2014 – a look back

As the end of 2014 is coming closer, it is time to look back and select some of the highlights of the year in musical terms:

CDs

Of course top of any list I would have to compile would be the records I have been putting out on the OKeh label, as I sign artists and work with them on their recordings because I believe that these artists are special and have something to add to the vast archive of recorded jazz music. In 2014 I released the following recordings:

Jeff Ballard Time’s Tales

Nir Felder Golden Age

James Brandon Lewis Divine Travels

Magos & Limon Dawn

Theo Croker AfroPhysicist

Sonny Rollins Road Shows, Vol. 3

Somi The Lagos Music Salon

Sergio Mendes Magic          Grammy Nominee 2015 !

MSMW Juice

Bill Frisell Guitar in the Space Age

Branford Marsalis In My Solitude – Live at Grace Cathedral

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From all the other great music I heard during the year, the following CDs, in no particular order, stood out:

Bugge Wesseltoft OK World   Jazzland Rec.

Wesseltoft Schwarz Berglund Trialogue   Jazzland Rec.

Ola Kvernberg The Mechanical Fair   Jazzland Rec.

Towner Muthspiel Grygorian Travel Guide   ECM

Jarrett / Haden Last Dance   ECM

Ketil Bjornstad Sunrise   ECM

Chick Corea Portraits   Concord

Jason Moran All Rise   Blue Note

Lars Danielsson Liberetto II   ACT

GoGo Penguin v2.0   Gondwana Records

Silvia Perez Cruz Granada   Universal

Jamie Cullum Interlude   Universal

Paco de Lucia Andalucia   Universal

Kenny Barron / Dave Holland The Art of Conversation   Impulse/Universal

bushman’s revenge thou shalt boogie!   Rune Grammofon

The Bad Plus The Rite of Spring   Sony Masterworks

Leonard Cohen Popular Problems   Columbia

Antonio Serrano Mahalo   Mahalo Produciones

Niccolo Faraci It came to broadcast the Yucatan   Auand Records

Pablo Martin Caminero O.F.N.I.   Bost

Gretchen Parlato Live in New York   Oblique

Airelle Bresson / Nelson Veras prelude   naïve

J.D. Allen Bloom   Savant

Ron Miles Circle   enja

And so many more, I enjoyed, but can’t mention for space reasons ….

Gigs

The outstanding performer for me this year has been Branford Marsalis – his concert with the quartet in Barcelona was simply something else and then the solo concert in the Kulturkirche Hamburg, proved that he is one of the most innovative improvisers with a great melodic sense.

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The other shows that really got me on an emotional level and did draw me deep into the music performed were:

The OKeh Night at Winter Jazz in New York in January with performances by James Brandon Lewis (whose November show in Madrid was another highlight of the year), Theo Croker, Jeff Ballard with Lionel Loueke and Miguel Zenon, Somi (who as well performed a great show later in the year in Paris), Nir Felder and Craig Handy. A pleasure to watch these young musicians show that they deserve to be recorded and promoted around the globe.

North Sea Jazz Festival – with outstanding performances by Dave Holland’s Prism, Nir Felder, John Scofield’s Uberjam Band and Sachal Vasandani. A festival full of great music – 3 exhausting days, but heaven for a true jazzman.

Madrid Jazz Festival – a series of great concerts in a relatively small venue – with a fantastic atmosphere when the show is good – and Dee Dee Bridewater featuring The Croker’s DVRK FUNK as a backing band was just incredible – powerful support for the greatest jazz singer of our time from her protégée Theo and his band. Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood performed music from their album Juice and did groove as there was no tomorrow …and the James Brandon Lewis Trio delivered a night of free flowing melodic improvisation on the highest level.

Twice I saw this year Pablo Martin Caminero performing his new album O.F.N.I. – Flamenco/Jazz as good as it gets, live and on record.

The Brad Mehldau Trio at the Teatro Lara in Madrid – still one of the tightest and best jazz combos around.

Jef Neve solo at the jazzahead in Bremen – impressive jazz compositions based in European classical music. Sensational.

Madeleine Peyroux at Ronnie Scott’s – just her on acoustic guitar with bass and electric guitar – the format her voice gets the best support and she seem to enjoy the most. Sublime.

Michel Camilo solo at the Blue Note in New York performing music from his Latin Grammy Award winning album What’s UP? A true master.

Ola Kvernberg with his trio and special guests Pablo Martin, Josemi Carmona, Enriquito and Bandolero at the Off The La Latina club in Madrid – musical exchange between North and South – powerful !

