Kirsten Flagstad (1895 – 1962) was a Norwegian opera singer, especially revered for her Wagner roles and considered one of the best opera singers ever. Her international career started at the Met in New York in 1934, from there she went around the world with stops in San Francisco, the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London, but returned to Norway in 1941. Her post-war career brought her back to the Met and included the world premiere performance of Richard Strauss’ ‘Four Last Songs’ in London in 1950. Because of deteriorating health, she stopped performing and only recorded a few more albums and mentored young singers before her passing in 1962. Her performances over the years in Wagner’s ‘Tristan And Isolde’ are still considered exemplary.
Flagstad – The Opera has music composed by Ketil Bjørnstad and a libretto by Einar Björge and only three performers: Brigitte Christensen as Flagstad, Eldrid Gorset as the Nurse and Bernt Ola Volungholen as Henry Johansen / Bernard Miles. In the story, a very ill Flagstad is confronting crucial moments in her life – private and professional. Via conversations with her nurse, dreams and a visit of her manager she tells us her story. The small ensemble of 5 musicians, including on piano the arranger of Ketil’s original score Stefan Ibsen Zlatanos and featuring Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørensen on percussion, Hanne Rekdal on flute and bassoon, Elisabeth Lund Tomter on viola and Jon Åsnes on bass, often sounds fuller and bigger and throughout performs to perfection. Bjørnstad’s music is touching, melodic and, even so classical in arrangement, typical for him. For me, who knows a bit of his music, these compositions flow within his usual writing in many ways, even so the way the melody lines for the voices are written is more classical and therefore slightly different, I could sometimes hear as well another way of singing these parts in my head. But the sheer beauty and impressive control that Brigitte Christensen displays makes sense over the music Ketil had composed and Zlatanos had arranged. Björge’s libretto is clear and follows the story of Flagstad’s last hours with precision and Gorset’s nurse shows the nice and warm character plus her naivety extremely good, while Volungholen is as believable in his roles as the two female singers are. The Opera is truly one piece, not a collection of songs or arias, but a coherent story told in an operatic way and therefore should be listened as a whole. Ketil as well included in his music some fragments from other composers, like Strauss and Wagner, as these had an importance in Flagstad’s life. At one point in the Opera he and Björge let Christensen sing “You know, music is a language ..” I couldn’t agree more and this one clearly speaks to me! An opera for fans of the genre and for those who don’t know much about it, but would like to start somewhere.
The audio recording and the filmed performance on the DVD in the same package are both from the dress rehearsal of the opera from November 5th, 2020. The world premiere, set for the following day, had to be cancelled due to Covid-19. In the end the premiere was held in June 2021 in Hamar, Flagstad’s place of birth.
It’s no news when I state that Julian Lage is one of the most talented young jazz musicians around today and that his new album ‘Squint’, his first for the historic jazz label Blue Note, is simply confirming that statement. When in 2008 I got a call from Ted Kurland and he was talking about a ‘kid’ he was managing and I definitely should listen to, I had no idea what I was going into. I asked him to send me the music and meanwhile I googled a bit on Julian Lage, found the documentary Ted was talking about, ‘Jules at Eight’ and other stuff and was intrigued. Then I got the music he just had recorded with a great band, including among other Taylor Eigsti on piano, Bela Fleck and Chris Thile. The songs were mostly his own compositions and showed an artist mature beyond his age. He was 20 years old then. I called Ted and said that I wanted to be part of this story and agreed, which was unusual at the time for a completely unknown artist, to license the new album and put it out on Emarcy. When I met Julian the same year, I encountered a humble, smart, charismatic and intelligent young man, who knew what he wanted. I always liked talking with him about music or whatever, as he is following what is going on in the world, not only in terms of music. We did actually pretty well in terms of global sales for the first album, having in mind that not many people had heard of Julian before the release of ‘Sounding Point’.
We were all really enthusiastic at Emarcy and as he toured a lot, he continued to build a profile. I have seen him many times perform, with different trios, full bands or just in duo settings, which he likes a lot. He since has performed and/or recorded in duo with Bill Frisell, Fred Hersch, Nels Cline (the show I saw in NYC at Winter Jazz was simply sublime) and Chris Eldridge, to name a few. Julian is a fierce performer, moving from rocky tunes to soft jazz ballads and make it work perfectly. Over the years he has collected a group of sidemen which he varies, depending on the needs of the project and the music. While he was playing in Gary Burton’s New Quartet, to which he contributed some amazing compositions, he found the time to record his second album for Emarcy, ‘Gladwell’, which was released in 2011. Like the first album it featured Jorge Roeder on bass, who is as well playing on the new Blue Note album, and Tupac Mantilla on percussion and drums, as well as Aristides Rivas on cello. The music is again a mix of originals and standards, arranged by Julian. We had the full set of marketing tools, including video clips, did a lot of promo and Julian a lot of touring and it all helped to get Julian into the spotlight a bit more. Sales were slightly up on the first album, which was encouraging, even so I had hoped to make a bigger step this time.
In 2010 my contract with Universal wasn’t renewed and I was only acting as a consultant when putting out Julian’s second record and within the company lots of things had changed. Meanwhile most of the 15 or so Emarcy artist I had signed were let go, but not, as many people thought, because of low sales, but because there was no successor appointed for my position and therefore there was no-one to do A&R or work directly with the artists and their managements and my consultancy was more a generous farewell gift from Universal to set my own company up, than a real interest in me doing any actual work. Only two acts were picked by one of the other Universal labels, Madeleine Peyroux and John Scofield, but the rest, including Dee Dee, Sonny, The Bad Plus, James Carter, Roy Hargrove had to look for new deals. If I would have stayed, we would have for sure continued with Julian and would have released the options we had in the agreement, but that wasn’t to be. When I was later at Sony doing OKeh Records Julian had a deal with Mack Avenue Records, but we stayed in touch and whenever I had a chance to see and hear him I did so. I wanted him to come to OKeh, but before that could happen, Sony decided to stop recording jazz and then the world was turned upside down by a tiny virus. I am extremely happy for Julian to be on Blue Note. This is the label he belongs to be on. He knows the tradition, is the present and the future. The new album is another milestone in a rich career for a now 33-year-old musician, but for sure not the last. The new trio with ‘old’ band mate Jorge Roeder and drummer David King is extremely tight and intense, but always playful and melodic. I can’t wait to see and hear Julian again, have a glass of wine and a chat. And I will from afar continue to watch him develop, smiling.
On a different note: as some of you might know, I have officially retired last year. Closed the company I had with my wife and now only on request advise and help artists, as this is what I like to do. Through the initial wave of the pandemic, I decided to get my digital music files sorted, as they were housed on various hard drives. This took me some time, but is done now and I had to find something else that I would like to do and so I decided to start writing my biography, but in a slightly ‘off’ way. I have no deal or anything in place and I am not even sure if it will be worth being published, but I am enjoying the trip back in time immensely and therefore lately have been a bit lazy when it comes to review new albums. That might continue to be the case for a while … there is still a long way to go! I am saying sorry to everyone who has sent me or is going to send me some music. It might take a bit of time before I come to it. It’s true, once you retire you are going to be very busy indeed!!
