). But there are still some inspired solos. And the last of the 12 pieces, “The Ordinary is Ordinary Because it Ordinarily Repeats”, belongs entirely to BADBADNOTGOOD, while the previous one, “Song in the Family House”, is a solo performance by Jonah Yano, voice and acoustic guitar. And so, the circle is closed. And this finale allows us to better judge the complementarity of the two poles.
It is a very introspective musical journey. You won’t find here any music to sway to. But it is a beautiful winter record, with sunny spikes. Or a music to listen to in summer under the stars.