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Album Review: Levity
Dax Johnson
Cover image of the album Levity by Dax Johnson
Dax Johnson
2004 / Dax Johnson
63 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Levity is a much-anticipated new release from pianist/composer Dax Johnson. Based in Washington state, Johnson often tells people, “I’m a piano player - I just don’t look like one.” Looking more like a biker than a tickler of the ivories, his charismatic charm draws you in. When he was younger, Dax actually drove around Washington and Oregon with his piano in tow, and played on street corners wherever he could find folks to stop and listen. In his later 20’s, Dax has crammed a lot of living into his years, and that experience and emotional turmoil flow out of his music. His earlier Merciful Dwelling was astounding in its raw power and beauty, and Levity is just as good, if not better. This time, Johnson includes an invention that he calls a fourth pedal that mutes the strings; he also plucks the strings in places, and hits some of the lower strings with a mallet, creating special effects that come purely from an acoustic Yamaha grand piano. In the liner notes, the musicians are listed as “just Dax and the piano.” Copious liner notes tell the stories of how each song came to be and reveal some of the deeper thoughts and feelings of the artist. It’s an impressive package - and the music is really good, too!

The title track opens the collection, and the title refers to the ability to “levitate above the negative energies of this existence.” There are dark passages, but the piece seems to carry a feeling of hope and of moving forward. “Jadynn’s Lullaby” comes from a challenge posed by Dax’s sister to write a song without using the keys - only mutes, plucks, and anything else he could use besides the normal pressing of keys. Further inspired by a young niece who woke up screaming from a nightmare, Dax started composing this lovely piece to soothe and console her. “Zavior Dax” is a tribute to Dax’s young son, and is a beautiful and sweet ballad of a father’s deep love. “Ma Belle Danceur” was composed for daughter Emma Rain’s ballet classes, and Emma occasionally appears in Dax’s concerts in her ballet attire, dancing down the aisle. Graceful and melodic, this is also a deeply emotional piece. “Song in A Minor I (Logan)” is one of my all-time favorite Johnson pieces. Written for one of Dax’s stepsons, it is both mysterious and joyful, and exudes the energy of youth. “Bright Eyes” is a surprisingly delicate song for a beloved wife - sweet and gentle. “Still Small Voice” is also a delicate beauty. It speaks of a journey into the creativity of the silent mind with the senses numb - the still small voice. “This Present Place (Philippians 4:6:7)” is full of searching and introspection, and uses the “special effects” to great effect.

Levity is a very inspiring and satisfying musical journey. Dax Johnson is an incredible artist who needs to be heard, and hopefully his involvement with the Whisperings Solo Piano Radio community of artists will bring him a bigger audience. Levity is currently available only from daxjohnson.com. and the site also features samples of all of the tracks on this album. Very highly recommended!
November 29, 2004