This blog post is all about friends, people which are important in my life and as well about musicians I have worked with, like or wanted to work with at one point. There is no better starting point in such an article than Wolfgang Puschnig, one of my best friends since I met him first, doing an interview for JazzLive in 1984 and one of the best alto saxophonists of today (and that’s not only my opinion, just ask Carla Bley). Later I met Dave Holland via his ECM recordings and we did work together on various projects as well and Chris Potter I met when he started recording for Universal in 2001 and we stayed in touch ever since. James Brandon Lewis is one of the most exciting young improvisers on the scene and I am glad I had the chance to work with him on two recordings for Okeh. Aydin Esen, the pianist on Ayna Veer, was on the first Wolfgang Muthspiel album I was responsible for and later I released his album ‘Living’ on Emarcy. The connection to Gretchen Parlato is a bit different – I love what she does and wanted to sign the vocal trio Tillery to Okeh, but the team in New York didn’t get the record and didn’t let me go ahead with it. Then I hoped to sign Gretchen’s new music, but by the time she was ready to release something my time at Okeh had unfortunately come to an end already. I met her at North Sea and Taylor Eigsti introduced us there and then I met her again at a showcase for Tillery. Samuel Blaser and Daniel Herskedal both attended lectures I did on the music business during their stay at one of John Cumming’s Take Five educational programs. Wonderful guys and great musicians both. In a way this is all about connections between people, music being the starting point in all of them and it is about continuity in life. But most of all it is about great people and great music!!
Wolfgang Puschnig + / Uli Scherer Memorial Concert – As Puschnig writes in the liner notes to this wonderful recording, the record features songs written by pianist Scherer, who passed in 2018, some of his most beloved songs as well as two compositions that Wolfgang wrote for him. The band featured all musicians that had at one point worked with Uli and therefore brought their emotional connection into the music. The musicians are Ali Gaggl and Lena Kuchling on vocals, Martin Reiter on piano, Karl Sayer on bass, Emil Kristof on drums and the Koehne String Quartet. They opened the show with a stunning ’Smile’ using an arrangement by Scherer for the touching string quartet intro before the band delicately enters. Another highlight of the concert is Puschnig’s composition ‘The Sadness Of Yuki’ , which as well can be heard on the outstanding duo album of Puschnig and Scherer ‘Traces’, which was released in 2001 by Emarcy. Scherer’s ‘No. 12’ and the medley of Puschnig’s ‘Eastern Mood’ and Coltrane’s ‘India’ are other incredible tracks on an overall amazing recording. All musicians and the string quartet are playing to their best, making this a perfect homage for a wonderful musicians and human being.
Dave Holland / Another Land – When I saw and heard the then new Dave Holland trio 4 years ago, I wrote the following afterwards in a blog on the Madrid Jazz Festival: On 28th of November 2017 was the show of the Dave Holland Trio, featuring beside Dave guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Obed Calvaire, and they delivered a show that must count as one of the best of the year: powerful jazz, blues and rock elements mixed to a unique brew that only musicians of this calibre can create! Despite some memorable soloing by Eubanks, this is first of all a group effort and without the different individuals it wouldn’t work the way it does. They include the whole history of jazz somehow, from blues to Miles (especially Tribute to Jack Johnson) plus a bit of the Band of Gypsies … with incredible group interplay and improvisations. Can’t wait until these guys are going to release their album!!! Sensational!!! Finally, that album has arrived and from the first note of Hollands electric bass it is clear where this one is going: deep into rock and groove! ’20 20’ being a great example of how the guys switch from groove to more laidback rhythms, creating an intense piece of music and ‘Another Land’ highlights their amazing communication when playing a ballad. ‘Mashup’ could be a Hendrix track and all three musicians are on fire here, soaring! And ‘Bring It Back Home’ ends this masterpiece with a bluesy feel and asking for more. Love it!!!!
Chris Potter / Sunrise Reprise – Potter had released in 2019 his widely acclaimed first album with James Francies on piano and keyboards and drummer Eric Harland, entitled ‘Circuits’. This Circuits Trio went back into the studio in September 2020 and months of not performing, restrictions in everyone’s social life and a global threat to our well-being came out in this outstanding and deeply emotional session. A true trio recording, with space and incredible communication and soloing. Potter sounds as strong and inventive as ever, Francies surely a star in the making and Harland is just amazing. The album features five songs, the shortest comes in at 5.11 minutes, the longest at 24.27 – not a dull second in any of them!!! Modern, adventurous and cool and performed at an unbelievable high level of musicianship! A valuable addition to Potters already large catalogue of top jazz releases.
James Brandon Lewis’ Red Lily Quartet / Jesup Wagon – For this new album, tenor sax player Lewis put together a new group featuring Kirk Knuffke on cornet, William Parker on bass and gimbri, Chris Hoffman on cello and Chad Taylor on drums and mbira. Lewis’ musical appreciation of Washington Carver, a 19th century African-American renaissance man, is a powerful tale, narrated via his compositions. Says James Brandon: “I’m not interested in going into the studio just for the sake of recording. How do you make music have a sound image? All these things I’m interested in are innate in my being.” His sound is full and clear and he is now one of the few younger saxists named in the same breath as Shepp, Sanders and Ayler, and deservedly so. His compositions are melodic and open, grounded in the jazz tradition, lifting up from there into today and soar beyond. Spectacular and captivating from beginning to end. I sincerely hope I get a chance to hear this band live – they must be something else!!
Ayna Veer / Ayna Veer – Legendary Turkish pianist and keyboarder Aydin Esen hooked up with a bunch of young musicians while in Switzerland and they liked each other’s company so much that they booked a studio date – let’s see what happens. Beside Esen there were Vernau Mier (sax), Eric Valle (drums) & Nadav Erlich (bass) in the studio and when they were finished, they had seven hours of original and improvised material. The album reflects that approach and holds three originals and five numbered improvisations – all perfectly performed by musicians who are listening, reacting, communicating. Esen shows why Chick Corea thought he is one of the best pianists in jazz and the youngsters seem inspired in his presence, creating music that is informed by Chick, Miles and Weather Report, but taking it into today, moving forward. As great and captivating the group improvisations are, the outstanding track for me is ‘Secret Wildflower’. Highly recommended!!
Gretchen Parlato / Flor – Eight years after the release of her sensational live album, Parlato is releasing a new album – “This project is a reflection of a time of putting myself aside and being completely present as a mom,” says the singer. “A role that’s so giving and selfless, and is a complete shift of focus. I’m finally able to find the balance between artistic creativity and nurturing motherhood. My purpose has both a higher and deeper meaning. There is a story to tell, now…of who I am in this role, and how that is reflected in the music.” A wonderful mixture of covers and originals, this album seamlessly wanders between Brazilian music, R&B, jazz and pop, Gretchen’s unique voice and phrasing keeping it all together. The recording features Marcel Camargo on guitar, Artyom Manukyan on cello and Léo Costa on drums and percussion, with guest appearances by Mark Guiliana on drums, Gerald Clayton on piano and Airto Moreira on voice and percussion. My personal favourite is the song ‘Magnus’, an uplifting and beautiful track which Gretchen already had recorded with Tillery on their underrated first album. In a touching tribute to the late trumpet star Roy Hargrove, she performs his song ‘Roy Allen’, featuring Airto Moreira. Her own ‘Wonderful’ is another highlight on a glorious record, that ends with a stunning version of David Bowie’s ‘No Plan’. An album that will stand the test of time by one of the most individual singers of today!