And there have been many more great nights at festival like the one in Vitoria-Gasteiz or concerts in various places in Europe. Too many to mention them all, but some are mentioned in the earlier blogs, for the interested reader.

In 2014 unfortunately the world of music lost too many great musicians, a vacuum that will be difficult to fill. I was lucky enough to have known and have worked with some of them and I will carry the memories of these great artists with me forever. I pay my respects to Paco de Lucia, Charlie Haden, Joe Sample and Idris Muhammad. R.I.P.

As we are speaking or better writing about all things music, I want to recommend a book as well: Stuart Nicholson Jazz and Culture in a Global Age. An eye and ear opening analysis of the international jazz development. Captivating.

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Lucky …

Lucky to have had the chance to hear Branford Marsalis twice in the last few weeks – first with his quartet as part of the Barcelona Jazz Festival and then again solo in the Kulturkirche Altona in Hamburg, performing the repertoire from his amazing new album In My Solitude, recorded during another solo concert at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. When his quartet is in a good mood, there are few groups as tight and communicative musically as they are. Branford presented new drummer Evan Sherman, who with his 21 years got plenty to learn, but overall did a great job and fitted well into the musical adventures the rest of the group got themselves into. Joey Calderazzo, as ever, full of ideas and with powerful and impressing solo work and Eric Revis was keeping the beat and telling stories. Branford let them go, listening, reacting and played absolutely amazing – always keeping the melody in mind and at the centre of his improvisations. The audience simply loved it, whether it was an original, a known standard or some New Orleans groove – all used as a base for improvisation, individually or as a unit. When it comes to play, Evan Sherman is probably in the best group to learn how to do so – communication is the key, understanding and listening the next step and then it is all about letting go and enjoy the moment together. If that works for the group, it surely will work for the audience … as it did in Barcelona.

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The solo concert in the beautiful Kulturkirche Altona was a completely different beast: this was only the second time Branford actually did a solo concert – the first being the new album and then Hamburg. More or less he played the same repertoire in Hamburg than what you can find on the album, notable exceptions here that he played Body & Soul, On the sunny side of the street and Bach’s Allemande, from the Cello Suites No 1, which was for me one of the highlights of the evening. Twice more or less 45 minutes plus an encore! A tough call on any soloist – Branford used the space and sound of the church to its best, changed between soprano and tenor and kept the audience mesmerized. It is difficult to explain the beauty of the sound in this place, the melodic inventiveness of Branford’s soli and the beauty of the selected repertoire, as not every song works in that setting. The two concerts simply confirmed that Branford Marsalis is not only one of the leading sax players of our time, but he is as well still open to take risks, to move into areas unknown and be able to make a valid musical statement there.

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Dee Dee Bridgewater came to Madrid on her latest European tour, in which she used her protégées band as her backing group – Theo Croker’s DVRK FUNK, featuring the amazing alto sax player Irwin Hall (here without his Roland Kirk impression, which he did so well when in Melody Gardot’s band), Eric Wheeler on bass, Michael King on piano and Kassa Overall on drums. Theo and the guys started the proceedings with a few tracks from his latest album Afrophysicist, before giving Dee Dee the powerful support that still amazingly energetic singer needs. Theo arranged most of the music for her and the group and gave standards like Love For Sale a different edge, a more modern and darker vibe. Same is true for a gorgeous arrangement of Abbey Lincoln’s Music Is The Magic, which moves from hauntingly beauty to a sinister dark place and back ….. true magic! Dee Dee still is one of the best performers out there, her voice immaculate and her control second to none. It was fantastic to see her energised by the young players around her and the great arrangements they came up for her music.

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Finally catched yesterday Pablo Martin Caminero’s quintet performing the music of the new album OFNI, which I have mentioned already in an earlier blog. I just love his compositions, the melodies and grooves they create in a true flamenco/jazz style. Pianist Moises Sanchez is a great improviser, his soli full of ideas and references, but in this group as well he is a great part of the overall sound, filling spaces with a delicate touch and supporting the other members when their time for a solo has come. Sax player Ariel Bringuez and trombone player Toni Belenguer are a great horn section and individual voices when it comes to take the lead and drummer Michael Olivera pushes them on with a steady beat, helped keeping the pulse by a smiling Pablo, who enjoys hearing his fantastic composition played by this group. Catarsis, one of the pieces on OFNI, has a beautiful little melody, builds up over the 10 or so minutes the song was played and ends with a powerful recall of the melody … a pleasure to listen to. As I probably said before: Pablo is one to watch out for, as a player, as a composer and as a band leader!

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Juice … live

Madrid Jazz Festival ’14 – yesterday evening in a full Conde Duque: Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood!

