JANNE SCHAFFER-KATHARSIS, EARMEAL AND PRESENS.

Janne Schaffer-Katharsis, Earmeal and Presens.

BGO Records.

Most people will have heard Swedish guitarist Janne Schaffer play many times, but never have realised it. He is one of Sweden’s premier session musicians, and has played with the great and good of Swedish music. This includes Sweden’s most successful musical export, Abba. Janne Schaffer played on many of Abba’s biggest hit singles during the seventies. However, his work as a session musician, and with Abba, is just part of the Janne Schaffer story.

His is a quite remarkable story. Janne Schaffer was born in the Swedish capital Stockholm, in 1945. Growing up, Janne Schaffer was always interested in music. So much so, that he built his first guitar in the woodwork class at the local high school. This was the first of many guitars that Janne Schaffer would own.

By the early seventies, Janne Schaffer was one of the top session musicians in Sweden. He played on Abba’s debut album Ring Ring which was recorded during 1972 and 1973. This was the start of a working relationship that would last much of the seventies. However, by the time Ring Ring was released on ’26th’ March 1973, Janne Schaffer was already planning to embark upon a solo career.

When Janne Schaffer released his eponymous debut album later in 1973, it topped the Swedish charts and was certified gold. This was a dream start to Janne Schaffer’s solo career. 

Despite the success of his eponymous debut album, Janne Schaffer didn’t turn his back on session work. Janne Schaffer continued to work as a session musician throughout his solo career.

In 1974, Janne Schaffer’s eponymous debut album was released on the Vertigo label in Britain as The Chinese. Meanwhile, Janne Schaffer released his sophomore album Andra, back home in Sweden. Unfortunately, the album failed to match the commercial success of his debut album. Worse was to come when the Four Leaf label that Janne Schaffer became insolvent. This left Janne Schaffer without a record label.For Janne Schaffer this was a disaster.

Without a record company, Janne Schaffer returned to session work, and continued working with Abba. Janne Schaffer also enjoyed the opportunity to hone his jazz chops when he played on jazz trumpeter Tony Williams’ 1974 album Sleeping Bee. Janne Schaffer also worked with jazz drummer Tony Williams, on his latest project Pop Workshop, who released Song Of The Pterodactyl in 1974. Session work kept Janne Schaffer busy until he found a new record company.

It wasn’t until late 1975 that Janne Schaffer signed to CBS Records Swedish division. After a year where he was musically homeless, Janne Schaffer was going up in the world. He had signed to a major label. Janne Schaffer would three albums for CBS Records, Katharsis, Earmeal and Presens, which were recently remastered and rereleased as part of a two CD set by BGO Records. The CBS years marked the start of the next chapter in Janne Schaffer’s career. 

Katharsis.

Having signed to CBS Records, Janne Schaffer was keen to begin recording his third album, which became Katharsis. More than a year had passed since Janne Schaffer released his sophomore album Andra. It had failed to match the commercial success of his eponymous debut album. Janne Schaffer was keen to begin work on his third album as soon as possible.

He had already written the eight tracks that would become Katharsis. All Janne Schaffer had to do was put a band together, and once rehearsals had taken place, they could begin recording Katharsis. Recording began in December 1975, with Janne Schaffer co-producing Katharsis with Lars Samuelson. They were joined in the studio by some of Sweden’s top musicians, including many close friends of Janne Schaffer.  

Recording of Katharsis took place at two studios, Marcus Music and Europa Film. The sessions began in December 1975, and over the next four months eight tracks were recorded. During the recording sessions, the band were joined by a famous face, John “Rabbit” Burdock. He played the electric piano and clavinet on Bromma Struttin. Eventually, after four months, Katharsis was completed in March 1976. Now Janne Schaffer’s solo career could resume.

When Katharsis was released later in 1976, it was to widespread critical acclaim. Critics were won over by what was the most eclectic album of Janne Schaffer’s three album solo career. So was the Swedish record buying public, with Katharsis proving much more popular than its predecessor Andra. No wonder, as Katharsis showcased the considerable talents of Janne Schaffer and his all-star band as seamlessly, they switched between and combined musical genres.

That was case from the genre-melting album opener Bromma Struttin, which is a laid back fusion of funk, rock  and even disco. During his first solo Janne Schaffer deploys a Talk Box and an array of effects as he showcases his virtuoso skills. This continues on Stocking Suite, which heads in the direction of progressive rock and then fusion. Janne Schaffer and his band’s playing veers between disciplined to a much freer and fluid style. The tempo then drops on The Blue Gate where funk gives way to fusion as Janne Schaffer and later, lock into a smouldering groove on what’s one of the highlights of Katharsis. 