Daniel Herskedal / Harbour – Herskedal again is widening the boundaries of his instrument and making the tuba a lead instrument like any other. His lyrical and melodic approach, wonderful tone, soft and touching, and outstanding compositions, make this an album easy to listen to, but with deep musical content. Pianist Eyolf Dale and percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken are the perfect companions for his music. The compositions are inspired by the sea and finding shelter from the elements – a typical Norwegian theme, perfectly transferred to sound by these three fine musicians. Herskedal shines throughout the album, having the tuba sound sometimes like a trumpet, sometimes deeper and comforting, always full of emotions. Dale is a wonderful and attentive pianist and Norbakken laying the foundations of rhythm and structure. Just check out the track’ The Lighthouse On The Horizon’ and I am sure you want to hear all of the album. Not to be missed!!
Samuel Blaser & Marc Ducret / Audio Rebel – While touring was suspended over the last 18 months, Swiss trombone player Blaser went back to some recordings he did in the past to see what could be released on his new and own imprint Blaser Music. He came across this 2013 duo live recording from the intimate concert venue and studio Audio Rebel in Rio de Janeiro. Blaser and French guitarist Ducret had performed together since 2009 and this was the culmination of this musical relationship: an improvised and open communication between two masters of their instruments. Lead and support change in subtle ways between the two instruments, searching for expressions, to which the other will react appropriately. An album that is open spaced and contemplative and will need many times of listening to discover all the fine nuances in their musical dialogue. Captivating!
For me, every day is jazz day. I listen to or read about my favourite genre of music every day. No exception. Even when my phone rings, it’s jazz that I hear. But I do understand the need and desire to spread awareness for the music we call jazz to a wider audience. Therefore, I am all for an International Jazz Day and the celebrations so far have been exceeding all expectations on a global scale. This year unfortunately the celebrations again will mostly be online, but a celebration of improvised music and its healing force and global importance it will be. Around the world events will be streamed and where possible live concerts will be attended by an audience to show the power and beauty of this music. For me, it will be as always: every day is jazz day and I gladly share some of the excitement I had when listening to a few new recordings below. Keep swinging everyone!
Sachal Vasandani feat. Romain Collin / Midnight Shelter – I love Sachal’s voice and his control and the way he makes everything he touches his own. And not to forget his writing as well. ‘Midnight Shelter’ is another prove of his unbelievable talent and the intimate setting with the wonderful and perceptive pianist Collin fits Sachal very well and puts the focus clearly on his vocal delivery. The album starts with one of three originals, the touching ‘Summer No School’, leading into interpretations of songs by Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, Abbey Lincoln and others. Recorded in 2020 this album reflects the anxiety of that challenging year, but leaves the listener with hope for the future. An album that soothes and caresses the soul. Sachal sings with emotion and love and transports these feelings within every word. This is art as seldom heard, powerful, true and touching. Just listen to his version of Wayne Shorter’s ‘Dance Cadaverous’ to which he wrote lyrics or Abbey Lincoln’s classic ‘Throw It Away’. An early contender for album of the year. A true and timeless expression of humanity.
Francois Bourassa / L’Impact Du Silence – Bourassa is well established in the Canadian jazz scene and has as well a small international following. His new album might change that, as it for sure deserves to he heard by many people. These fourteen solo piano pieces are absolutely unique in terms of composition and performance. Contemplative and lyrical at times, gritty at others, influenced by classical music, but with space for improvisation and using silence in between notes to dramatic effects. Says Ethan Iverson about Francois Bourassa: “’His solo piano music is right on the line between composed and improvised; certain things must happen, yet there’s also room to experiment. Is Maurice Ravel dreaming of Paul Bley — or is it the other way around?” Highly recommended!
Fergus McCreadie / Cairn – Scottish pianist is slowly developing into one of Europe’s hottest new jazz acts. This, his second album, again was recorded with bass player David Bowden and drummer Stephen Henderson and takes the trio steps ahead in their career. McCreadie’s compositions are “rooted in the Scottish tradition and inspired by Scottish landscapes, combining contemporary, jazz and classical influences in a profound, mesmerising and compelling way”. In the very original and captivating music there are touches of Keith Jarrett, E.S.T. and the quirkiness of The Bad Plus, but his compositions remain unique and a revelation to listen to. A true discovery with not one weak track on the album!
Ariel Bart / In Between – I really so far liked only two harmonica players: Toots Thielemans and Antonio Serrano, but from now on I will as well include young Ariel Bart in this list. Her debut album, recorded with Mayu Shviro on cello, Moshe Elmakias on piano, David Michaeli on double bass and Amir Bar Akiva on drums, is a statement of a musician and composer much more mature than her age would suggest. Her sound is full and round and her melodic playing easy to listen to. Her band is excellent in providing the backdrop for her soli, but as well ready to step up when needed. My favourite from the album is ‘Memory Of A Child’, a touchingly beautiful ballad with wonderful performances. A great first step!!
Neal Gonsalves / Blessings and Blues – South African pianist and composer Gonsalves recorded his third album with Ildo Nanja on bass and Riley Giandhari on drums and through his compositions is reflecting his five decades spanning life. His music is a mix of genres and sounds, but is truly rooted in South African jazz. His playing from swinging to contemplative and soft, but always expressing aspects of his life and emotions. Highlights on the album include ‘The Musician’s Wedding’, ‘African Time’ and the uplifting ‘Rise And Shine’. Remarkable!!!
Florian Arbenz, Hermon Mehari, Nelson Veras / Conversation # 1: Condensed – Drummer Arbenz, know through his work with Swiss trio Vein, starts with this album a series of recordings that will see him release 12 ‘Conversations’ with 12 different groups. # 1 features Hermon Mehari on trumpet and Nelson Veras on guitar and together they create wonderful and spontaneous music, ranging from groovy to ambient. There is space for all three musicians to shine, but the focus is the musical communication between three masters of their instruments. Modern, adventurous and full of surprises. Outstanding in an overall great record are Ornette Coleman’s ‘Race Face’, Mehari’s ‘Let’s Try This Again’ and Arbenz’ ‘In Medias Res’. A wonderful start to a series, if keeping up that quality, will be worth waiting for.
Roni Ben-Hur / Stories – revered guitarist Ben-Hur called for the recording session of this new album a bunch of friends and legends – George Cables on piano, Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, the rhythm section with bassist Harvie S and drummer Victor Lewis, and special guest vocalists Magos Herrera and Tamuz Nissim. Telling stories from his life, paying tribute to some musicians he adores and showing his diverse cultural influences, were the points Ben-Hur wanted to make with this new recording. Easily done with a selection of outstanding songs, including one sung in Hebrew by Tamuz Nissim, one in Ladino and one in Spanish. Magos Herrera singing the last two in impeccable fashion, full of emotion she expresses protest and love. Cable is a wonderful and delicate pianist and Ingrid Jensen’s clear and powerful trumpet adds a fierce touch to the songs. These are great stories from around the world, worth to be re-told may times. Outstanding!
