difficult times need good music …

March 2020 – very difficult times and I won’t add to the tons of messages about the how, what and who … just asking everyone to be responsible citizens and stay at home!

It seems while at home many people use their social networks more than usual and therefore a lot of challenges have popped up – I did the photo one charting my life in 9 pictures, but some of the others I can’t do. How can someone who goes to gigs constantly for over more than 45 years pick his top 10 of these or how can someone who has thousands of records select his top 10? For me that’s simply impossible – each period in my life has important records in many ways, so this is one challenge I pass on. In general, I don’t like these kind of challenges and therefore I didn’t respond – even so I found the one concerning ones most influential labels quite interesting – for me that would be (not in any order): amadeo, CTI, Strata East, Gramavision, enja, ECM, Emarcy, Verve/Impulse, Jazzland, Okeh, Edition, Ropeadope to mention the ones that jump into my head right now (including obviously the ones I worked with). Different periods in my life had different main labels, but most of them, once with me, stayed with me. And their music I am still listening to …..

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Here are a few interesting recent releases:

Lakecia Benjamin / Pursuance: The Coltranes – alto saxophonist extraordinaire Benjamin pays with her third album homage to Alice and John Coltrane. Co-produced with bass player Reggie Workman, who played with both Coltranes, this album is a strong statement of individuality and musical power. Ron Carter, Gary Bartz, Regina Carter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Meshell Ndgecello, Steve Wilson, The Last Poets, Marc Cary, Keyon Harrold, Marcus Strickland, Brandee Younger and Jazzmeia Horn are the guests on the recording – representing three generations of musicians, all with the goal to give new impetus to the music of the celebrated Coltranes … with stunning results – Regina Carter in ‘Walk With Me’, Dee Dee Bridgewater and The Last Poets in ‘Acknowledgement’ and Benjamin’s performance  throughout the album make this a contender for album of the year! One not to miss!

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Dennis Kwok Jazz Orchestra / Windward Bound – Windward Bound is the first full-length album from the Canadian Dennis Kwok Jazz Orchestra featuring a six-movement suite for jazz orchestra and multiple woodwind soloists. All compositions are by leader, woodwind player, composer and arranger Kwok and are a kind of tribute to the tradition of the big band but being modern and fresh. The orchestra features beside the leader vocalist Caity Gyorgy, Naomi McCarroll-Butler, Sophia Smith, Brenden Varty, Kyle Tarder-Stoll and Jonathan Lau on reeds, Megan Jutting, Matt Smith, Paul Callander and Marie Goudy on trumpets, Nick Marshall, Andrew Gormley,Charlotte Mcafee-Brunner and Inayat Kassam on trombones, Augustine Yates on piano, Aidan Funston on guitar, Jonathan Wielebnowski on bass and Jacob Wutzke on drums. A wonderful swinging and relaxed big band album with great performances all around and fantastic sound!

Windward Bound Album Cover

Mike McCormick / Proxemic Studies, Volume I – Mike McCormick is an Oslo-based guitarist, laptop performer and composer originally from Yellowknife, Canada. He recorded his debut album, an exploration of human intimacy, with the help of vocalist Laura Swankey, Emily Denison on trumpet and Knut Kvifte Nesheim on drums and vibraphone. The music they create is emotional, powerful and haunting, the lyrics are parts of letters, emails and texts he received from partners of the past …. Giving expressions from love and lust to bitterness and so making this a truly personal exploration of the space of intimacy. Wonderful not only McCormick’s guitar sound and craft, but Laura Swankeys pure vocals, the beautiful trumpet sound of Denison and the straight grooves of Nesheim. Deep and edgy – and for sure worth checking out!

proxemics+album

Thana Alexa / ONA – singer Alexa says about her new recording: “ONA is the musical expression of what being a woman means to me. It is my discovery of the wild woman spirit within me and the experiences I’ve encountered in setting her free. It celebrates the inspirational women in my life who have given me the confidence to realise my truth and express it freely. This music tells the story of what I’ve learned about the lives of women – starting with my own – our experiences, our emotions, our sexuality, our worth, our desire for freedom and our ability to overcome injustice by fighting for what we believe in”. ONA, which is the word for “she” in her native Croatian language, was recorded with drummer and co-producer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Matt Brewer, pianist Carmen Staaf and guitarist Jordan Peters. The guests on the album are Regina Carter, Becca Stevens, Claudia Acuña, Sofia Rei, Nicole Zuraitis, Sarah Charles, poet Staceyann Chin, and the ROSA Vocal Group. All songs were composed by Alexa, except her wonderful vocal arrangement for Massive Attacks ‘Teardrops’ and Tears For Fears ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’, which she totally makes her own. Powerful in their messages and musically amazing are for me are all tracks but especially ‘Pachamama’ with the great Regina Carter adding colour to the beauty of the song, as well as ‘He Said She Said’, featuring Becca Stevens. Thana Alexa is a jazz singer for our times – masterful performer and writer, relevant in her messages and statements and this record is simply ESSENTIAL LISTENING!!!

ONA

Wolfgang Muthspiel / Angular Blues – on his fourth album for ECM, Austrian guitar master Muthspiel returns to the trio format, this time with his old friends bass player Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade, who both appeared for the first time with Muthspiel on the 2000 album with singer Rebekka Bakken ‘Daily Mirror’. Here the trio moves beautifully between subtle swing and groovy little numbers as well as pensive ballads. Switching between electric and acoustic guitars makes this album more colourful, his clear and beautiful sound on the guitars is a pleasure to listen to and the musicianship and communication and understanding between the musicians makes the music deeper and touching. Beside the guitarists compositions the trio as well performs exceptionally well two standards: ‘Everything I Love’ and ‘I’ll Remember April’ and Muthspiel performs his piece ‘Solo Kanon in 5/4’without his sidemen – a touch of classical music, a melodic walk on his own into a beautiful musical landscape. Outstanding!!!

