Johannes Luley: Follow Your Heart

Guitarist-producer Johannes Luley was born and grew up in Germany before relocating to California, where he honed his craft as an in-demand touring musician and began recording other artists in his Los Angeles studio. When said studio had to close at the start of the pandemic, Luley found himself facing a professional and personal crisis that kept him from the guitar for months. In August of 2020, he resolved himself to break free from that spell and move his creative muscles again. The result is Follow Your Heart.

As the title suggests, Luley examined what moved him from within, and this led him to dip into the ECM songbook, arranging tunes by some of the label’s key figures. His band includes reed player Max Kaplan, bassist David Hughes, drummer Dicki Fliszar, and percussionist Simon Carroll. Trumpeter and flugelhornist Jonas Lindeborg plays from afar, having laid down his parts in Stockholm, though one would hardly know it by the integration of his artistry.

Luley has a fluid ability to shift between styles and influences without missing a beat, adapting instruments and treatments to suit each track. The set opens with “Yellow Fields,” from Eberhard Weber’s 1976 album of the same name. Hughes evokes the German bassist via fretless before he and Fliszar put feet to ground with gentle traction. Kaplan’s soprano lends further credence to the revival, while Lindeborg’s flugelhorn adds reflective light. Next, Luley’s 12-string pivots into Ralph Towner territory on “Brujo.” Despite hailing from 1973’s Trios/Solos with Glen Moore, the expansiveness of this version points more toward Solstice from two years later. The Bill Evans/Miles Davis classic “Blue in Green” (which has appeared on two of Towner’s albums) glows in Luley’s fireside recreation. His restraint exudes warmth at every turn. This and Kenny Wheeler’s “Heyoke” (see 1976’s Gnu High) are standouts for their free and easy spirit, drawing magic from Lindeborg and propelling Luley to skim the proverbial waters with purpose. The latter tune’s seeking qualities match the composer’s perfectly, as do the far-reaching tones of “Ostinato” from Manfred Schoof’s Scales (a 1976 rarity from ECM’s onetime sister label, JAPO). Swells from electric guitar provide the foundation for a roving gallery of impressions, ranging from Kaplan’s bass clarinet to Lindeborg’s emotional flights.

The title track cites John McLaughlin’s My Goals Beyond (released in 1982 on the Elektra label) and features a crunchier sound from Luley and artful sopranism from Kaplan, while “One Melody” references Belo Horizonte (1981, Warner Bros. Records) to stratospheric effect. John Abercrombie also gets two musical mentions. “Telegram” time-travels from 1978’s Charactersand elicits the most cohesive dynamics from Luley’s group. Its nostalgic energy is only heightened by the rhythm section’s articulate drive. “Greenstreet” points to 2013’s 39 Steps and sits flush with its brethren in gentle resolve, ending the record with an embrace.

Follow Your Heart makes a welcome addition to any ECM lover’s shelf and should inspire listeners to explore Luley’s back catalog in kind. The album is available from his website here.