If one considers that Spotify alone adds around 60.000 new songs every day to its catalogue, yes, that’s sixty thousand, it is hard to imagine how someone can find or discover anything new there …. And it makes me wonder how long they will be able to do so without cutting at the low use end … which for sure would mean classical and jazz and other niche genres. We are not there yet, but I am afraid at one point in the coming years we will see this happen. As I don’t like playlists, I discover new music via my contacts in the music business, by reading magazines for the music genres I like, following musicians on their social networks, stay in touch with labels and some PR companies to get their new records for a possible review. And here are some of these which I got lately and really like – I hope you will enjoy some of these as well.
Pål Nyberg / Lowlands – Swedish guitarist Nyberg’s new album puts a focus on his writing, performed by a wonderful group of musicians including Birgitta Flick on sax, Per ‘Texas’ Johansson on clarinets, Markus Jägerstedt on keyboards, Mauritz Agnas on bass and Konrad Agnas on drums. The compositions are melodic and relaxed, the individual performances especially from Johansson and Flick are outstanding. The subtle use of electronics enhances the overall sound and gives added emotional content. Nyberg’s guitar sound is traditional and clear and he swings wonderfully, even in a more modern context. Laid back, touching and contemplating – a great record for all hours of the day! Recommended.
Logan Richardson / AfroFuturism – Alto saxophonist, producer, and composer Richardson is joined on his new and fifth release by guitarist Igor Osypov, Peter Schlamb on vibes and keyboards, bassist Dominique Sanders, and drummers Ryan J. Lee and Corey Fonville. Guest appearances by vocalist Laura Taglialatela and Ezgi Karakus on strings round up the line-up for AfroFuturism. The albums diverse compositions are enhanced by keyboards, synthesizers and programmed parts, with sound samples used frequently amid heavy grooves. Modern jazz it is, but with a nod to the past. Logan’s alto keeping the album together, binding the various elements into one soundscape of different colours. Says Richardson: “I always feel strongly about all my projects, but this one was so fluid in the way we produced it and the way the different voices came together. It feels like something truly special.” Indeed, it is!
Joan Mar Sauqué / Gone With The Wind – On his second outing as a leader, trumpet player Joan Mar is accompanied by Josep Traver on guitar and Giuseppe Campisi on bass. The drum-less trio leads to a more melodic approach and therefore the selection of the songs: all from the 40’s and 50’s with strong melodies. The trio delivers a wonderful traditional jazz record, with Joan’s trumpet clear and straight and swinging. Outstanding Ray Brown and Dizzy Gillespies ‘Ray’s Idea’ as well as Gigi Gryce’s ‘Shabozz’. One musician to keep an eye on. Very promising!!
Tania Giannouli / In Fading Light – Greek composer and pianist Giannouli recorded her new album in a trio format, featuring Andreas Polyzogopoulos on trumpet and Kyriakos Tapakis on oud. “Oud and trumpet are two of my favourite instruments. A trio with these instruments is unusual, but I wanted to explore the beautiful textures, tonalities and emotional resonances that this combination of instruments offers” says Giannouli about the new record. Her music is touchingly beautiful, contemplative and melodic. One can hear that she is classically trained, but has an open mind for improvisation. In her words “The music on this album is an expression of love, hope and compassion, a plea for understanding, kindness, and the need to respect and embrace our common connectedness”. And it is exceptionally performed and highly recommended!!
HITRA / Transparence – The group Hitra is an international quartet, being born at the Norwegian Academy Of Music in Oslo and featuring Hilmar Jensson from Iceland on guitar, Italian pianist Alessandro Sgobbio on piano and Norwegians Jo Berger Myhre on bass and Øyvind Skarbø on drums. The compositions by Sgobbio for the band are spacious and ambient, with an openness for improvisations, either collectively (‘Labtayt’) or individually. Jensson is a wonderful guitar player with a clear sound and a sensibility to fill spaces to enhance the soundscape of the songs, or to lead the way like in the captivating ‘Cite Des Poetes’. Sgobbio, who as well acted as the producer of this album and who is as well known for his work with the group Periscopes, sets the tone without being in the forefront, making this a true band album. One to check out!
Michael Wolff / Live at Vitellos – Already recorded 10 years ago, this quartet outing by pianist Wolff deservedly now sees the light of day. The band, consisting as beside the leader Wolff of trumpet player Mark Isham, John B. Williams on bass and drummer Mike Clark, opens the disc with the wonderful and touching ‘Ballad Noir’, in which Isham’s melodic improvisations shine. This is followed by a groovier piece entitled ‘Lagniappe’ and a wonderful rendition of Wayne Shorter’s ‘Fall’. Another of Wayne’s compositions, ‘Nefertiti’, shows the musicians’ deep connection, expanding the song through improvisations and working perfectly as a unit. Wolff and Isham are amazing soloists, backed and pushed forward by Williams and Clarke, a powerful rhythm section. A top live concert captured in perfect sound quality. Stunning!
Mike Freedman / Into The Daybreak – The debut album by Toronto jazz veteran Freedman showcases not only his tremendous skills as a player, but as well as a composer, as all 9 tracks on the album were written by him. Recorded with Jeremy Ledbetter on piano, Alexis Baro on trumpet, Chris Gale on tenor saxophone, Kobi Hass on bass, Max Senitt on rums & percussion, plus guests Curtis Freeman on fretless bass and Louis Simão on cuica, these nine diverse tracks are performed with verve and power. Freedman has a wonderful clear and full sound on his instrument and his improvisations shine through deep melodic and musical understanding. This is a top band playing – individually as well as an ensemble they shine and make the listener feel these modern jazz songs. A surprise in many ways.
Jihye Lee / Daring Mind – The second album by South Korean composer and arranger Lee ‘reflects her struggles, doubts, joys and hopes’ of living in New York City. “My goal is to invite listeners into my creative world, to relate to my stories, and to reflect on the truth that as humans, we share similar struggles and triumphs regardless of where we come from. It is my hope that we can create genuine connections with each other through art,” she says. Co-produced with Darcy James Argue the recording session included the following musicians: Guest artist: Sean Jones (Trumpet); Reeds: Ben Kono, Rob Wilkerson, Quinsin Nachoff, Jeremy Powell, Carl Maraghi; Trumpets: Brian Pareschi, John Lake, Sean Jones, Alex Norris; Trombones: Mike Fahie, Alan Ferber, Nick Grinder, Mark Patterson, Jennifer Wharton; Piano: Adam Birnbaum, Haeun Joo; Guitar: Sebastian Noelle; Bass: Evan Gregor and Drums: Mark Ferber. Her music is surely a universal reflection of what it means to be human and her band transports these feelings perfectly. A stand-out big ensemble work of many colours and emotions and timeless quality!!!