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Stay safe – stay home!!!

jazz A&R today .. and more new music

A short observation on A&R in Jazz today: A&R (Artists and Repertoire) used to be the core of any jazz label – being the direct work with the artists to discuss projects, song selection, side men, recording studios and special guests, producers and engineers – but that has changed over the last few years. Today any artist can easily produce the record they want to do and then, after the recording is done, look for a label or service provider that puts the record out physically and/or digitally. The label function therefore is less A&R oriented and more focused on distribution, marketing and promotion. At new labels like Edition Records or Ropeadope, to name just two of many, artists make license deals for their recordings and work together with the label on marketing and PR by using all social networks and traditional marketing means. These labels act more like collectors, putting together a selection of releases based on what they want on their labels … some more narrow in their musical selection process, others more open. A&R is probably more done at the major labels once they signed an artist, as they must fulfil the overall company’s objective as well as their own and must make sure the released music fits these parameters. In this climate the process of A&R in jazz seems to fall more to the team around the artist, like managers, agents and producers (in case the artist isn’t self-producing), as they are in more direct contact with the musician than most labels are today. This doesn’t mean that jazz labels today don’t need A&R people, they do, as the discussion on future projects once an artist is licensing his/her music to a label is obviously happening, but A&R people need to know more than in the past – they have to have a knowledge on modern communication and marketing concepts, to make sure the music they get on the label gets heard. There is now obviously as well the possibility of a form of ‘indie A&R’, as many artists, who recorded their music do not know to which label to go with it, or how to approach a label when not having the right contacts. Such an A&R person would not only need to know the musicians, but as well most major and indie label personnel and have contacts there to provide them with new recordings that are needing a home.  If one understands the philosophy and musical direction of any label and is able to place recordings that fit within these parameters, it is a win-win situation for the label and the artist and as well for the indie A&R person. I am sure we will see more indie A&R, for the lack of a better description, in the future.

Concerts:

On Tuesday February 24th a new trio formed by pianist Daniel Garcia Diego, bassist Pablo Martin Caminero and drummer Shayan Fathi had their first ever concert at Madrid’s Café Central. The trio, billed by the venue as Trio Flamenco, sees itself as a jazz group that has its base in Flamenco and performs a complex mix of the two styles. Repertoire includes compositions by Daniel as well as Pablo and Paco de Lucia, Chick Corea and others. The way the group mixed the complex rhythms of Flamenco with jazz improvisation left the audience in awe of their musicianship. The trio mainly worked as a unit, supporting as well when one of them played a solo and therefore constantly changing colours and creating an intense atmosphere. Paco de Lucia’s ‘Zyryab’ was a firework of rhythms and explosive interaction … but the compositions by Daniel and Pablo as well caught the ear of the listener for their beauty and power … and when the group got into Lyle Mays ‘Travels’ as an encore and tribute to the late musician, respect and emotion were flowing through the performance and captivated the attentive audience. As debuts go, this was a top one and I can’t wait to hear what these guys are going to record in a few months’ time. Something special happening here ….

Five Days later I had the pleasure to hear one of the longest performing small groups in European jazz – the Marcin Wasilewski Trio, which is working and recording together for 26 years now. Their communication and understanding are incredible and gives them space to constantly exchange ideas when improvising. The sold out concert in the Sala Camara of Madrid’s Auditorio Nacional featured mainly Wasilewski’s compositions, some known from previous recordings, as the wonderful ’Night Train with You’ and ‘Austin’, as well as three new ones, ‘Glimmer Of Hope’, ‘Amour Fou’ and ‘Passing Sorrow’, which confirmed once again what a great composer Wasilewski is. These three songs will be on a new, already recorded, album and based on these songs alone it is going to be another great record by the trio. Slawomir Kurkiewicz on bass and drummer Michal Miskiewicz were outstanding as well and made the piano trio really sound like a group, not just three musicians playing together. They can swing, lay back in ballads and groove, as they did in the last song of the concert, Herbie Hancock’s ‘Actual Proof’, before coming back for a touching rendition of Krzysztof Komeda’s ‘Lullaby’ from the soundtrack to Rosemary’s Baby. Catch them if they come to play in a place near you … this is wonderful melodic jazz performed on the highest level!

New releases:

Weird Turn Pro / Maul and Mezcal – this is the group’s third album and as they say an ‘excursion into the cracks in the lining between structure and unpredictability’. Pianist Mike Effenberger, Rob Gerry on bass, Mike Walsh on drums, Matt Langley on reeds, Chris Gagne on trombone and Chris Klaxton on trumpet deliver their best work so far – a meditation on life, presented via collective improvisations and masterly individual performances. This is partly ambient and beautiful, partly powerful and free flowing. WTP is an ensemble that surprises and captivates – through beauty in music and constant quality.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AK9WXqU4V9o&list=PL0e5JozUoqRkj-uMZcMQoBdMEo8r7-Qrt

SHRI / The Letter – bass player Shri (born Shrikanth Sriram) came to fame with the UK group Badmarsh and Shri but has released a string of wonderful albums as well under his own name since 1997. ‘The Letter’ is a tribute to German bass player Eberhard Weber, who wrote Shri an encouraging letter after listening to a demo Shri had made. The two opening tracks of the album ‘Drum The Bass’ and The Letter’ are wonderful solo bass excursions, before a spacey trio track featuring the late drummer Paolo Vinaccia and keyboarder Bugge Wesseltoft takes the listener into a world of sounds, grooves and improvisations. The beautiful ‘New Day’ features the sax of Tore Brunborg in dialogue with Shri on bass and percussion. Other guests on the album include Ben Castle on bass clarinet and Arild Anderson on double bass on 2 bass duo tracks, the eclectic ‘Bow’ and ‘Night’, which ends the album on a quiet and contemplative note. Ten tracks full of surprises, from solo to group performances, showcasing a unique talent. Outstanding!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFvm84WOD1w

Trilok Gurtu / God Is A Drummer – this is already the 20th album by master percussionist Gurtu … and one of his best!!! He has always been at the crossroads of many musical styles and loved to create mixtures of all these genres without losing musical quality or individuality. ‘God Is A Drummer’ works the same way, but as well is a tribute to some of the musicians that have influenced Gurtu along  his musical path like keyboardist and Weather Report co-founder Joe Zawinul, Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos, jazz drumming great Tony Williams, and his mother, the Indian classical singing star Shobha Gurtu. He recorded this album with German trumpeter Frederik Köster, trombonist Christophe Schweizer, Turkish-born keyboardist Sabri Tulug Tirpan and electric bassist Jonathan Cuniado, the perfect partners for this journey around the world in 11 tunes. Wonderful!!!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-DaP0BBUHU