Janne Schaffer and his band continue to throw curveballs on Dimbaa Jullow,where they combined elements of fusion,  progressive funk and even folk during this captivating and genre-melting track. Ramsa is a cinematic, folk-tinged track that conjures up images of country living. Janne Schaffer was inspired to write Atlanta Inn 2419 after touring America in 1974, and witnessing terrible weather. It’s a slow burner, that eventually reveals its secrets, and features a guitar masterclass from Janne Schaffer. This inspires his band to even greater heights on this nine minute epic. Uber rocky describes The Red Gate, which features layers of guitar as Janne Schaffer’s band become a power trio. Closing Katharsis is the ruminative sounding Wintergreen, which is an acoustic track that invites reflection. It also shows yet another side of Janne Schaffer.

After the success of Katharis in Sweden, CBS Records decided to release the album in Britain and America. They hoped that Katharis would find an audience in both countries. Katharis was well received by critics in both countries, and received praise and plaudits from Rolling Stone magazine. For Janne Schaffer, the future looked a lot brighter than it had after he released his sophomore album Andra. Now he was signed to a major label, and his career was back on track.

Despite the success of Katharis, Janne Schaffer continued to work as a session musician. This included working with Abba, who were by then, one of the biggest pop groups in Europe. However, out of the blue, Janne Schaffer received an invitation from Columbia to play at one of the most prestigious events on the music calendar, the Montreux Jazz Festival. 

At the Montreux Jazz Festival, Janne Schaffer found himself rubbing shoulders with the great and good of jazz. This induced some legendary names from jazz’s past, including Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz and Maynard Ferguson. They were joined by the next generation of fusion musicians, including George Duke, Billy Cobham, Bob James, Eric Gale and Steve Khan. Despite such illustrious company, it was Janne Schaffer that was chosen to play on Andromeda, an twenty-two minute epic that later featured on Montreux Summit Volume 1 when it was released in 1978.

Appearing at the Montreux Jazz Festival did wonders for Janne Schaffer’s career. At last he was receiving the recognition that his music deserved. It wasn’t just critics and record buyers who sat up and took notice of Janne Schaffer. So did his peers, including four members of rock royalty, who would feature on Janne Schaffer’s fourth album Earmeal.

Earmeal.

Buoyed by the success of appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Janne Schaffer was keen to begin work on his fourth album, Earmeal. He had written the nine would feature on Earmeal when the invite came to record the album in Los Angeles.

For the recording, Janne Schaffer decided to take his friend and flautist Björn J:Son Lindh to the recording sessions in LA. When an executive at CBS asked Janne Schaffer who he wanted to play the drums on Earmeal, and he chose future Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro. He was by then, one of the top West Coast session musicians, and had played on albums with Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs and Robert. Having chosen a drummer, CBS assured Janne Schaffer that the rest of the band would be in place when he arrived in LA.

That wasn’t the case. Janne Schaffer arrived to find his band comprised Jeff Porcaro and Björn J:Son. Needing some musicians to play on Earmeal, Janne Schaffer asked Joe Porcaro to recommend a bassist. He suggested his brother Mike Porcaro. Soon, a third Porcaro brother was added to the band, when keyboardist Steven Porcaro agreed to play on Earmeal. So did percussionist Joe Porcaro, the father of Jeff, Mike and Steven. The final member of the band was keyboardist Peter Robinson, Producing this tight, talented band at Larabee Sound, in LA. was Bruce Botnick, a vastly experienced producer. Before long, the majority of the album was complete. Some recording took place in Stockholm, and then Earmeal was ready for release.

When Earmeal was released in 1978, the album received the same praise and plaudits as Katharsis. It was another eclectic album, where Janne Schaffer take the listener on a musical adventure.

This began with the propulsive jazz-funk of Hot Days And Summer Nights which opens Earmeal. It gives way to Happy Feet, which  breezes along, revealing a dreamy, summer sound reminiscent of Bob James. To A Beautiful Painter is a beautiful ballad that meanders along, allowing Janne Schaffer’s glistening guitar to take centre-stage. Bromma Express is funky jam that incorporates elements of jazz, fusion and Hispanic influences where Janne Schaffer and his all-star band enjoy the opportunity to stretch their legs musically.

The Shrimp is a mid-tempo track where Janne Schaffer returns to fusion, except during the bridge when the track briefly heads in the direction of disco. Next on the menu, is Shrimp A La Carte, a beautifully orchestrated track that lasts just one minute. It’s Never Too Late is an oft-sampled and uber funky track that later, heads in the direction of fusion. For the rest of the track Janne Schaffer and his band switch between funk and fusion as they showcase their considerable skills. It’s a similar case on Oriental Sign, where the tempo drops on a glorious, laid-back fusion of funk rock and Eastern influences. Closing Earmeal is Frederick’s Place a beautiful, understated and meditative track that leaves a lasting impression.