Almost a year ago, on March 10th 2020 we started our voluntary confinement, anticipating the governmental restrictions in Spain by a few days – we saw what was coming our way and having a high-risk family member we had to act swiftly. Since then, our social contacts, like everyone else’s, have been meagre to say the least – a few drinks with friends on a terrace in the summer, one lunch in a restaurant in July and a barbecue with 4 friends in August, before things got worse again. The rest happened via video calls and conferences or quickly on the street through an accidental meet while shopping. I can say we have been careful and avoided to do what we really like – going out to gigs and dinners, travel and be with family and friends. The ongoing vaccination programs around the world give hope and once we are vaccinated, we expect to experience a ‘kind of normal’ again. Until then … stay safe, stay at home as much as you can and listen to new music, like the below records, which I had the pleasure to enjoy lately.
Coma World / Cream Submarine – Coma World is a collaboration between drummer Maxwell Hallett a.k.a. Betamax (The Comet Is Coming/Soccer96) and bass player Pete Bennie (Speakers Corner Quartet) in which both as well use electronics to construct an experimental mix of jazz and dub. The duos sonic improvisations over bubbling soundscapes, ambient clouds or heavy beats create spontaneous and raw funk, like in the track ‘Thief’. This is music beyond categorization – it’s driven by the artists vision for sound and rhythm and so becomes unique. The album surely grows with more time spent with it, discovering all the subtle colours and changes, like you will find in the wonderful title track. Love it!!!!
Rudi Berger featuring Toninho Horta – Austrian violinist and composer Berger and Brazilian guitar master, singer and composer Horta met for the first time in the late 1980’s when Horta asked Berger to record 2 songs with him for the album ‘Moonstone’ and since then they have played more than 500 times together. The recordings for this album go back until 1997, the latest having been done in 2019, with the exception of one track, the 1988 recording of Berger’s ‘Gabriele’, the track the Toninho loved most when first hearing Rudi’s debut album ‘First Step’. The first eight tracks on the album are wonderful and intimate duo recordings of standards and originals, showcasing not only the two musicians’ extraordinary talents, but as well their musical connection and emotional performances. The rest are band recordings with a strong Brazilian flavour, highlighting the compositions of Berger and Horta. The ‘musical brothers’ Berger and Horta have delivered a wonderful swinging and touching record, that I only can recommend highly. Stunning!!!
Eshed Korten Biolcati Kim / A Way Out – Israeli guitarist Yoav Eshed, New York pianist Lex Korten, Swedish-Italian bassist Massimo Biolcati and South Korean drummer Jongkuk “JK” Kim first met in 2017 at a jam session, but felt such a strong musical connection, that they continued to play together and finally in 2019 went to record ‘A Way Out’ – a vibrant modern jazz album, with strong originals, a nod to the past and very strong ensemble play as well as individual performances. Key tracks for me are ‘Rogue’, ‘Piano Rain’ and their version of Kenny Wheelers ‘Nikolette’. A promising debut!!
Alex Bird & The Jazz Mavericks / Whisky Kisses – Alex Bird is a Canadian singer and song writer of immense talent and the new album, his second, confirms that statement. With Ewen Farncombe on piano, Eric West on drums, and Scott Hunter on bass he is performing 11 strong originals, that are jazzy, swinging and fun to listen to. The band is the perfect vehicle for Bird’s vocals, supporting, challenging and pushing him to immaculate performances. ‘Fire Not Warmth’ is a great opener for the record, a groovy little number that immediately gets you into the album. ‘The Way She Moves’ and the title track are other highlights in an overall strong release. I hope Alex will soon have a chance to get to Europe and showcase his talent here – I for sure can’t wait to hear him live!
Allan Harris / Kate’s Soulfood – On his new album, guitarist and singer, song writer Harris pays tribute to Harlem by penning soulful and jazzy portraits of that vibrant neighbourhood. He recorded the album with the help of Arcoiris Sandoval on piano, Nimrod Speaks on bass and Shirazette Tinnin on drums. Also featured is Grégoire Maret on harmonica, David Castañeda on percussion, Curtis Taylor on trumpet, Alex Budman on alto saxophone, Keith Fiddmont on tenor saxophone and Ondre J Pivec on organ, plus guest Tonga Ross-M’au, who plays guitar on ‘Colour Of A Woman Is Blu’. This is Allan Harris at his best – great songs, perfectly performed. Terry Callier springs to my mind as an influence, but Harris is his own man and with ‘Kate’s Soulfood’ he has delivered a masterpiece!! No to be missed!!
Generations Quartet / Invitation – this is a project by saxophonist and educator Dave Liebman, inviting his students Billy Test (piano), Evan Gregor (bass) and Ian Froman (drums), spanning three generations of musicians, to this session of standards. The albums opener, a powerful reading of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Maiden Voyage’, has Liebman in outstanding form on the soprano sax and the band pushing him, urging him on! Other highlights include a wonderful ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, again with Liebman soaring and pianist Test shining his light and the title track, featuring amazing work by Gregor and Froman. The only live recording on the album, the closing track ‘You And The Night And The Music’ again showcases the incredible control Liebman has over his instrument, his inventiveness when improvising and that there is nothing better than an audience to get the best out of a band – the 4 musicians prove here that they are exactly that and not a project for the studio. Outstanding!!!
Dave Restivo / Arancina – Restivo’s third album as a leader was recorded in a trio setting featuring Jim Vivian on bass and Alyssa Falk on drums, plus special guest vocalist Fawn Frtizen on two tracks. The album opens with the 4 part ‘Sicilian Suite’, a swinging visit to Italy, with Restivo’s joyful playing and the excellent support by Vivian and Falk, making these 4 songs the highlights of the album. The compositions are traditional, but not museal, full of energy and emotions. The two tracks with singer Fritzen are wonderful and her performance outstanding! She truly gives life to these songs. Overall a great record which I can happily recommend.
Alan Pasqua / Day Dream – This solo piano recording by veteran pianist Pasqua captures the beauty and quietness of day dreaming perfectly and leads the listener into the depth of the songs. Says Pasqua about the album: “All of the songs that I have chosen have incredible melodies as well as harmonic depth. The performances are really a snapshot in time of my interpretation of the song”. An intimate album, best enjoyed with a glass of wine and eyes closed … Day Dreams will lift you up. Highlights are for me the title track, ‘In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning’, ‘Prelude To A Kiss’ and ‘Turn Out The Stars’. Beautiful!!