Kat Edmonson / Dreamers Do – On her 5th album, Edmonson takes dreams as a concept and recorded Disney related songs and originals to help us through sleepless nights. The band consists of drummer Aaron Thurston, who co-produced the album with her and arranged most of the songs, bassist Bob Hart, guitarist Matt Munisteri, pianist Matt Ray and Rob Schwimmer on various keyboards. Edmonson is immediately recognizable because of her unique voice and phrasing and as always, her new records is retro, but modern at the same time. Guest appearances by vocal trio Duchess on the wonderful ‘In A World Of My Own’ and Bill Frisell on an equalling beautiful ‘The Age Of Not Believing’ make the album even more outstanding. Beside these tracks just check out the Edmonson composition ‘Too Late To Dream’ as well as her renditions of ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ and ‘What A Wonderful World’ – Sublime!!!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vTdynsh0Po

Kadri Voorand / in duo with Mihkel Mälgand – singer, pianist and composer Voorand is a star in her native Estonia and Mihkle a famous bass player there as well. Together they have performed for a few years already and now released their first international album. The record is an exciting mix of own music and covers and the adding of some electronic make this an interesting and captivating listening experience. Kadri’s voice is powerful and clear, her composition the perfect vehicle for it. Outstanding tracks on the album are her original ‘I’m Not In Love’, Michael Jacksons ‘They Don’t Really Care About Us’ and ‘Kättemaks’, written by Eeva Talsi with Estonian lyrics by Jan Tätte.  A multifaceted recording by an upcoming powerful artist. Highly recommended! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqJowzyQLt4

Pablo Martin Caminero / Bost – the Caminero Quintet’s new album features beside bassist Pablo the usual crew with Ariel Brínguez on sax, Moisés P. Sánchez on piano, Toni Belenguer on trombone and Michael Olivera on drums. Bost (which stands for five in the Basque language) continues Caminero’s flamenco jazz saga with fresh new ideas. All members of this group are amazing musicians in their own right, but here they come together to create a bigger group sound, based on the complex compositions of Martin Caminero. From the title track to ‘El Tema Raro del Disco’, this is fantastic music by a great band. And now, with having a European agent, there is a chance that this band can be seen and heard outside of Spain as well soon – don’t miss out!!!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ds6WflfS8yo

Marek Napiorkowski / Hipokamp – this late 2019 release somehow got lost on my desk and I just got a chance to listen and truly did enjoy the music created by guitarist Napiorkowski, Jan Smoczynski on keyboards, Pawel Dobrowolski on drums, Luis Ribeiro on percussion and special guest Adam Pieronczyk on soprano sax. The album is, except for two tunes by David Bowie (‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Absolute Beginners’) and one by Egberto Gismonti (‘Agua E Vinho’), composed by Marek and shows his incredible writing skills as well as his powerful and emotional guitar play. Outstanding tracks are ‘Brainstorm’, with a screaming sax solo and an incredible guitar performance, the groovy ‘Professor Kuppelweiser’, a beautifully spaced out ‘Space Oddity’ and the rocky ‘Absolute Beginners’! A very cool jazz guitar album indeed!!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggA8L8usgxc

Continuing with my introduction to some Canadian artists and their recent releases for preparation for jazzahead 2020:

Mark Godfrey / Square Peg – the second album by bass player Godfrey features as well Allison Au on alto saxophone, Matt Woroshyl on tenor saxophone, Chris Pruden on piano and Nick Fraser on drums. All compositions are by Godfrey and are for his band of long-time collaborators, except the composition ‘Bucket List’ which ends the album and is written for solo bass. The band uses the space given to improvise in a fantastic manner and groove and swing with passion. Outstanding tracks are ‘No Gig Today’, ‘USS Rent A Car’ and ‘Bucket List’. Recommended!!

Emie R Roussel Trio / Rythme de Passage – the trio of pianist Emie Rioux-Roussel has already played successfully at jazzahead last year, but this new album with Nicolas Bedard on bass and Dominic Cloutier is definitely worth checking out. The music on ‘Rythme de Passage’, their fifth album, is like a conversation: in turn quiet, agitated, and passionate, but always about communicating and performing as a group. Out of the eight songs on the album five are from Roussel, who is not only a great pianist but as well a writer of status and three by Bedard, whose ‘Agent Orange’ is one of the standout tracks on the album, next to Roussel’s ‘Yatse Club’, ‘Rythme de passage’ and ‘Maltagliati’. A piano trio to look out for.

Peter Hum / Ordinary Heroes – Pianist Hum gathered some of Canada’s best musicians around him to record ‘Ordinary Heroes’ – Kenji Omae on tenor saxophone, David Smith on trumpet, Mike Rud on guitar, Alec Walkington, Dave Watts on bass and Ted Warren on drums. Together they create modern mainstream jazz, perfectly performed as an ensemble. Giving meaning and emotions to the social critical and political compositions by Hum. Outstanding tracks are ‘Fake News Blues’, ‘Rabble Rouser’, the touching ‘Tears for the Innocent’ and the title track ‘Ordinary Heroes’. Great performances from all players and a wonderful sound make this album a listening pleasure.

Ernesto Cervini / Tetrahedron – Cervini, one of the countries leading composers and drummers and know from many different projects, has a new band with Tetrahedron, featuring outstanding guitarist Nir Felder, electric bass player Rich Brown and Luis Denz on alto sax. Originally a trio, the addition of Felder took the band into new spheres. The album opens powerful with ‘Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise’ and doesn’t really let go after that: ‘Forward Motion’ and ‘Angelicus’ feature Nir Felder at his best and ‘Stro’ includes some fine work by Denz. Cervini and Brown are holding everything together with masterly rhythm work and finish the record with the powerful ‘The Sneaky Two’. Recommended!

