‘Ballads’, the sixth solo recording from the Billboard chart-topping Jonathan Fritzén, finds him in the mellow yet expansive mood that his legion of fans around the world have, up until this time, experienced only briefly. That said, despite showing off a different side to his musical persona, this stunning twelve-track tour de force shimmers with the readily recognizable Fritzén vibe that has been front back and center of his discography to date. Take for example the critically acclaimed ‘Magical’ CD, from which the title cut blasted a path to #1 on every smooth jazz airplay chart on the planet, or his sensational 2015 project ‘Fritzenized’ that included outstanding performances from Gerald Albright, Paul Taylor and Nils Landgren.
Quite simply the Swedish American Fritzén remains one of the hottest composers, producers and keyboard players around and here, joined as he variously is by Peter Ferencz on violin, Alex Crown and Andreas Rydman on guitars plus his mother, Katarina Fritzén, on flute, he creates a modern day masterpiece while strengthening ties with individuals he is personally close to. Crown is one of Fritzén’s oldest friends. They grew up together in Stockholm, Sweden while the more recent acquaintance Jonathan has made with Ferencz came about when they both performed on the Dave Koz Jazz Cruise in 2016.
Not surprisingly this meeting of minds and rekindling of friendships, new and old, has resulted in an end product made with love and totally in keeping with Fritzén’s goal to create music that will bring calmness and tranquillity to all who listen.
As Jonathan explains it himself, “We are in an era where forces are pulling us away from our natural state of well being. I'm hoping that with ‘Ballads’ I can bring some of that back. It is my first ‘concept’ record and I wanted to build something that will not only dial into a certain state of mind but also retain it for the entirety of the album. Every song has it's own story but with reoccurring melodies and themes there is a strong connection between each them. It’s a musical journey.”
Just how effective this approach is becomes abundantly clear from the very first number, the serene, decidedly cinematic and aptly titled ‘The Journey’ which draws in the listener with the kind of understated hook that, over the last nine years, has become Fritzén’s calling card.
It lays down an early marker for what ‘Ballads’ is all about and that same mellifluous vibe is a significant feature of the stunning ‘Eternal’ which quite simply is beauty personified. Much the same can be said of wondrous songs such as ‘Beyond The Sun’ and ‘Serenity’ but the truly eclectic nature of ‘Ballads’ is fully revealed with ‘The Fiddler’ where Ferencz on violin evokes the aura of an Irish folk tune.
Another adroit change of direction, this time to the wonderfully edgy ‘Let It Go’, eases Fritzén ever closer to chill territory. It is the first single to be serviced to radio and as the journey continues toward the bluesy equanimity of ‘Just Be’ there is still time to luxuriate in the percussive splendor of ‘Sahara’. It proves to be the ideal platform for Fritzén’s stellar playing and he is again on top form for the smooth jazz friendly ‘Today’ where his interaction with Alex Crown is nothing short of sublime.
Elsewhere, the silky groove of ‘Countryside’ conjures up images of winding roads and rolling hills but is elevated to another level by the deft production touches that are a recurring hallmark of Fritzén’s work.
As Fritzén closes out ‘Ballads’ with the tender majesty of ‘Rainbows’ there is little doubt that here is a recording that brings serenity, crosses genres and rejuvenates the soul.