Cotatcha Orchestra / BigBand Elektronics – The Cotatcha Orchestra is the brain child of trumpeter Jiří Kotača, whose musical vision was to blend the sound of a full jazz orchestra with electronic music, hence the albums name. He brought together the following musicians to fulfil his dream: Marek Kotača on alto and soprano sax, clarinet; Radek Zapadlo on alto sax, clarinet; Petr Smékal on tenor sax, clarinet; Ivan Podhola on tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Radim Hanousek on baritone sax, bass clarinet; Matthias Zeindlhofer, Jan Galia and Ivan Melin on trombone; Michal Motýl on bass trombone; Ádám Gráf,Jan Kozelek and Jan Přibil on trumpet; Martin Konvička on piano; Peter Korman on double bass and Kamil Slezák on drums, plus guests Lenka Dusilová on vocals (on the fantastic ‘Billy’ Pilgramage’) and Ilja Reijngoud on trombone (on the delightful ‘A Very Old Lady Driving A Ferrari). Seven of the nine compositions are by Martin Konvička, a pianist, composer, and producer of electronic music all in one, giving Kotača the material for the band. This is a fun album, with wonderful arrangements, ambient sounds combined with powerful brass and some delicate soloing by Kotaca and Konvička. A gem!!!!
Armando Anthony ‘Chick’ Corea, who passed away, much too early, on February 9th, aged 79, will always be remembered for being an outstanding pianist and keyboarder, winner of 23 Grammy awards, as well as the man who wrote the song ’Spain’. For me Chick means so much more than this: his music was a big part of the soundtrack of my life ever since my friend Ewald Volk introduced me to ‘Return To Forever’ in 1973. I had heard about him being part of Miles Davis’s group in the late 1960’s, but until then not followed up. The ease with which he switched from straight ahead jazz to fusion and Latin was not heard of before, his compositions outstanding and played by many other musicians throughout his career. For me it was beside RTF the album ‘My Spanish Heart’ and the duo recordings with Herbie Hancock that really touched me. The music with Gary Burton is as well incredible and so are the albums he did with classical musicians like Friedrich Gulda and Nicolas Economou. ‘The Children Songs’ then became one of my favourite Corea albums of all time and not to forget ‘Play’, one the albums he recorded with Bobby McFerrin … In 1992 Chick started Stretch Records for his releases, having them distributed by Concord shortly after that. That’s when I met him for the first time and started to work on his releases via Concord, which had a distribution deal with Universal Music, for whom I did global jazz marketing at the time. We talked a lot about how to utilise his vast catalogue better, as Universal was now holding most of his music and we worked on the marketing of the new recordings, of which the solo piano albums are still my favourites. Chick invited me to the opening of the Blue Note in Milano in 2003 and we discussed the release of a project he had done with Philips Electronics – the surround sound recording of a series of shows at the Blue Note in New York, featuring a lot of special guests. I signed this project on to license from his label for global release and this album, ‘Rendezvous In New York’ feels a bit like a snapshot of Chick’s career, featuring the crème de la crème of improvised music: Bobby McFerrin, Roy Haines, Miroslav Vitous, Christian McBride, Joshua Redman, Terence Blanchard, Gary Burton, John Patitucci, Dave Weckl, Steve Wilson, Avishai Cohen, Jeff Ballard, Tim Garland, Steve Davis, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Eddie Gomez, Steve Gadd and Michael Brecker. What a wonderful recording!!! Whenever possible I saw Chick and his manager Bill Rooney on tour, we had dinners or lunches together or just chatted a bit. Once he did send me a new iPod, the so-called ‘Chickpod’ with a little video message on it … and when I got married in July 2007, he did send a little song, ‘Wulf’s Wedding Song’, from wherever he was at the time on tour … something my wife and I value a lot. That year he released, only in Japan, a box set with 4 different piano trios – simply outstanding! And he followed that up with a trio featuring Christian McBride and Brian Blade – both double albums of this band Trilogy are among the best of his tremendous output. And so is the final album he released, 2019’s ‘The Spanish Heart Band – Antidote’, a powerful reminder of his love for Flamenco, which he has shown many times before while collaborating with guitarist Paco De Lucia. I saw the Spanish heart Band at the 2019 North Sea Jazz Festival and it was one of the best shows of that weekend – and it was the last time I saw Chick as well … he will be missed by many, but never forgotten. R.I.P
So, 2021 it is …. And the first weeks aren’t too promising!!! COVID-19 is still a massive problem around the world with over 2 million victims so far and vaccinating is not up to speed yet, so we’ll have a few more months with restrictions and being careful and responsible. Political horror in the US was making the news and shocked the world, even so it was not that much surprising that Trump had something up his sleeve …. And maybe there is even more to come …. but for now, there is hope with the new president sworn in and active … Global warming let Spain drown in snow and shiver from arctic frost while Scandinavia had relative mild temperatures … I still hope that 2021 will be better, but it will take some more time until we will be able to go out the way we did a year ago or see concerts and festivals …. Or travel to see friends and family … Patience and Responsibility are the words of our times …
The beginning of the year unfortunately as well saw the passing of many great jazz musicians, some of them I had the pleasure to hear live or even meet, or their music was part of my life at some point:
Howard Johnson, the adventurous tuba player and baritone saxophonist, who gave the tuba a renewed place in jazz and whom I met when he recorded and toured with his band Gravity for Verve in 1996/1997, the German office of it to be precise, led at the time by Christian Kellersmann, who as well acted as Executive Producer on the two albums. Outstanding records both of them, with the second album featuring Taj Mahal. The third and last of the Gravity recordings was released in 2017 and in January that year I met Howard again at the Jazz Conference in New York, where below picture was taken.
Pianist Bobby Few was probably more known in Europe than in the US, having lived in Paris since 1969 and toured the region frequently with his own projects, Archie Shepp or Steve Lacy, with whom I had the pleasure hearing Few perform in the early 1980’s. As an exemplary improviser and attentive sideman, he was the perfect companion for adventurous jazz musicians like Shepp or Lacy.
I heard of cellist David Darling first through the amazing 1984 ECM album EOS, recorded with guitarist Terje Rypdal, followed by Darling’s wonderful 1992 solo album Cello and then the outstanding duo and quartet recordings he did with pianist and composer Ketil Bjornstad between 1995 and 2000. The duo albums THE RIVER and EPIGRAPHS are extremely touching and The Sea Quartet recordings powerful and captivating. His final recording, Homage To Kindness from 2019, is a neo classical album featuring some wonderful compositions.
All three musicians will be sorely missed.
And the year started with some great music as well … or better 2019 ended with some great music, as in the reviews below there are as well some late releases from last year – enjoy!
Kjetil Jerve / The Soundtrack Of My Home – The idea behind this solo piano record by young Norwegian Jerve was to give everyone in his current and previous home a song – starting with himself, adding his wife and three kids as well as his parents and two brothers and his cat Sussi, each has a song dedicated to them, expressing “a mood he feels for them”. The compositions are minimalistic throughout, touchingly melodic and perfectly performed. Sometimes sounds from within the house that happened while the recording took place can be heard, they add atmosphere and life to the sounds of the piano. Listening to this music is like looking at a photo album of the family and recalling moments of love and happiness. Highly recommended!
Jonathan Parker /The Remainder – Recorded at Blue House Studio in Maryland, the album features Brooklyn-based saxophonist and composer Parker’s long-standing quintet from his days living in Washington D.C. – Chris Barrick on vibraphone, Max Light on guitar, Eliot Seppa on bass and Abinnet Berhanu on drums. The music is modern, swinging and grooving jazz with space for improvisations, which all members of the group use impressively. Parker has a beautiful sound and is in full command of his instrument. The ensemble play is tight and with respect to Parker’s compositions, which are at the same time accessible and deep. A pleasure to listen to!
