Ravenna is the fourth instrumental collaboration from keyboardist Jeff Johnson and guitarist Phil Keaggy, this time inspired by 5th and 6th century mosaics from the Byzantine era, housed in 8 early Christian monuments in Ravenna, Italy, all now on the World Heritage List. As such this lush, layered musical collection of 8 “songs” that average at about 7 minutes of length, each a mini-sonic tapestry of sound, melody, and percussion. Like 2019’s Cappadocia, Keaggy brings his varied skills, from classical stylings on nylon stringed acoustics to soaring electric guitar soloing which blends harmoniously with Johnson’s piano, synths, and subtle percussive elements.
Both Keaggy and Johnson bring decades of instrumental exploration to their unique collaborative efforts. Johnson’s early solo work explored a more progressive rock sound, and later embraced ambient and jazz influences as well as Celtic inspirations when teaming up with Irish flutist Brian Dunning and violinist with Wendy Goodwin. Keaggy’s early work in the power trio, Glass Harp, followed Clapton’s Cream into some progressive expressions as he has explored a variety of rock acoustic styles over the decades with his solo albums. Together they bring together all that experience, and diverse interests to create these lovely instrumental pieces, which work as elegant background listening, or draw you in with timeless melodies, soothing inspirational sounds, and occasional displays of instrumental prowess.
On Johnson’s Facebook page, he seemed to delight when a reviewer described the duo’s musical approach as “ambi-coustic, jazz-age fusion, with touches of art rock in eight richly textured instrumental mosaics,” but that hardly gets to the gentle, genuine beauty and elegance these musical pieces deliver. I think the album actually gets strongest on Mosaic’s number 5, 6, and 7, but describing these kinds of instrumental pieces is like trying to hold sand between your fingers, each description slips away. If you’re drawn to lighter jazz and ambient sounds, you’ll just need to hear it for yourself, but the journey is worth the effort.
Key Tracks: “Mosaic 6” / “Mosaic 7” / “Mosaic 5”
Artists With Similar Fire: Brian Eno / Moby / Hammock
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb