Badi and 2 x 3

One doesn’t really need an excuse to spend a weekend in Pamplona …. a beautiful place and good food …. and this time my friend Badi Assad performing as well  and as I hadn’t seen her for a while, we took a bunch of friends a went together to enjoy the music and the city – and both rewarded us with their best! Badi’s solo performances are amazing – she not only is a great guitar player (which obviously runs in the family with the Brothers Assad her actual brothers…), but she is an inventive and amazing singer and her vocal acrobatics are unparalleled, but never simply for the effect, but in support of her music. Any chance to see and hear her – go and enjoy her Brazilian flavoured compositions and stylish musical performance.

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The Brad Mehldau Trio at Teatro Lara in Madrid was one of the best shows in a while to hear – this is one of the best and tightest bands in jazz nowadays – the communication while playing is on a level only few groups now can achieve and Brad and Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard are all masters in their own right and therefore can take the music to places and levels unknown … Mehldau’s touch and lyricism are unmatched and the support he gets from Larry and Jeff gives him the freedom to improvise and play with the themes and tunes in any form he wants … and how he does !! A full house, with many familiar faces from the artists community in Madrid, gave them a deserved standing ovation.

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A week later another trio and another top one: The Bad Plus. They just released a new album – The Rite of Spring and their version is full of power and amazingly close to the original music and its emotional content. Unfortunately, because of some problems with the original Publisher of the work, they are not allowed to perform the piece in concert in Europe and therefore played music from their previous record Made Possible and some new pieces, to be released on a new jazz album in October – and pretty amazing it was! What a powerful trio they are- driven by Dave King’s thunderous play, that often drifts into a delicate groove and Reid Anderson’s grounded bass and Ethan Iverson’s inventiveness on the piano – and some of the compositions are truly amazing – like Pound for Pound from the album Made Possible – incredible how they are using the space and stretch the little melody …. I am sure looking forward to the new record, as some of the music was simply outstanding.

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Cafe Central and more

Before the untimely passing of Paco de Lucia, which shocked the music world, I did go out and saw a few concerts, which I enjoyed and now want to write about, as well as some new CD’s which I heard recently.

Bassist Pablo Martin performed in the famous Cafe Central in Madrid with his new band, presenting new music for his next album, which is another great blend of jazz and flamenco, as the excellent ‘El Caminero’. The new, yet mostly untitled compositions have gorgeous themes and great grooves, based on flamenco rhythms, the band played these new songs perfectly, especially amazing the pianist Moises P. Sanchez, who filled in, supported and played his soli on the highest level of improvisation. Surely an album worth waiting for.

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After that it was off to Bore Place again for another of the educational series Take Five – this time UK IX. As always it was a pleasure meeting the team and John Surman again and then there were the young UK musicians for this edition:

Alex Roth, Shama Rahman, Laura Jurd, James Mainwaring, Peter Edwards,Dan Nicholls, Nick Malcolm and George Crowley.

For me surprising how clear each of them had an idea of what would be there next career step and beyond – what the vision was for their music and how to present it. Very refreshing to see for young musicians like these and a joy to listen to them as well, when they performed their own music with John Surman. A truly talented bunch.

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Back to the Cafe Central: 4 great musicians in one band – flamenco, jazz and other influences being mixed up into music performed in masterly fashion. Jorge Pardo, Javier Colina, Josemi Carmona and Bandolero (on a drum set – first time for me to see him on playing something else than the Cajon … faultless) were playing their own music and seemed to have a lot of fun. Sure, it was the first night of a weeklong  series, but the artistry was fully there, the great improvisational skills and the beautiful sounds each of them can create on this instruments. Pardo on flute and saxophone, Josemi on his guitar and Colina on the bass. Four masters and a happy audience, including Josemi’s mother and his father, the great Pepe Habichuela.

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New music:

Karin Krog & John Surman released an album last year entitled SONGS ABOUT THIS AND THAT, which is a true gem – little beautiful snapshots of life put to music and lyrics by the two main artists. Cherry Tree Song for example is just amazing and playful, but with depth musically and lyrically

Tobias Preisig ‘Drifting’ – the new album by the talented Swiss violinist, here performing new compositions with his quartet featuring Stefan Aeby (p), Andre Pousaz (b) and Michi Stulz (dr). There are only few jazz violinists and Preisig is the rising star in that world – and the new album proofs that this is more than justified. Check it out.

Polish singer Aga Zaryan is ‘Remembering Nina & Abbey’ on her third album and she is in best company to do so: Geri Allen, Brian Blade, Larry Koonse, Darek Oleszkiewicz and Carol Robbins are giving the support for this beautiful record, which features the great Abbey Lincoln’s amazing composition Bird Alone and other gems. A nice way to remember.

bushman’s revenge new album is entitled ‘thou shalt boogie! and it is just as powerful as the previous recordings by this amazing trio of guitarist Even Helte Hermansen, bass player Rune Nergaard and drummer Gard Nilssen, who for this recording asked for the help of David Wallumrod on Hammond organ, clavinet and prophet 5. This is a cracker of a record – just go for it and play it loud!

Paco de Lucia, R.I.P.

A sad day for music – as it was announced that today the master guitarist Paco de Lucia passed away at the age of 66. He suffered a fatal heart attack while on holiday with his family in Mexico.

I was introduced to his music via the Friday Night in San Francisco album, which he played on with John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola and then started listening to his own music as well. Luckily I met him for the first time in Vienna in the 80’s, shortly after having started working for Polygram and had the pleasure to work with his music and meet him occasionally for over 20 years after that initial meeting. His concerts over the years were always something special – his technical ability just beyond and his music touching and full of emotions and every time performed with the best musicians the Spanish scene had to offer.

I was the involved in the 1996 re-union of the Guitar Trio and the album and tour – many stories to be told about this … – and then again with his consequent releases for Universal up to his last studio album Cositas Buenas and then to the Vitoria Suite, on which he performed with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra. Always searching,  trying still to improve, even so he was considered the best guitar player of his generation by many. Paco recorded all his albums for one company – first Philips, then PolyGram and finally Universal, so the complete catalogue is in one house and his heritage secure.

A great human being and a fantastic artist, who left a major legacy to music, not only to flamenco. I saw him last year at the Vitoria-Gasteiz festival playing with his group and then with Chick Corea – masterful as ever. Unforgettable!

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Photo courtesy of the Vitoria-Gasteiz Jazz Festival

Jazz Marathon New York

OK, I am a bit late, but travels and work kept me from informing you about the events of January, especially the Winterjazz Festival in New York.

The day before the Winterjazz Festival started in the venues around Bleeker, I went to see Kurt Rosenwinkel, who performed with his quartet. He is truly a great composer and improviser and on the night was supported by pianist Aaron Parks with brilliant finesse and imagination.

Then the real thing: at the first night I saw bits and pieces of various acts, starting in the afternoon with an invitation to hear Camila Meza and then Gretchen Parlato, which both are great and amazing. Unique singers – there is something almost mystic around Gretchen Parlato when she sings … simply beautiful. After that that Ryan Truesdell with the Gil Evans Project – I just love the arrangements by Gil and Truesdell is doing them with his group in a very fresh and powerful way. Even his arrangements for Claude Thornhill sound modern … Catched then a bit of Meklit Hadero at Joe’s Pub, which I enjoyed, but the place was so packed …. so I went to see Roy Hargrove at the Poisson Rouge and he was cooking as usual. Great compositions and a powerful performance from his usual quintet, with Roy in the middle blowing as if there is no tomorrow!

On January 11th the showcase of the new OKeh signings at Groove in New York, as part of the Winter Jazz Fest, was a tremendous success in terms of reviews and reactions from agents and festival promoters. All 6 acts enjoyed a full house and at time the queues in the rain ran around the block.
James Brandon Lewis opened the night with a powerful set of improvisations: ‘What I did hear in that time slot was a calmly smouldering performance by James Brandon Lewis, a tenor saxophonist originally from Buffalo, just barely in his 30s. Working with a pair of experienced partners, the bassist William Parker and the drummer Gerald Cleaver, Mr. Lewis dug in hard, accessing the sacramental side of 1960s free jazz. ‘Wading Child in the Motherless Water,’ his imploring hybrid of two foundational spirituals, was especially captivating business. I chose to see Mr. Lewis because I knew so little about him, and that small risk brought its bigger reward.’, writes the New York Times.
He was followed by trumpeter Theo Croker, whose energetic set brought the temperature in the room up and when Dee Dee Bridgwater joined him on stage for a song, the crowd went wild. Theo therefore was the second surprise, as he is as well a newcomer just starting to built his reputation. He will be out with Dee Dee in Europe next month – check him out.
The Jeff Ballard Trio followed this set with a master class in improvisation. Tim Wilkins on a blog supreme: ‘My ‘peak musical moment’ was the Jeff Ballard Trio with Lionel Loueke and Miguel Zenon, on a tiny stage at Groove. Three superb improvisers at the height of their powers, having so much fun!’ Three great musicians listening and reacting and seemingly creating great music from that. Jeff then was hanging around until late in the night and had a good chat with his new label mates.
Guitarist Nir Felder entertained his audience with his unique blend of jazz and rock and built his set to a fantastic climax, showing his incredible skills as composer and player in the same way. His band went through the repertoire of his just released debut album Golden Age. Some of the European Jazz Festival promoters picked his set as their favourite one from the night – a surprise for them.
Somi is such a rare singer and storyteller and her songs are deep and musically extremely interesting and here she showed that live as well she is a force to reckon with – a great band that played her material with passion and dedication, allowing her to let her vocals flow over the music and touch everyone in the room. She is a singer and composer in the spirit of Nina Simone, but taking the music into the future with her special blend of African influences, jazz and R&B.
The evening was finished off in style by Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith – a New Orleans take on the music of Jimmy Smith and how powerful it is! The crowd started dancing after the first few bars and didn’t stop until the end and was rewarded with some extraordinary sax soli by Mr. Handy and some hard grooves by his fellow musicians. After a short intermission Craig and his group re-joined and opened a 40 minute jam session, to which Theo Croker and Nir Felder and more guests joined the band and had a lot of fun… and so had the audience!

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Back to Europe the days after that amazing show – but not before checking out a short showcase by German trumpet player Till Brönner, which was part of the Jazz Connect conference within APAP. I know Till for many years, but hadn’t heard him live for a while – he got such a beautiful tone and plays so incredibly amazing – here some tunes by himself and his group, some Freddie Hubbard and even a piece by J.S. Bach – and it all fit perfectly well and made sense musically. In Germany he is already a star since many years with sales that would fit a pop artist and now it is time for him to conquer the world. Quality is definitely not a problem here!

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Next was the OKeh promo tour in Europe – five new artists to OKeh did interviews in Berlin and Paris, two days in each city with journalists from Italy and Switzerland participating as well. Jo-Yu Chen, Nir Felder, Somi, James Brandon Lewis and Theo Croker made the trip from the US to answer questions on their music in Europe and set the ball rolling for their respective releases, which are going to happen from now to end of April. The resonance to this unusual package of artists was very positive and reviews will hopefully follow soon. All artists will be out touring in Europe in the spring, the summer festivals and then again in the fall.

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Finally back home in Madrid and time to get things done and listen to some new music – the forthcoming release of Magos Herrera and Javier Limon, which sounds incredible and is such a beautiful and touching album by only vocals and acoustic guitar. More news on that one very soon. Javier I ran into as well at the concert of La Shica at the Teatro Espanol in Madrid.

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She is one of the best entertainers I have ever seen – full of energy and stories, making you think, laugh and then sings a sad ballad that moves you to tears …adding some visuals and little technical wonders to the show, but first of all is the focus on her amazing voice. She moves between story telling, singing, rapping and dancing with such an ease and perfection, so it feels as if the show is one flowing performance … Pure magic.

2013

It’s the last day of the year – perfect to look back – in happiness and surprise, in sadness and sorrow.

A great year for Jazz? A good one for sure – great recordings and fantastic live music give witness to that. The jazz market as such seems to be more and more difficult with less shops selling jazz CD’s to an audience that actually would buy them, see sales at concerts and festivals as prove of that.

There have been a lot of great records released in 2013 and some of them outstanding, as my Top 10 CD’s will hopefully show:

1 Fred Hersch & Julian Lage         Free Flying

2  Gregory Porter                          Liquid Spirit

3  Wayne Shorter                        Without a net

4  Jose James                No Beginning, No End

5  John Scofield                          Uberjam Deux

6  Ketil Bjornstad                                La Notte

7  Chick Corea Trio                               Trilogy

8  Susanne Abbuehl                             The Gift

9  Tingvall Trio                                  In Concert

10 Karen Mok                   somewhere I belong

Karen Mok video for Wicked Game from the album Somewhere I Belong

There isn’t much to say about these records, except that they stood out of the masses of jazz releases and made an important contribution to the genre – the Hersch/Lage album through amazing playfulness and improvisational invention; Gregory Porter once again through his incredible talent as a songwriter and performer and the perfect fitting production by Brian Bacchus and Wayne …. Wayne is Wayne and can’t do anything wrong it seems. Musicality on the highest level.

You might wonder why my top ten list doesn’t include any of the OKeh releases – simply because I am so close to these that I think it would be clear that they will always occupy the top of any list for me and therefore I have not included them. But all of them should be in the various Best of 2013 lists ….

I have been extremely lucky to have seen many great concerts in 2013 and again a bunch of them have been simply outstanding – here are my top ten concerts for the year:

1 Branford Marsalis Quartet    Vitoria-Gasteiz

2 Dave Holland PRISM              Ronnie Scott’s

3 Gregory Porter                 Clamores, Madrid

4 Julian Lage & Nels Cline               New York

5 Kat Edmonson                              Rotterdam

6 Tord Gustavsen solo         Clamores, Madrid

7 Dhafer Youssef                                       Paris

8 Tingvall Trio                           a-trane, Berlin

9 European Sunrise                        Rotterdam

10 Paco de Lucia & Chick Corea          Vitoria

These are closely followed by Marc Cary’s performance at the jazzahead in Bremen and Jose James gig at the North Sea Jazz in Rotterdam. And many more great shows by many amazing artists and their bands.

Dhafer Youssef live

Branford’s group is just one of the best live jazz groups around today – their understanding is beyond normal categories and only few other groups can reach these heights, their improvisational skills are above most others and the compositions by Branford and Joey simply stunning …. and when they tackle a standard one is always in for a surprise. Together with only a handful other bands, the best you can hear on a jazz stage today. Dave Holland’s PRISM featuring Kevin Eubanks, Craig Taborn and Eric Harland has been on my gigs of the year list already last year, but at Ronnie Scott’s they showed again how powerful and subtle at the same time they can be. Two sets of truly exciting music and top improvisations from this band of masters. I simply love Gregory Porter … the voice, the charm and the power on stage … it all makes a concert a great event.

In terms of books, the one that impressed me most was The book thief by Markus Zusak, a recommended read and soon a major movie.Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, by himself, were other captivating reads, beside the usual crime stories I like to read when travelling.

Blue Jasmine by Woody Allen would top a best movie list, followed by The Butler, The Help, La vie de Adele and of course the spectacular The Hobbit 2.

But 2013 was as well a year of sorrow with many great jazz musicians leaving us, as well as two friends and colleagues in the world of jazz: Heinz Krassnitzer and Veit Bremme, two amazing human beings I had the pleasure to meet and get to know and be friendly with for many, many years. Their passionate contribution to jazz in Europe has been immensely  important, but more so their friendship. They will be surely missed and the world is definitely a sadder place without them. They will not be forgotten and have a place in many artists and my heart forever.

A short preview into 2014: from my side the new year will be a busy one, making OKeh one of the driving forces in the world of improvised music by releasing recordings by exciting new artists like James Brandon Lewis, Nir Felder, Somi, Jo-Yu Chen and Theo Croker, as well as bringing more established and heritage artists to the label. The economic worries in Europe are not over, but with some luck might just getting a bit better.

HAPPY NEW YEAR

LOVE, JAZZ AND HAPPINESS

Music and more

It has been a while that I wrote my little blog – so here we go: lots of things happened since the last time – great news and less good ones, great music and lots of work for the OKeh event in New York on January 11th.

We went to see Madeleine Peyroux perform at the Auditorio Nacional in Madrid – repertoire: her latest album The Blue Room, which is doing very well for her and is a great record of covers and a tribute to Ray Charles. With a tight band and an amazing performance from Madeleine, this became a great night out, with music performed as you would expect it from her: slow and emotional, her unique phrasing sometimes leaving the melody only to make it stronger when coming back into it.

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Then it was Kat Edmonson, supporting Jamie Cullum in Madrid – just her and Steve Elliott on guitar – a tough call, as she had to deal with an audience waiting for Jamie and that didn’t pay much attention to her. Under the circumstances she did very well and made a few new friends – building a career. She spoke a bit of Spanish to the crowd and sung a Spanish song as well – which was appreciated and they loved her for making an effort. Some mobile phones came out and therefore people will remember her – a good ground to move forward on.

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This was followed by some great news: Michel Camilo won the Latin Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album for his OKeh release ‘What’s Up?’ – so great for him and sooo good for the new label. A positive start with getting that kind of recognition.

Unfortunately we didn’t get any nomination for the Grammy for next year – all Jazz categories were without a OKeh record ….. and I had hoped that at least the song ‘Deep in the weeds’ by Bob James and David Sanborn would get something, having had such a great run on US jazz radio, being #1 at both traditional and contemporary jazz radio. But it wasn’t to be – more and better work than next year to get some ….

I went to Paris to see Dhafer Youssef perform his new album Birds Requiem in an old theatre – Les Bouffes du Nord and it was an incredible concert in a full house, that was perfect in style and atmosphere for the show. Dhafer for me is one of the great voices of our time – an amazingly pure singer, who can touch deeply by just chanting. Raw emotions. His band as well incredible powerful, especially Eivind Aarset on guitars, who is a magician of sounds and Kristian Randalu on piano, who is powerful and subtle at the same time. Impressive.

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What else: if you haven’t seen it yet, go and watch Blue Jasmine, the new Woody Allen movie – one of his best for years.And it is worth seeing just for the powerful performance of Kate Blanchett – a real contender for an Oscar.

With the passing of Nelson Mandela the world lost one of the few true role models of our time. Humanity needs people like him – every generation needs someone to look up to and he was this person for my generation more than anyone else. R.I.P.

The Sound Of Next

What internationally is That’s OKeh, in the USA is The Sound Of Next – a campaign to focus on new releases and new artists on the OKeh label. As I state in below press release, this is phase 2 of the re-launch and it is focused on exciting new acts – check these out and I hope you will be as excited as we are about these great  developing artists.

OKeh RECORDS ANNOUNCES SEVEN NEW SIGNINGS

AS PART OF “THE SOUND OF NEXT” CAMPAIGN

Including Craig Handy, Dhafer Youssef, Nir Felder,

Somi, Jeff Ballard, James Brandon Lewis, and Theo Croker

New Recordings Available in Early 2014

Stream The Sound of Next in its entirety

Following its re-activation in January 2013 with releases that included projects by Bill Frisell, Bob James & David Sanborn, Michel Camilo and John Medeski, SONY Masterworks’ OKeh Records is proud to announce their next wave of signings. The artists, who are part of the label’s “The Sound of Next” campaign are: saxophonist Craig Handy, Tunisian oudist/vocalist Dhafer Youssef, guitarist Nir Felder, drummer Jeff Ballard, saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, African vocalist Somi, and trumpeter Theo Croker.

“Each label, and OKeh is no exception, needs a good balance of established artists and newcomers to reflect what is happening in the world of music today,” states Wulf Müller, who oversees A&R for OKeh Records and ideated the re-launch. “The second phase of the re-launch is to focus on great new artists with different backgrounds and different takes on what jazz can be, but they all have one thing in common – they are part of Global Expressions in Jazz.”

To showcase the label’s new talent in “The Sound of Next” campaign, OKeh will release a 7 track “The Sound Of Next” sampler featuring one song from each of these artists.

“The first wave of OKeh presented well-known masters of the jazz arts: John Medeski, Bob James & David Sanborn, Michel Camilo, and Bill Frisell,” explains Chuck Mitchell, Senior Vice President at Sony Masterworks U.S. “Now comes ‘The Sound Of Next’ – fresh expressions by established voices: Craig Handy’s 2nd Line Smith and Jeff Ballard’s Trio. And new dimensions opened by new voices: Somi, James Brandon Lewis, Dhafer Youssef, Theo Croker, and Nir Felder. ‘The Sound Of Next’ is a divining rod, a no-risk device to discover great global expressions in jazz, amidst the daily noise. For OKeh, ‘The Sound Of Next’ is also ‘The Sound Of Now.’”

Upcoming OKeh Album Releases:

January 21, 2014

  • Craig Handy – Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith - Renowned saxophonist continues the brass band tradition with a creative edge and groove derived from the tight 2nd Line funk of the Crescent City
  • Dhafer Youssef – Birds Requiem - Oud master of the highest caliber creates music for an imagined movie, blending delicate and melodic tones with modern sensibility
  • Nir Felder – Golden Age - Stylistically diverse, Brooklyn-based guitarist, composer and songwriter creates new, unique sounds on the electric guitar

February 4, 2014

  • Jeff Ballard Trio – Time’s Tales - First-time band leader, this in-demand drummer and composer breaks out with forward thinking, modern jazz
  • James Brandon Lewis – Divine Travels - Eclectic saxophonist channels the late avant-garde style of Coltrane, creating free jazz with a spiritual theme

March 25, 2014

  • Somi – The Lagos Music Salon - Inspired by her time in Lagos, Nigeria, the East African vocalist and songwriter straddles the worlds of jazz, pop and soul

TBA:

  • Theo Croker – Afro Physicist - Trumpeter, vocalist and composer’s powerful modern jazz that pays respect to the tradition of the music while moving jazz forward

Sony Masterworks comprises the Masterworks, Sony Classical, OKeh, Portrait, Masterworks Broadway and Flying Buddha imprints. www.okeh-records.com