MicroCorgi / MicroCosmos – MicroCorgi are pianist Andrew McGowan, guitarist Yuto Kanazawa and drummer Ilya Dynov, and their musical influences range from Japanese Rock, European Jazz, Afro-Beat and New Orleans Brass and it is this mixture that makes their first album unique. The first track ‘Cosmophere’ already lets the listener dive into a soundscape that features a lot of above influences, therefore clarifying that this is a borderless album when it comes to musical genres. Focus tracks for me are: ‘Avocados Every Day’, ‘Alayashiki’ and ‘Utopia’, which are highlighting the perfect group interplay and some wonderful improvising. Would love to see these guys live at one point.
Leon Lee Dorsey / Thank You, Mr. Mabern! – Bass player and producer Dorsey brought legendary soul jazz pianist Harold Mabern to the studio in July 2019 to record a trio album that as well featured Mike Clark, the former Headhunters drummer. Sadly, shortly after this session Mabern passed away, but this album is a welcome reminder of his powerful playing. The opener ‘Rakin’ And Scrapin’’ sets the tone to an outstanding recording of groovy jazz tunes, including ‘Watermelon Man’ and Fats Domino’s ‘I’m Walkin’’. Dorsey and Clarke are a great rhythm section, supporting and pushing Mabern to a wonderful performance. Says Dorsey: “I really just wanted Harold to come in, have a good time and not have to think about anything. We just hit, and it was just a tremendous experience. And I feel like I got the best from him and Mike Clark on this session.” Not to be missed!!
Amanda Tosoff / Earth Voices – On her sixth album, pianist and composer Tosoff uses the voices of seven vocalists to perform poetry by Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Rumi, Pablo Neruda and more over Tosoff’s arrangements of songs by Joni Mitchell, Mike Ross (Soulpepper Theatre), and Yo-Yo Ma’s Goat Rodeo Session project. Her compositions and arrangements are full and rich and are immaculately performed by Kelly Jefferson – Soprano Sax, Allison Au – Alto Sax, Aline Homzy – Violin, Beth Silver – Cello, Jeremy Potts – Viola, Laurence Schaufele – Viola, Alex Goodman – Guitar, Jon Maharaj – Bass and Morgan Childs – Drums, as well as singers Emilie-Claire Barlow, Laila Biali, Michelle Willis, Lydia Persaud, Robin Dann, Felicity Williams, and Alex Samaras. Tosoff’s lyrical piano flows over the strings and horns to sublime effect. To get a feel about this outstanding recording, just listen to the wonderful ‘Oh, Life’! Poetry in sound!!
Composer and saxophonist Matty Stecks (Matthew Steckler) had a busy few month recording and releasing two new projects: in December Matty Stecks & Dead Cat Bounce’ new album ‘Lucky & Live In STL’ and then in January Matty Stecks & Persiflage’s new opus ‘Night Cravings’. Dead Cat Bounce are, beside Stecks, Jared Sims, Felipe Salles, Charlie Kohlhase on saxes, Gary Wicks on bass and Bill Carbone on drums and their music, even so rooted in tradition, is powerful and modern. The brass can surely groove and swing and the compositions are engaging and captivating. Wonderful ensemble play and individual contributions make this an album that is fun to listen to. Check out the tracks ‘Pendulum Sketch’, ‘Elegy’, ‘Hot Peas & Butter’ as well as their wonderful take of ‘Goodbye Porkpie Hat’.
Persiflage, another outlet for Stecks compositions, features Curtis Hasselbring on trombone, Todd Neufeld on guitar, Dave Ambrosio on bass and Satoshi Takeishi on drums & percussion. Their new album ‘Night Cravings’ is a powerful modern jazz record with great tunes, wonderful improvisations by all members (with Stecks’ sax leading the way), tight and gripping ensemble play and space to explore the depths of the compositions together. Check out ‘Bastard Rag’, ‘Night Cravings’, ‘Ant Colony’ and basically all the rest – a record that will play on my stereo for some time to come. Excellent music, both albums!!!!
Marty Elkins & Mike Richmond / ‘Tis Autumn – This, the fifth album by singer Elkins, is a lesson in jazz history in many ways: the repertoire comes from 1926 to 1947, singer Elkins performs these tunes in a traditional, but yet fresh way. Bass player and cellist Richmond is the perfect partner for her, coming from a background that includes stints with Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Roland Kirk, Kenny Wheeler, Michael Brecker and many more, so himself being part of that history and he brings all this experience into a wonderful recording. Simplicity is difficult to achieve, but the two are so perfectly in synch, that one never thinks of the album as just voice and bass – it feels so much fuller. Elkins voice is clear and immaculate, while Richmond gives texture and heartbeat. Touching as well his cello, especially in ‘My Mother’s Eyes’. A record for the quiet times of the day, best consumed with a glass of wine. Stunning!!!
Watched and loved the movie ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ for various reasons – the well told story, the outstanding performances by all, but especially Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman and the music. Branford Marsalis really captured the sound and feel of the time and for all who enjoyed the movie and music as well I can only recommend to listen to the full soundtrack Marsalis recorded for the film. An acoustic feast!!!
Some of you might have seen my recent guest article at the Marlbank blog in the UK and therefore will know some of my favourite albums of 2020 – the complete list in alphabetical order is below – this is from what I have heard throughout the year, as it is impossible to listen to everything … and even then, any list would be subjective in any case … no list of best concerts this year for obvious reasons, but 3 music related books I can recommend. Otherwise, I’ll look forward to 2021 with the hope of a better year and a return to some kind of normality for everyone. Until then, listen to my picks from this year’s releases:
Thana Alexa / ONA – 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 they confirm that Alexa is a jazz singer for our times – a masterful performer and writer, relevant in her messages and statements.
Badi Assad / Around The World – Badi Assad at her best – creating intimate atmospheres and touching moments of musical beauty. ‘Around The World’ is connected to Badi’s first book, released in 2018 and titled ‘Around The World In 80 Artists’, as the covers on the record come from artist from all corners of this world.
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.
Ketil Bjornstad & Guro Kleven Hagen / The Personal Gallery – Bjornstad composed especially for this cooperation with young classical violinist Guro Kleven Hagen and the music is melodic, touching and beautiful. These compositions have a classical background and a jazzy feel and gorgeous little melodies that make the listener smile. The performances by both musicians are outstanding, telling the stories of the pictures in this gallery with emotion and passion.
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 that showcases the trios chamber music qualities, with a bit of blues thrown in.
Julie Campiche / ONKALO – On her first record, Swiss harpist Julie Campiche is creating wonderful soundscapes and spaces for improvisation for her band. 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.
Mino Cinelu & Nils Petter Molvaer / SulaMadiana – Percussionist, guitar player and singer Mino Cinelu and trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer created (with the help of some electronics) a wonderful and captivating musical landscape. “SulaMadiana” combines both artists history and present, culturally, and musically, but with an eye on the tomorrow.