 

some thoughts on music streaming …. and new releases !

The British magazine Jazzwise printed in their recent issue an article by writer Stuart Nicholson about digital streaming, entitled ‘Stream Machine’. Nicholson is asking a valid question with “how long are streaming services going to hang on to music that’s not generating revenue”, meaning the underuse of millions of tracks from niche genres and is pointing out in comparison, that Netflix did cut its content of films made before 1950 to just 25, because of the same problem. With streaming being song oriented, so argues Nicholson, jazz and related niche genres are falling through the system. If you add to that the bad presentation of jazz on most streaming services, one could think Nicholson might be right and one should for sure be worried.

But there is, in my opinion,  another possible scenario: all streaming services are fighting for growth by adding subscribers, but slowly the pop subscriptions will be or are already slowing down and in the fight for additional income the services might start to look into the smaller genres like classical music, jazz, folk etc. Once the music is presented in a way the jazz consumer wants (more relevant information on sidemen, recording dates, etc and artists with the same name separated by instrument or date of birth ..) and in better sound quality (here amazon made the first move already) than there is a good chance that jazz fans will migrate to streaming services faster and subscribe. And with that, make the niche repertoire for the streaming services worth having within their businesses. Of course, it will as well depend on what the stand of the big record companies will be on that … they are not only holding the biggest jazz catalogues, but as well a share in some of the streaming services and for all of them Jazz is only about 1 % of their overall business …. Interesting times indeed!! And maybe time to think about all label including genre oriented streaming services for niche repertoire like Jazz and classical music ….

recommended new music:

Julie Campiche / ONKALO – on her first record under her own name, Swiss harpist Julie Campiche is creating wonderful soundscapes and spaces for improvisation for her band, which includes saxman Leo Fumagalli, bass player Manu Hagmann and drummer Clemens Kuratle. Five out of the six composition on the album are by Campiche and show her talent as a writer with a unique style, using the talents of her co-musicians perfectly. Her sound on the harp is very individual and captivating, her music from groovy to contemplative, from ambient to modern jazz, with deep musical content, at the same time accessible and challenging and rewarding when listening closely. And it can be all that in one song … without losing its magic!! Julie Campiche is sure an artist to have an eye on for the future! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zukiErFon0

Cherise / Paradise EP – Singer, flautist Cherise (Adams-Burnett) is one of these rare musicians that pop up only once in a while: last year she won the Jazz Vocalist of the Year Award from Jazz FM in the UK without having even released any of her own music, just based on the merit of her work in various projects, all above Tomorrow’s Warriors and Nubiyan Twist. Her debut EP is including 4 songs written by her, showcasing the composing talents as well her incredible vocal skills. These songs are modern, nu soul, jazzy tunes which reveal a variety of influences. The title track is a soul number that leans on India.Arie, without losing its originality. ‘Violet Nights’ swings lightly and has a beautiful little groove – a classy jazz tune. ‘Siren Song’ has a more cinematic feel and the final track on the EP, ‘Felicity’is a beautiful slower song. A very promising debut from an artist we will for sure hear a lot more in the coming years!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMbGmk9DDe8

Eunhye Jeong / The Colliding Beings, Chi-Da – This new exciting live recording is pianist Eunhye Jeong’s fourth record as a leader or co-leader, of her latest concert Chi-Da, the free improvisation project that encourages colliding worlds of different performers and aims to achieve the harmony through the independency of each musician involved in the act. Eunhye Jeon, together with Soo Jin Suh on drums, Il-dong Bae on vocals and JI Park on cello created some powerful music, with all tracks giving space to improvisations and communication between the musicians. All songs, except one, being over 12 minutes long, with ‘The Hope Landed’ standing at 25 minutes and leading the listener into a place, where only expression through sound exists. The recorded concert has an intensity that is unusual, draws one into the music and one is captured by all performances and the haunting sound of the human voice. The singing reminds me a lot of Kim Duk Soo’s SamulNori, with whom I did some recordings with a jazz band (Red Sun) in the late 80’s. The singer then was Lee Kwang Soo and the band Red Sun featured sax player Wolfgang Puschnig, singer Linda Sharrock, bass player Jamaaladeen Tacuma and pianist Uli Scherer and their music had the same intensity and global power. Eunhye Jeong is a force in improvised music and this record deserves to be heard by many.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSFufq7j1CE

Roberta Piket / Piket Plays Mintz – this unique and beautiful recording started out as a birthday gift from pianist Roberta Piket for her husband, drummer and composer Billy Mintz. As she says in the liner notes:I appreciate Billy’s direct, personal approach to composition; they have an open quality which gives the performer the freedom to put forth her own viewpoint. Yet in every piece, I hear Billy’s distinct voice and vision. It’s a voice free of grandiosity, music pared down to its essence without unnecessary elaboration”. These emotionally charged solo piano recordings not only show what great compositions Mintz has, but as well what a sensible and wonderfully skilled pianist Roberta Piket is. A record for quiet hours, to listen and enjoy.  A true treasure!

Robin McKelle / Alterations – singer/song writer McKelle digs for her new album into the works of some of the most celebrated female artists of the past and present: from Billie Holiday via Joni Mitchell to Amy Winehouse and Adele, to name just a few. McKelle is joined on this release by pianist and arranger Shedrick Mitchell, acoustic and electric bassist Richie Goods, drummer Charles Haynes and outstanding guitarist Nir Felder.  Guest performances by saxophonist Keith Loftis and trumpeter Marquis Hill are completing the list of participating musicians. McKelle’s singing as usually is immaculate and I truly like how Robin makes all the songs her own, gives them personality and connects them through a great concept.  Outstanding tracks for me are ‘Back To Black’, ‘Don’t Explain’, ‘River’, ‘Mercedes Benz’ and her own composition ‘Head High’, which stands equally within all these jewels. A record that will spin for a while on my player.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TM5UNyTFYk