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A groove night with many surprises! Playing mainly repertoire from their latest album Juice, the quartet moved from jazz to funk and rock without letting the audience feel musical borders. Scofield made his guitar scream and swing, cry and tell stories, each played emotion mirrored by facial expressions, simply showing how deep he dug into himself to perform these incredible soli. But this is a band project, not a Scofield solo show, and Medeski, Martin & Wood again proved why they are such an amazing trio, with free flowing improvisations, groovy tunes and incredible musicianship all around. Adding Scofield to the mix is simply taking them to a different playing field.

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John Medeski showed why he has been riding high in all keyboard and organ polls and added some great piano soli as well, while Chris Wood and Billy Martin gave the music a solid carpet and heartbeat, with a few irregularities …. Just amazing! Constant changes in the music keep them and the listeners alert, once you think they settled in a groove, they are just taking it apart, flowing freely around, only to get back to the initial rhythm again. A great example of this was Sunshine of your love, even spacier than on the album, groovy, even when they went into a free improvisation and only the inherited groove kept things moving, before they got back into their own time again and finished the song as they started it: lose, but tight on the beat. When they finished the night’s concert with The Doors’ Light My Fire the audience jumped up and gave them an immediate standing ovation and only left after an encore that closed the evening on a quiet note: Bob Dylan’s The Times They are A Changing. A great concert with a great band – almost 2 hours of music and not one dull moment.

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Melodic Improvisations

Young sax player James Brandon Lewis just stopped by in Madrid while on his first European tour with his trio, featuring Max Johnson on bass and Dominic Fragman on drums. The club Clamores was the venue and as James is truly a new artist, I didn’t expect too many people there … but in the end about 200 enthusiastic fans showed up and had a great night!

James and the guys started with Divine, one of the key tracks on his OKeh Records debut album, Divine Travels … and with it set the tone for the night: free flowing improvisations on little melodies, deep spiritual expressions on all instruments, led by an immaculate James, whose ideas never seemed to run out or showed repetition, who was dismantling melodies and putting them together again upside down and it all made sense and sounded great! A song he wrote as a tribute to Charlie Haden had the trio at its best in performing an improvised ballad with a hauntingly beautiful theme that they knitted into the song in a communication of respect for the late bass player. More music from the great album Divine Travels, including the amazing Wading Child in the Motherless Water rounded up the night. This is accessible deep improvised music, free jazz with melodies if you want, but made by a bunch of great guys who love to express their fun in life that way. Without a doubt so far my gig of the year. A jazz star in the making!

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From October 30th to November 6th the first Montreux Academy happened in Montreux, Switzerland: an educational week for young jazz musicians from all over the world, who in the past two years had participated in one of the Montreux competitions – guitar, piano or vocal. They were on guitar: Andres Corredor (Columbia), Yoav Eshed (Israel), Alexander Goodman (Canada) and Leandro Pellegrino (Brazil). On Piano: Lorenz Kellhuber (Germany), Mathis Pecard (France) and Jerry Leonide (Mauritius). And on vocals: Myriam Bouk Mouin (France), Alita Moses (USA), Patrick Rouiller (Switzerland), Woiciech Myrczek (Poland) and Paula Grande (Spain). Mentor of these musicians through the music sessions of the week was the great Lee Ritenour, as well as some guests, some of the being part of the concert at the last evening of the Academy. I had the pleasure doing a session with these young musicians on the music business, especially how agencies, managers and local promoters as well as labels can work together to help the artists to develop their careers – an interesting 2 hours of presentation, discussions and Q&A, which showed the desire of the group to know and understand, to learn. The evening before our session I went with the musicians to dinner and afterwards a relaxed and playful session, just for me to see some of them in action – even so the jams never show the true art of a musician, it can show a lot of other things especially in terms of improvising … Leandro has a really beautiful sound of the guitar and played some great music there;

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Paula and Andres did 2 songs together which showed a very interesting singer and a guitar player who knows how to support and step up when asked for and finally Jerry Leonide, whom I had met before when he played with Somi last June, and Wojciech did a few songs, showcasing both talented musicians and especially the remarkable voice of the Polish singer.

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A great event from what is could see over the two days there and I hope it will last, as these events and the education of the young musicians are extremely important

I wanted to give a quick update on what’s up on OKeh Records as well – so here we go: the fall releases are out, the artist touring Europe and it all seems to be fine. Bill Frisell’s tribute to the 60’s Guitar in the Space Age is getting great reviews and so are his shows … these songs feel so relaxed and bring me back to my youth – the Byrds, Beach Boys, the Kinks etc. performed in what is typical Frisell – with respect for the original, but own ideas and sounds and feel. JUICE, the new recording by Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood is a relaxed groove album that makes you move your legs and dance. These guys get together every once in a few years to record and this time it is just a killer album with great playing, some surprising versions of covers and some incredible new music. What else do you want from a record? And last, but not least, the new Branford Marsalis record In My Solitude – Live At Grace Cathedral, a beautiful and deeply emotional solo saxophone recording in which Branford shows the variety of musical styles he is at home in and makes it all work together – standards, classical pieces, own compositions and improvisations. A great addition to the already impressive catalogue of one of the best saxophone players of our days.

Solo, Duo, Trio and more

I haven’t really written about stuff I am listening to at the moment and therefore I will review briefly a few CD’s that caught my attention in all the releases out there … and I am sure I missed a lot of great ones…

Chick Corea’s solo effort Portraits was recorded on tour over the last few years and shows his incredible talent as an improviser and pianist of both classical and jazz. The first CD of the double album pays respect to Bill Evans, Stevie Wonder, Thelonius Monk , Bud Powell and Paco de Lucia. Chick talks about these influences in his musical life before performing songs of or for them, by going into the essence of the compositions and making them all his own. CD 2 starts with Scriabin, Bartok and then goes into Corea’s own Children Songs and Portraits – simply beautiful.

Charlie Haden / Jim Hall The newly re-activated Impulse! Label pays tribute to two masters of their instruments, two great story tellers and musicians. Recorded in Montreal 1990, this is a true gem and shows again why both artists will be missed in the music world. Communication between two people is the most direct form of communicating – Haden and Hall show us how to listen, react, give the conversation new directions and then pick up the theme of the discussion again.

Sílvia Pérez Cruz & Raül Fernandez Miró This is an album full of beauty and constant surprises and still it sounds coherent and is throughout captivating. On Granada the most amazing singer in Spain at the time and her guitarist are covering music from Enrique Morente to Robert Schumann and Edith Piaf, she singing in English, French, German besides the obvious Spanish and Catalan and it all seems to flow into one great musical expression – A rare thing to happen. A true star.

Kenny Barron / Dave Holland give us The Art Of Conversation … and that is exactly what it is. It is no exaggeration to state that Dave Holland is now probably the leading jazz bass player in the world and the immaculate Kenny Barron always has been a musician’s musician – together they ‘chat’ on the highest musical level and communicate over their tunes as old friends can do – with an understanding that is beyond words, can leave things out without losing meaning, always pushing a bit further to get deeper into the music. Sublime.

Antonio Serrano performs on Mahalo with pianist Alberto Sanz and it proves a worthy partnership, paying tributes to Antonio’s heroes Larry Adler, Toots and Paco de Lucia, with whom he was touring the last few years. Serrano has the most beautiful sound on his instrument, full and warm and he performs and improvises on the highest level. The album features songs by Horace Silver, Gershwin, Ivan Lins and of course Toots and Paco de Lucia, but Serrano makes all these his own and sensibly supported by pianist Sanz, this turns into one gorgeous record to listen to.

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GoGo Penguin v20, the new album by this British piano trio was just recently nominated for the Mercury Award, one of the UK’s most prestigious music awards. But then, these guys are modern and cool and attract a young and hip audience. And now as the album is released as well in the rest of Europe, they are out to conquer the old continent – and will have a good chance. They are touring in the fall in most EU countries – go and check them out!

Lars Danielsson Liberetto II is the follow up of the critically acclaimed Liberetto album – and this one will excite critics as well as listeners in the same way. Danielsson again proves what an excellent composer he is and how he can get the best for his music out of his sidemen – in this case the amazing Tigran on piano, Magnus Öström on drums and John Paricelli on guitar with guest performances by Matthias Eick on trumpet and singer Cæcilie Norby, who as well produced the album. Music from the soul, emotional and touching. Exceptional.

Jason Moran had Don Was and Meshell Ndegeocello produce his latest opus All Rise, A Joyful Elegy For Fats Waller and it did the album well – this modern take on Waller’s music is full of fun and respect – just check The Joint Is Jumping and you’ll understand. The music keeps the energy of the originals, but takes them into our times and one still can dance to them – or just listening (and moving your legs anyway).

Vein – Jazz Talks is the second Vein album featuring sax legend Dave Liebman and it shows an even closer understanding of the Swiss piano trio with the saxophonist. From standards like All The Things You Are to compositions by all 4 musicians to April in Paris, this music is fresh and interesting, leaving space for all to improvise and move within the music. Liebman doesn’t take the spotlight as the main soloist – this is more of a collective effort with the guys playing with each other and communicating in the group and let each of them express himself within the framework of the song. Liebman’s composition Negative Space is a good example for that.

And then I do listen as well to Christian Muthspiel & Steve Swallows duo album Simple Songs; the new and more jazzy Jamie Cullum Interlude; Free Souls by the amazing Nicola Conte; the best of Madeleine Peyroux; El Niňo by the incredible Flamenco singer Rocío Márquez; Gilbertos Samba by Gilberto Gil and Nicolo Faraci’s It Came To Broadcast The Yucatan.

About all the great music on OKeh I’ll write next time.

Kind of ….

Blue – too many great jazz musicians have passed away this year, leaving a huge empty space, which just got bigger with the news that Kenny Wheeler (1930-2014) and Mandolin maestro U Srinivas have both passed away as well in the last few days. Wheeler, a great composer with a beautiful tone, has left many great recordings on ECM and Srinivas surprised the music world with his magic as a member of Remember Shakti with John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain.

True – we went on September 15th to the celebration of Independence of Mexico in Madrid’s Teatros del Canal – main attraction was Magos Herrera, first singing in the duo with guitarist Javier Limon and then with her Spanish group featuring Ivan ‘Melon’ Lewis on piano, Reiner Elizarde Ruano on bass and Georvis Pico Milian on drums. While the duo is a very intimate affair and focuses more on her than on a Javier Limon who perfectly supports her, giving the one or other little twist in the way he plays to guide her in a different direction within a song, the group gives her more freedom the relax and let the focus wander somewhere else and so they are creating a loose structure in which she can scat and improvise, building a beautiful and captivating atmosphere. She stuck truly to her musical world and I thoroughly enjoyed this set, but it was a bit lost at the audience, which came to see what followed: a typical Mexican Mariachi band, songs they could sing along to and celebrate Mexico.

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New – a few tips of things I heard or saw or read:

GoGo Penguin, a British piano trio, cool and modern, powerful and mysterious … their new album v2.0 has just be nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize in the UK … check out their latest video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVTyOp2GTv8

Pablo Martin Caminero, whose previous album El Caminero was a truly great recording of flamenco/jazz has a new album coming out very soon: O.F.N.I.- Objeto Flamenco No Identificado, which translates as UFO – Unidentified Flamenco Object. You can watch one of the new tracks via below link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dt0VnSEd53g

1.000 Times Good Night – a movie by Erik Poppe with a brilliant Juliette Binoche. Poppe relies on his own experiences as a war photographer in this tale of passion and choices to be made in life. Absolutely a Must-See!!!

Jonas Jonasson, The Girl who saved the King of Sweden – another funny and almost slapstick style written novel by the successful Swedish author – a book that tells the story of someone supposedly unimportant having a big impact on many lives … Beautiful!

Joe Sample 1939 – 2014

I first met Joe in 2006, when we were preparing the release of the album he recorded with Randy Crawford ‘Feeling Good’ and they came to London to record an EPK. And then we met various times over the years, as after that I released on Emarcy their follow-up album ‘No Regrets’ and saw them a few times while touring that album around Europe … and had some unforgettable dinners in London at Fishworks in Marylebone, with great food, good wine and all the stories a life as a musician brings.

He enjoyed the food in that place so much, that I at the end of one of the dinners bought him the Fishworks Cookbook … and that was as well the place where we introduced him to the Spanish white wine Albarino and the Spanish Orujo, which is a form of Grappa from there. He simply loved to discover the good things in life.

Joe was always smiling, enjoying life and searching for more and new music inside him. A great sense of humour and a remarkable talent for telling stories made him the perfect companion … and then there was his music. Most people will remember him for the work with the Crusaders and the hits he wrote: from Street Life via One Day I’ll Fly Away to Rainbow Seeker and many others, but his trio recordings, like the Sonet album Fancy Dance or The Three with Ray Brown and Shelly Manne are definitely worth listening to, as is the beautiful solo album Soul Shadows.

Joe was also a highly requested studio musician, having recorded as well on the following albums: Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” and “The Hissing of Summer Lawns,” Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer,” Steely Dan’s “Aja” and “Gaucho,” and on a few recordings by B. B. King.

2012 saw his last two recordings coming out in Europe – LIVE, a great concert recording with Randy Crawford, Joe’s son Nicklas on bass and Steve Gadd and ‘Children of the Sun’, an outstanding recording with the NDR Big Band performing his music and Joe on piano and keyboards – worth checking out.

Rest In Peace.

Joe Sample By Rainer Rygalyk

Photo by Rainer Rygalyk