The same can be said of Earmeal, which was without doubt, one of the best albums of Janne Schaffer’s career. It was certainly the best album of the CBS years. The followup Presens, had a lot to live up to.

Presens.

Following the success of Earmeal, Janne Schaffer continued to divide his time between his solo career and his work as a session player. Eventually, the time came for Janne Schaffer to record his fifth album, and his third album for CBS Records. By then, he had written eight new songs. They would be recorded in Stockholm, not Los Angeles.

While Janne Schaffer had enjoyed recording an album in Hollywood, recording at Europa Film and Polar Sound meant that he was able to work with local musicians. This included some of those who had played on Katharsis, including keyboardist, flautist and arranger Björn J:Son Lindh drummer Malando Gassama, drummer and percussionist Per Lindvall and Stefan Brolund who played bass and double bass. Another musician who made a guest appearance on Presens, was organist John “Rabbit” Bundrick who played on Herr Allansson Pickles. A new name was bassist Christian Veltman, who also wrote Neon Dimma. With a band that featured old friends, familiar faces and new names, work began on Presens, which was produced by Janne Schaffer. 

Before the release of Presens, critics had their say on Presens. They discovered a slick album where Janne Schaffer combined elements of disco, funk, fusion, jazz, pop and rock. The music was the most commercial sounding album that Janne Schaffer had released on CBS Records.

Proof of this was the album opener Herr Allansson Pickles. It’s an irresistible, dance-floor friendly, funky rocker where Janne Schaffer unleashes some guitar wizardry above a 4/4 beat. The guitar wizardry continues on The Tongue, an other stomping, rocky track. As it bursts into life, Janne Schaffer takes centre-stage while the rhythm section lock into the groove and power the arrangement along. Very different is a beautiful, ruminative balladry of Neon-moisture. Joyous, urgent and full of energy describes Marsch Från Tornhuven, were Janne Schaffer seamlessly marries rock and folk.  

March From Refresher Course finds Janne Schaffer’s guitar plays a leading role in this dramatic, emotive and cinematic power ballad. Hooks haven’t been spared on High Pitch, which is one of the most commercial and memorable tracks on Presens. Evening At Alex is a captivating fusion of Scandinavian folk music and Eastern influences which races along at breakneck speed. Very different is the cinematic sound of Open Eyes where Janne Schaffer combines funk and fusion to create what sounds like the theme to a seventies police drama. Closing Presens is Desire, a beautiful understated and wistful sounding track that invites reflection on what’s gone before.

When Presens was released in 1980, it didn’t replicate the success of previous albums. It was the one that got away. Sadly, Presens was the last album that Janne Schaffer released for CBS Records. He left the label not long after the release of Presens, and began a new chapter in his career.

This was with the Electric Banana Band, which started life as a children’s band. However, it’s a band that united families when they attended Electric Banana Band concerts. It’s still going strong some thirty-seven years later. That was the next chapter in Janne Schaffer’s career.

This was very different to the CBS years, between 1976 and 1980, when Janne Schaffer released a trio of critically acclaimed albums Katharsis, Earmeal and Presens. They showcase one of the most talented and versatile Swedish guitarists as he seamlessly switches between and combines disparate genres. This ranges from disco to funk, fusion, to  jazz, pop or rock. Janne Schaffer is equally at home playing each of these genres, or combining elements of several in the space of the one song. That is something that not every musician is capable of. However, Janne Schaffer isn’t just any musician. He’s one of the best European guitarists of his generation.

Sadly, many people outside of Sweden won’t be familiar with Janne Schaffer’s music. However, they’ll have most likely have heard his guitar playing on many of Abba’s songs. Some eagle-eyed music fans may have noticed the Janne Schaffer’s name on the credits of album cover. Now is the opportunity to discover what Janne Schaffer is capable.

Recently, Katharsis, Earmeal and Presens, which were recently remastered and rereleased as part of a two CD set by BGO Records. They’re a reminder of Janne Schaffer at the peak of his powers, and when he was being compared to the likes of the legendary British guitarist, Jeff Beck. Janne Schaffer belongs in such illustrious company, and when he rubbed shoulders with the great and good of music, always more than held his own. Proof of that can be found on Katharsis, Earmeal and Presens, which Janne Schaffer recorded during his CBS years,

Janne Schaffer-Katharsis, Earmeal and Presens.

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