Jeff Johnson/Phil Keaggy
Release date: February 1, 2021
Ravenna is a new collaboration between longtime musical partners, Jeff Johnson and Phil Keaggy. It’s comprised of eight recordings, all inspired by 5th and 6th century mosaics of Ravenna, Italy. These recordings are also all instrumentals, with Johnson providing keyboards and percussion, while Keaggy contributes guitars, mandocello, mandolin, bass, percussion, and vocals (although he doesn’t sing actual words). Both Johnson and Keaggy are master musicians, as well as naturally creative composers, and these collaborative recordings are consistently gentle, inventive, and beautiful.
Ravenna is famous for its Christian art, exemplified by the 6th century Byzantine mosaic in the apse dome of the basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe. Located on the Adriatic coast, south of Venice, Ravenna is well known for both its late Roman architecture and mosaic art, created during the time when it was the capital of the Western Roman Empire.
Each of these recordings is an extended piece, with all clocking in at least six minutes long. Every track is excellent, too, although “Mosaic 5” especially stands out. It begins quietly, with Keaggy’s acoustic guitar and Johnson’s acoustic piano. However, as its tempo picks up, Keaggy’s smooth electric guitar soon takes centerstage. Then, about midway through, a Keaggy (Dare we say it, funky bass line?) appears and spars musically with a now more rocking Keaggy electric guitar part. This then leads delightfully into a progressive rock organ segment from Johnson, before returning to gentler musical strains. This is also one track where one can hear Keaggy’s wordless vocals. “Mosaic 5” has a wide variety of instrumental elements running through it, all of them extremely good.
Ravenna is a wonderful auditory intersection, where ancient visual art meets contemporary musical artistry.