VA Virginia Schenk / Battle Cry – “What I sing matters. What I say matters. I see myself as a peacemaker and networker, someone who weaves worlds and people together. In 2016, my vision changed”, says VA, and ‘Battle Cry’ is her response to that change. The singer brought with her to the studio for this album pianist Kevin Bales, bassist Rodney Jordan and drummer Marlon Patton, who have been VA’s core working band for the past decade. Add to that tenor saxophonist Kebbi Williams, guitarist Rick Lollar and spoken word artist James Benson and the line-up is complete. Her versions of ‘Bali Hai’, ‘Abraham, Martin and John’ and ‘Strange Fruit’ are excellent and valid statements for our times and the only original on the album ‘Hear My Battle Cry’ is a groovy affair with strong lyrics, who make clear that for VA  “My music is my resistance”!  Recommended!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hek6aNttm3g

Elliot Galvin / Live In Paris, at Foundation Louis Vuitton – Galvin is for sure one of the young and upcoming UK jazz musicians. He is an extremely talented improviser and composer, as he has showcased as member of the group Dinosaur or with his own projects and recordings. The 6 pieces on this live album are completely free improvised and showcasing a musician’s brilliance in instant composing, as well as a storyteller, whose means to tell his story is his instrument. Outstanding tracks for me are ‘For J. S.’, ‘Time and Everything’ and the beautiful ‘Broken Windows’. But that might change, as with every listen I hear more nuances, discover little somethings I hadn’t heard earlier …. For sure a record that grows with listening to it. Wonderful!!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_PfBUgB7R0

John McLaughlin, Shankar Mahadevan, Zakir Hussain / Is That So? – Guitar star McLaughlin has a long history of working with Indian musicians, going back to the original Shakti band from 1976, via Remember Shakti and now this outstanding trio, featuring the master himself on guitar, guitar synthesizer and orchestrations, as well as tabla legend and long-time collaborator Zakir Hussain and vocalist Shankar Mahadevan. ‘Is That So?’ might have been six years in the making, but it sounds fresh and exciting and the music is touching and most likely one of the best offerings in the meetings of musicians from East and West. Shankar Mahadevan’s voice is clear and soaring over the sounds McLaughlin creates and the beats Hussain sets out to keep it all together. Sensational!!!   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQRl6mhpq8M

Roberta Piket / Piket Plays Mintz – this unique and beautiful recording started out as a birthday gift from pianist Roberta Piket for her husband, drummer and composer Billy Mintz. As she says in the liner notes: “I appreciate Billy’s direct, personal approach to composition; they have an open quality which gives the performer the freedom to put forth her own viewpoint. Yet in every piece, I hear Billy’s distinct voice and vision. It’s a voice free of grandiosity, music pared down to its essence without unnecessary elaboration”. These emotionally charged solo piano recordings not only show what great compositions Mintz has, but as well what a sensible and wonderfully skilled pianist Roberta Piket is. A record for quiet hours, to listen and enjoy.  A true treasure!

Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow / Life Goes On – This trio is working together on and off since 1994 and now has developed into one of the most exciting small jazz groups around – and the intelligent and witty compositions by Carla get the best out of the three players. ‘Life Goes On’ is a three suite album: ‘Life Goes On’ is the first and showcases the trios chamber music qualities, with a bit of blues thrown in; ‘Beautiful Telephones’ is Bley at her best – she has summed it up as “a piece where things get excited and then impatient and then excited again and then change. Nothing stays the same because, with the attention span of the President, we have to quickly change the music, too.” The Third suite ‘Copycat’ is playing around with the call and response notion in jazz in an exciting and meaningful way. All three players sound exceptional good and are at ease with each other and the material. An early contender for album of the year!

Audrey Ochoa / Frankenhorn – Young Canadian trombonist Ochoa is a rising star in her own right, a skilled composer, exciting performer and not afraid to play in any genre that fits her musical expressions. All songs, except one, are her compositions … mixing her trombone with piano, bass and drums, as well as strings to create a melange of chamber music, groove and contemporary jazz. Her sidemen are Chris Andrew on piano/keyboards, Sandro Dominelli on drums, Mike Lent and Rubim de Toledo on bass, Luis Tovar and Raul Tabera on percussion, Kate Svrcek and Shannon Johnson on violin, Ian Woodman on cello and special guest Battery Poacher, who created cool remixes for two of the tracks. Surprising in its variety and quality, this is a cool record to discover. Audrey Ochoa will as well perform in April at jazzahead in Bremen – go and check her out!!!!

Dan Loomis / Job’s Trials – Called a Jazz Song Cycle or, even better, a jazz oratorio, this is an ambitious recording project by bass player Dan Loomis and his band, consisting of vocalists Yoon Sun Choi and Song Yi Jeon, Jeff Miles on guitar, Jared Schonig on drums and Daniel Breaker as narrator. ‘Job’s Trials’ is an innovative, genre-bending work that uses the power of the human voice and the expressive palette of jazz to tell one of the world’s most poignant and ancient stories. Loomis uses spoken interludes between the songs to create a narrative that the music supports dramatically. The voices of the two Korean singers are expressive and soulful and make this unusual project work in a special way. Great music, nothing less!!!

the 20’s and more jazz

The start of 2020 is a good reason to have a look back into the roaring 1920’s … a period known, beside other names, as the Jazz Age. Post WW I the global economy was showing constant growth and modernity, the word for this time, brought the radio, movies and cars. Cities like Berlin, London, Paris, Sydney, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago had the cultural edge. The period became known for Prohibition, Art Deco, the Harlem Renaissance, women liberation and getting voting rights in many countries, Freud and his theories, to name just a few major developments.  The name Jazz Age is definitely correct as in these times some of the most important jazz recordings of all time were made – above all the eternal Louis Armstrong Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings on OKeh, but as well the music by Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington, Sydney Bechet, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, and and and … Blues recordings became hits in the US and the first country songs were recorded as well … labels like OKeh, Black Swan, Broome, ARTo, Vocalion, Ajax and many others, as well as  the big ones: Victor and Columbia were driving this new musical output. But the 1920’s ended with a bang: Black Tuesday on Wall Street in New York on October 29th, 1929, the result of the London Stock Exchange crash from September 20, which send uncertainty into global stock markets and the years of speculation came to a tragic end that led into the Great Depression of the following years, culminating in WW II.

So how does that compare with the start of our 2020’s? Different set of problems … mostly environmental, which, if done right, could as well lead to an upswing in a currently slow growth economy. On the other hand modernity could be a good word for our times as well … all going into one gadget that can do everything .. phone, TV set, camera, satellite navigation system, medical equipment, … Politically the move to the right looks like it will continue globally – a scenario in which jazz, for obvious reasons,  usually thrives. Only time will tell if these years will yield everlasting new recordings as well. And let’s see if mankind learned enough to avoid another Black Tuesday … but the bubble of companies like Spotify, Uber, etc. which hardly ever made a profit (if at all) and are valued at billions of dollars might need to be addressed in some form at some time. For me it looks like these 20’s are neither going to be roaring nor boring!!

Sadly 2020 started with the loss of a few very important jazz musicians … Jimmy Heath – ‘Little Bird’ was still playing aged 93; he has been a true jazz giant who mentored generations of musicians and a wonderful human being. Claudio Roditi – Brazilian jazz trumpet player with a distinguished career in the US and beyond and European jazz legend, pianist and keyboarder Wolfgang Dauner, whom I had the pleasure to meet a few times. I first heard of him as a player with saxophonist Hans Koller, then through his own recordings for MPS and later the Mood label, which he co-founded in 1977 with Albert Mangelsdorff, Volker Kriegel and others. Beautiful his solo piano albums and of course his work in the powerful United Jazz+Rock Ensemble, whose first album ‘Live Im Schützenhaus’ is still one of the top selling jazz recordings in Germany. When I was executive producer for the 1988 Konstantin Wecker album ‘Wieder Dahaom – Live in Wien und Graz’, Dauner was in the band that recorded these concerts and we had some fun doing the gigs  … and spend that year New Year’s Eve together with Wecker in Berlin. Dauner was a leading improviser and played Avantgarde, modern jazz as well as fusion .. always seeking for new sounds and ways to express himself. May they all rest in peace!

Jazzahead 2020 will have Canada as the focus market – a thriving jazz scene with wonderful established and new artists. Beside the Gala and opening night there will be the Canadian Night, featuring 8 selected artists/groups to showcase the variety and quality of this jazz market. I will write a bit more about this in a jazzahead preview in March. For now – here are a few more Canadian records worth checking out:

Eric St-Laurent / Bliss Station – Guitarist and keyboarder St-Laurent recorded ‘Bliss Station’ in Berlin and Toronto with his friend Sebastian Studnitzky on trumpet and piano, Jordan O’Connor on bass and Michel Dequevedo on percussion. Wonderful compositions perfectly performed – beautiful how the sounds of Studnitzky’s mellow trumpet and St-Laurent’s guitar mix into one colour, carrying the melodies of the songs. Recommended!!

The University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra / Embargo – This is only the second album of this University’s big band and it showcases the talents of the young musicians as soloists, composers and arrangers. With the exception of ‘Take The A Train’, all tracks on ‘Embargo’ are composed and arranged by the musicians, led by conductor Gordon Foote /Zach Griffin – Alto Sax, Soprano Sax, Flute / Griff Vona – Alto sax, Clarinet / Geoff Claridge – Tenor Sax, Clarinet / Jacob Chung – Tenor Sax / Alex Manoukas – Baritone Sax, Bass Clarinet / Evan Dalling, Kaelin Murphy, Christian Antonacci / Ben Frost – Trumpets / Nick Adema, Vonne Aguda, Kyle Orlando / Charlotte McAffee-Brunner – Trombones / Charlotte Alexander, Ilinca Stafie – French Horns / Anthony D’Alessandro – Piano / Julien Bradley-Combs – Guitar / Evan Gratham – Bass and Jacob Slous – Drums. Great, swinging, modern big band sounds!! Powerful brass and touching ballads. Some of these performers will soon start making waves around Canada!!!

 

LOCAL TALENT / Higienópolis – LOCAL TALENT combines 3 of Canada’s most eminent instrumentalists performing together on record for the first time. The group is led by composer and keyboardist James Hill, known best for his work with international jazz and hip-hop group BADBADNOTGOOD and Autobahn Trio. Accompanying him are electric bassist Rich Brown and drummer Ian Wright. All compositions on the album are by Hill and cover a variety of moods and soundscapes – from ambient to groovy to Brazil and back to Canada. Local can be anywhere you are … Hill’s skills on the piano and keyboards are exceptional and I am sure this album will build a great following for him. Top track for me: The Silent Cry.

Shuffle Demons / Crazy Time – The Shuffle Demons are Richard Underhill – alto & baritone saxophones, lead vocals; Stich Wynston – drums, percussion, bg vocals; Kelly Jefferson – tenor saxophone, bg vocals; Matt Lagan – tenor saxophone, bg vocals; Mike Downes – bass, bg vocals; Mike Murley – tenor saxophone and Jim Vivian – bass. This is the band’s 9th album, in a career lasting 35 years – with changing line-ups but the same powerful approach to jazz.  The typical instrumental / vocal mix is represented here as well as some groovy ensemble play. A band to discover and one I would love to see/hear live!! Cool rap in ‘Have a good one’ … and ‘Even Demons Get The Blues’ is another stand-out track! Cool!!

Mark Segger Sextet / Lift Off – Segger’s new album is another prove of the diversity of Canada’s jazz scene… this is a wonderful recording of improvised music, based on his compositions. His music reflects a wide range of creative interests, from the swing of Mel Lewis and his jazz orchestra to the genre expanding string quartet writing by composers like Bartok and Ligeti. This captivating album features beside drummer Segger Jim Lewis on trumpet, Heather Saumer on trombone, Peter Lutek on tenor saxophone & clarinet, Tania Gill on piano & melodica and Rob Clutton on bass. Challenging and rewarding music. Adventurous!

 

2019 review

2019 in general wasn’t a bad year for jazz – great new releases, which will stand the test of time, and some wonderful concerts. Jazz, as in the previous year, will more or less have been 1 .1% of the worlds recorded music market. Streaming is giving our music a bit of a hard time, as Spotify, Deezer, etc. are not presenting jazz the right way and therefore migration of the jazz listener to the services is slow .. physical is still the dominant format globally for jazz and will stay as that for a few more years. The major record companies have lost a bit of interest in Jazz, with Sony hardly doing anything anymore, Warner as well and only Universal with Verve and Blue Note is a bit more active in producing and releasing jazz albums. The rest is moving to the independent labels … and some of them are really expanding and getting more interesting and widen their artist roster … like Edition Records in the UK, Ropeadope, Mack Avenue, Motema, Sunnyside, Smoke, etc in the US and Jazzland Recordings in Norway and many others around the globe. Jazz is alive and thriving … no matter what!!

As every year I will publish here a kind of ‘Best of 2019’ in terms of my personal choice of recordings and concerts from this year. I will put them in alphabetical order, as it is too difficult to select any of them as the best ….

Albums

Betty Carter – The Music never Stops

Haftor Medboe  Jacob Karlson   EP

Hays / Loueke – Hope

Holland / Hussain / Potter – Good Hope

James Brandon Lewis – An Unruly Manifesto

Joanna Wallfisch – Far Away From Any Place Called Home

Ketil Bjornstad – The World I Used To Know

Michael Leonhart Orchestra – Suite Extracts, Vol. 1

Rymden – Reflections & Odysseys

Zela Margossian – Transition

Live

Antonio Lizana & Arturo O’Farrill – Madrid, July

Branford Marsalis Quartet – Sevilla, March

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Madrid, November

Dhafer Youssef – Lyon, July

John Scofield & John Cleary – Madrid, November

Jose James / Melody Gardot – Madrid, July

Michael Leonhart Orchestra – New York, January

Rebekka Bakken – Madrid, November

Rymden – Rotterdam, July

The Bad Plus – Madrid, May and November

Details on these recordings and concert you can find in the various blog posts of mine from January to December.

Special mention deserve the two last recordings I delivered to Okeh/Masterworks as their A&R consultant, Branford Marsalis’ outstanding new quartet album ‘The Secret Between The Shadow And The Soul’, nominated for two Grammy awards, and Theo Croker’s ‘Star People Nation’, which as well is nominated for one Grammy award.

At the close of the year we remember all the wonderful artists, managers, agents, label representatives and friends that passed on in 2019 – they all left something within us and therefore will be remembered for a long time. May they all rest in peace.

conclusion of JazzMadrid19 plus new music

I hadn’t seen Patricia Barber in a long while and therefore was curious about her concert in Madrid on November 23rd, as well because I hadn’t heard her new album ‘Higher’, from which most of the repertoire of the performance came. Barber is a singer of art songs, her own compositions and lyrics in most cases and therefore brings emotional content directly into the pieces. She is as well an accomplished pianist, in Madrid supported by Larry Kohut on bass and Jon Deitemyer on drums. Barber is a wonderful singer with unusual phrasing that makes her music unique and individual. Beside her own compositions she performed a captivating version of ‘The In Crowd’, as well as an encore ‘You are my sunshine’, which left the audience asking for more. Her sidemen are solid and incredible in reacting to all nuances and changes of her piano playing and together form a special trio, instrumental or when Patricia is singing. It is a kind gesture to have your sidemen perform soli within the show … but whether it is necessary to have a bass and/or drum solo in every song in my opinion is debatable. It, in most cases, stretches the song unnecessary and by that losing intensity and the essence of the composition. Nevertheless, a performance of top quality and musicianship.

The Bad Plus were next in town on November 26th, performing at the packed to capacity Clamores Club. They opened the concert with two compositions by bass player Reid Anderson from their 2nd album, 2003’s ‘These are the vistas’, ‘Everywhere you turn’ and ‘Big Eater, before running through some of their back catalogue, focusing on the first and second album of the new Plus, ‘Never Stop II’ and the recently released ‘Activate Infinity’. What makes the Bad Plus so special is their quirkiness, their rhythmic power and openness to explore the essence of any song they perform. They can fall from a swinging moment easily into a free exploration of a theme, only to go back to a simple and stunning melody. Pianist Orrin Evans fits like a glove into the concept and the music mainly composed by Anderson and drummer Dave King, even so two of Evans’ contributions to the evening as a composer, ‘Commitment’ and ‘The Red Door’ were amazing and touching. All three musicians had their incredible moments in the spotlight, but their tightness as a trio was simply astonishing and at times got the audience into shouts of wonder and encouragement. I have been working with the group(s) for almost 15 years and never heard/seen a show that didn’t get me. Top of the world!!!

Unknowingly we kept the best for last: Norwegian singer and occasional pianist Rebekka Bakken and band performed a powerful and emotional show, bending genres and delivered a concert of pure class at the Teatro Fernan Gomes. Rebekka is an amazing singer, with a fantastic range and total control of her voice – she can be the rock singer one moment, a delicate and emotional singer of ballads next and all seems natural and easy. Her band, consisting of Kjetil Bjerkestrand on organ and piano, Johan Lindstroem on guitars, Tor Egil Kreken on bass and drummers Rune Arnesen and Pal Hausken, is for me the best she ever had and was following responsively each of her musical steps, pushing her, holding back when needed and, together with her, was forming a compact unit, having fun playing together. There was not a dull moment throughout the 90-minute concert, which mainly was made up from repertoire of her 2018 album ‘Things You Leave Behind’. Outstanding her compositions and the way this band treated them – her vocal delivery on songs like ‘True North’, ‘Closer’ and on her cover of ‘Hotel St, Pauli’ was outstanding and full of emotions and brought a few tears to the eyes of the audience. Other highlights from earlier albums included her compositions ‘Mina’s Dream’, a wonderful ‘Powder Room Collapse’ and the covers ‘Little drop of poison’ from her Tom Waits album with the same title and ‘Ghost in this house’, which was absolutely beautiful and touching. Her take of the Norwegian church song ‘Korset vil jeg aldri svike’ went from a captivating acapella song into a piece of psychedelic and spaced out music, before returning to the simplicity of the beginnings. Bakken is at the top of her game, tells stories that matter in her songs and performs them with a band that fully understands who she is as a musician and singer.   Perfect!!! Gig of the festival for me!

 

Finally, a few new records I can recommend:

Ted Quinlan / Absolutely Dreaming – Canadian jazz guitar player Quinlan delivers with ‘Absolutely Dreaming’ another fine record – having his long-time collaborators pianist Brian Dickinson, bass player Kieran Overs and drummer Ted Warren at his side, he sounds relaxed and full of ideas.  The nine original compositions are classy jazz songs, inspired by Quinlan’s love to travel. Assured playing by all musicians and some outstanding soloing make this a wonderful jazz album to listen to.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcX5_dQ5kuw

Aaron Dolman / Nostalgia and Other Fantasies – The debut album of drummer Dolman is an interesting and captivating mix of jazz and world/folk music, inspired by looking at old family photos. The album was recorded with Caitlin Smith on viola, Marcus Savard-Lowry on guitar (Left Channel), Zacharie Bachand on guitar (Right Channel) and Mathieu McConnell on bass and takes the listener to different worlds. The compositions are melodic and beautiful, the performance by all players perfect. A surprising gem and definitely worth checking out.      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUs_5mhC3vI

Ketil Bjornstad / The World I Used To Know – Norwegian pianist Bjornstad is not only a wonderful human being, but a prolific writer, composer and performer. This solo piano album, recorded at Abbey Road Studios in late 2018, is based on his autobiography – a monumental undertaking as each of the books cover a decade of his life, starting in the 60’s and going up to today. This companion album therefore covers his story in music, performed by himself and includes music from Bach, Schubert, Debussy to his own compositions and songs by Joni Mitchell, Ole Paus, George Harrison and Burt Bacharach as well as a wonderful rendition of Keith Jarrett’s ‘In Your Quiet Place’. There are too many highlights on this impressive album to mention them all and Bjornstad makes them fit together, no matter what the source material is. A record for Sunday mornings, a quiet evening with a glass of wine or any other time when beauty is needed in your life!   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDZI-TjxjIU

The next blog post, at the end of December, will feature my personal best of 2019 … albums and concerts …

JazzMadrid19

After checking out Charles Tolliver and then Nubya Garcia (see my previous blog post), the next gig for me was one of top Fusion: guitarist Mike Stern with keyboarder Jeff Lorber, Jimmy Haslip on bass and top drummer Dennis Chambers, with special guest guitarist Leni Stern rounding up the impressive line-up. Most of the repertoire came from their current album ‘Eleven’ and were compositions by Stern and Lorber – powerful rock and funk influenced melodic pieces, which gave lots of space for Mike and Jeff to improvise and both musicians delivered some extraordinaire soli on their respective instruments. Stern, whom I first saw with Miles Davis in 1982, still has the same clear sound on his guitar and is surely one of the best nowadays. His rock, jazz and blues informed playing is delivered with passion and fire … his wife Leni added some wonderful playing herself and touched everyone with a heartfelt vocal performance in the opening song. Lorber as well showed why he is one of the leading keyboard players of our time and a master of the genre. Haslip and Chambers drove the two main guys to amazing heights … simply incredible!!

The concert of American singer Stacey Kent and her excellent band, featuring Jim Tomlinson on saxes and flutes, Graham Harvey on piano and fender rhodes, Jeremy Brown on bass and Joah Morrison on bass was next for me and one I was looking forward to, as I like the lush and relaxed way this amazing singer is performing. Her mix of repertoire ranged from originals (written by Tomlinson, her husband and musical director) via standards to some classy Brazilian repertoire and a French song. Whether she sang in English or French or Portuguese, she made the songs work and the audience gladly went with her on this rewarding musical journey. Kent’s vocal control is outstanding and her delivery full of emotions. Tomlinson kept the band tight behind her and added some top improvisations to the mix. Harvey is an attentive and impressively supporting pianist, whose soli were as well serving the songs and were delicate and beautiful. Excellent!

On November 19th it was trumpet star Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, who performed with his stellar band in Madrid’s Teatro Fernán Gómez. At only 36 years of age, Scott is already a veteran leading his own bands, having started around 2005, with this year’s band probably one of the best so far. His sidemen for this tour in Europe were alto sax player Logan Richardson, pianist Lawrence Fields, bass player Max Mucha, drummer Corey Fonville and percussionist Weedie Braiham and they made Scott’s compositions groove and swing and .. whatever the song needed! Scott can’t hide that he is from New Orleans as the rhythms gave it away … but then his music, a mix of jazz in the past, present and future needs that groove. He bowed to Miles Davis with a powerful rendition of ‘Guinnevere’ in which Richardson and Scott performed impressively, played music from his own recordings as well as a stunningly beautiful new composition entitled ‘Songs she has never heard’. Beside the outstanding improvisations by Scott, especially Richardson and Fields impressed with their abilities and imagination. Polish bass player Mucha and Braiham and Fonville were exceptional in keeping the guys going. One of the shows of the year!!

Three days later it was time to go and hear John Scofield in a duo setting with singer and pianist Jon Cleary, with whom John recorded his 2009 album ‘Piety Street’ together with the cream of New Orleans’ musicians; an album I released at the time on EmArCy Records. Scofield and New Orleans resident Cleary performed repertoire that had its roots in the Crescent City and was a mix of well-known songs as well as compositions of lesser know musicians. Cleary is a wonderful pianist in the New Orleans tradition and an emotional singer, who brings life into these songs. Scofield in this set up is not only an outstanding soloist but supports Cleary perfectly and brings out the essence of the songs. His solo in ‘Fever’ was out of this world, disjointed to a degree, but making total musical sense. Same has to be said for Cleary’s piano solo in ‘My Baby Is In Love With Another Man’: powerful and captivating. Their performance of ‘Stardust’ was another highlight of the gig, as well as a beautiful rendition of ‘Talk To Me’, another gem unearthed by Cleary. One could feel the fun the guys had playing as a duo and performing this repertoire – Scofield was his usual magnificent self and Cleary right up there with him. An outstanding concert in many ways, that got the packed house going right from the start. Uplifting and fun, rough and touching … a wonderful show by two great artists!!!!

 

In the next blog I will review my last few concerts within the Madrid Jazz Festival 2019 plus a few new and exciting releases.