Silvia Perez Cruz, Marco Mezquida / MA Live in Tokyo – The musical communication between the two is stunning, the way pianist Mezquida supports her is sensitive and touching and Perez Cruz’ voice floats over the spare notes and emotionally captivates the audience.
Kurt Elling featuring Danilo Perez / Secrets Are The Best Stories – Elling is at his usual best, it seems there is nothing this man can’t do with his voice … and pianist Danilo Perez is giving colour and power to the proceedings. One album that shouldn’t be missed – lyrically and musically essential for our times.
Bill Frisell / Valentine – This first outing of a new Frisell Trio featuring Thomas Morgan on bass and Rudy Royston on drums is a lesson in musical communication, creative freedom, and sublime individual performances.
Nubia Garcia / Source – Soulful compositions, energetic performances and a modern approach rooted in the tradition, make this a wonderful jazz record, multicultural and rooted in its time, without losing its focus.
James Brandon Lewis & Chad Taylor / Live At Wilisau – This music is full of dynamics, roughness, and beauty, covers it all and is in a category of its own – free as well as structured, melodic, and full of groove. The raw energy of the performance is even on the recording amazing and captivating.
Rob Luft / Life Is The Dancer – Luft’s compositions are strong and captivating, his guitar playing that of a future star on his instruments and his group an ensemble that is completely at home with the leaders writing and way to tell stories.
Jesse Markowitz & various artists / Palladium 2020 – this 22-track tribute to the music of Wayne Shorter is stunning, as each of the performances just enhances the awe one had already for Wayne Shorter as a composer and musical visionary. A tribute album that sits comfortably next to some of Hal Wilner’s productions.
Brad Mehldau / Suite April 2020 – This simply outstanding solo piano recording features 15 tracks, 12 are featured in the ‘Suite April 2020’ and the last three are covers of Neil Young’s ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’, Billy Joel’s ‘New York State Of Mind’ and Jerome Kern’s ‘Look for a Silver Lining’.I am sure that this is an album will be one of the great solo piano recordings of our time.
Wolfgang Muthspiel / Angular Blues – This outstanding trio moves beautifully between subtle swing and groovy little numbers as well as pensive ballads. Muthspiel switching between electric and acoustic guitars makes this album more colourful, his clear and beautiful sound is a pleasure to listen to and the musicianship and communication and understanding between the musicians makes the music deeper and touching.
Kasia Pietrzko / Ephemeral Pleasures – Pianist Kasia Pietrzko is for me one of the most interesting young artists to emerge in Europe. She writes with her Polish and European classical background in mind but gives within songs composition and improvisation equal importance.
Rymden / Space Sailors – Their eclectic mix of electronic and acoustic jazz with prog and psychodelia and shots of rock got tighter, more intense, and powerful. A true European power trio! Not to be missed!
Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah / Axiom – Chief Adjuah is in blistering form and his horn wails, calls, and whispers when necessary. You can hear the past as well the present and future of improvised music, performed by musicians who are listening to each other, reacting, and creating on the spot beauty in sound.
Ellen Andrea Wang / Closeness – The closeness between the musicians is evident right from the start: Jon Fält setting the pace, Wang adding the beat and steadiness and Rob Luft’s guitar is flying over their infectious groove and delivering an outstanding performance.
Ben Sidran / The Ballad of Tommy LiPuma – This book is a lovingly told story of a man who made it in music – a book of stories with artists and managers and it has a great human being at its centre. Sidran found the essence of LiPuma in his writings.
Al Schmitt with Maureen Droney/ Al Schmitt on the Record: The Magic Behind the Music – Schmitt’s book tells stories about his work in the studio with known and unknown acts, but first of all it is a study of how he works, how he sets up the studio for a recording. Interesting and captivating
Chema Garcia Martinez / Tocar La Vida – This Spanish language book is a collection of articles and other writings by journalist Garcia Martinez, giving evidence what it means to ‘Play The Life’. Chema is a jazzman who writes with passion, insight, understanding and honesty. A wonderful and educating read.
There is music for every occasion and the festive season is no exception. Every year new holiday recordings are added to the vast catalogue of wonderful albums for Christmas and every year we can go back to our old favourites. I will below introduce you to 12 of Christmas and Winter albums I love to listen to – 4 classics, for from recent years and 4 new ones. Enjoy!
Ella Fitzgerald / Wishes You a Swinging Christmas … is exactly what it says to be: a wonderful and swinging affair, a jazzy Christmas album from 1960 with incredible performances by Ella and the Frank DeVol Orchestra.
The Singers Unlimited / Christmas … a record from 1972 that is showcasing the incredible vocal skills of this group. Great arrangements, partly swinging, partly contemplative and excellent singing by Gene Puerling, Bonnie Herman, Don Shelton and Len Dresslar make this a festive hit.
The Swingle Singers / Christmastime (Noel Sans Passeport) …. One of the best vocal groups of their time and their take on Christmas – the tracks are usually medleys and are covering songs in various languages from around the world. Originally released in 1968, this is still outstanding and beautiful.
Spike Jones / Let’s Sing A Song Of Christmas … if you like your Christmas party to have the songs, but done differently – this one is for you! Jones’s sense of humour is incredible and the album makes you smile from the start (All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth) to the end. Musically impressive and fun.
Sting / If On A Winters Night …. A mix of traditional, classical and own songs, wonderful arranged by Robert Sadin, make this album the perfect record for the cold season, as it warms your heart.
Saxofour / Reindeer Games …. Reindeer Games (2002) is already the second album with Christmas material from the Austrian saxophone quartet featuring Klaus Dickbauer, Christian Maurer, Florian Bramboeck and Wolfgang Puschnig. Collective and individual play is outstanding and so are the arrangements. Instrumental joy!
Bugge Wesseltoft / It’s Snowing On My Piano …. Almost a classic already in Germany and Scandinavia, this 1997 solo piano album is hitting the charts every year – and deservedly so, as Bugge gives us beauty in sound. A perfect present.
Kurt Elling / The Beautiful Day …. As with everything Mr. Elling does, this is an album of touching quality and immaculate vocal performances. Released in 2016 it has become one of my all-time favourite seasonal recordings. Don’t miss this one!
The new ones
Rebekka Bakken / Winter Nights … traditional and modern Christmas songs, mixed with a handful of great originals for the season and as usual outstanding vocals by Rebekka, make this album a more than welcome addition to my collection. Just check out her own ‘Angels Never Sleep’ and her stunning version of ‘Last Christmas’.
Simone Kopmajer / Christmas … Austrian singer Kopmajer invited a few friends to record this traditional jazzy seasonal album and they obviously had fun recording, as the result is uplifting and charming. Check out especially ‘The Christmas Song’ featuring Allan Harris.
Jamie Cullum / The Pianoman At Christmas … Jamie Cullum, singer and pianist, came up with 10 new songs for the season … with big band and all bells ringing, these are great tunes that will enlighten your holidays. Love it!!!
Lauren Henderson / Classic Christmas … this stylish and deeply touching EP was recorded with pianists Issac Wilson and Sullivan Fortner, bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Allan Mednard and the included 4 songs is all you need to get into the festive spirit.