Rebekka Bakken–The Art Of How To Sing

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I hadn’t seen Rebekka live for quite a while until yesterday’s concert at the Conde Duque in Madrid and I was truly surprised having forgotten how great a performer and songwriter she is. Rebekka performed with a quartet she hadn’t played with for about 2 years, but still the musicians Børge Pedersen – Øverleir (guitar), Rune Arnesen (drums) and Lars Danielsson (bass) seemingly enjoyed the evening and playing together again. Arnesen, known for his works with Nils Petter Molvaer among others, is a drummer for all emotions, Pedersen- Øverleir a guitarist who can play anything and rocks amazingly when needed, all given a steady and intelligent heartbeat by Danish bass player Lars Danielsson – and Rebekka is holding all this together with her amazing voice and confident stage performance. She played mainly her own songs, as her latest record of Tom Waits tunes is a Big Band album, but she still performed three powerful tracks from that recording, including the title track Little Drop Of Poison. The rest came from her other 5 discs, released over the course of 12 years since her amazing first album The Art Of How To Fall (2003) and two very new songs she wrote recently. What is truly incredible is that she jumps from Tom Waits to her own material and from a quiet and touching ballad into a rocker like Powder Room Collapse, reminiscent in groove and power of performance of Janis Joplin, to a hauntingly beautiful Norwegian song; starting alone, then building up with sound created by all musicians and ending in something Pink Floyd would have been proud of. Sometimes starting a song simply accompanying herself on piano, which she is playing very well, then the rest of the band coming in and taking the song where it should go emotionally. With a voice of the quality she has and the control she displays, it is no wonder that she can make you smile or cry or just listen in wonder about what she is able to do with her instrument. Is what she does jazz and is she a jazz singer? Who honestly cares? She is a great singer and songwriter. Period! If you get a chance to see her perform, not matter what band she is playing with, just go – you’ll be amazed about the musical variety presented, which is all part of the artist Rebekka Bakken.

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The Art of Kurt Elling

No doubt, Kurt Elling is the most amazing jazz singer around today, despite Andy Bey, Gregory Porter or Jose James and many others … but Kurt can not only interpret the standards like a only a few, but his way of vocalising soli from known songs and artists is second to none. In the concert at the Auditorium Nacional in Madrid on March 7th he proved again that he is in a class of its own: starting the show with an unaccompanied solo and then moving into Come Fly with me, only to go afterwards straight into the Marc Johnson song he wrote lyrics over the guitar soli of the original, Samurai Cowboy. This is followed by U2’s Where the streets have no name …..a weird mix in any book, but with Kurt Elling it all makes sense, as it is driven by his musical understanding of a song and his very personal interpretation and he is supported on this tour by a group of musicians who share that understanding: Gary Versace on piano and Hammond B3, John McLean on guitar, Clark Sommers on bass and Bryan Carter on drums.

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He then goes into the music of his forthcoming album, Passion World, a collection of love songs from various countries, sung in English, German, Spanish, Polish …. And in Madrid obviously the Spanish one did get a great reception. Where Love Is, a song based on a poem by James Joyce, is a true gem in this collection, of which we only heard a part, but enough to look forward to the release of the album in May/June. And he was testing the waters with some completely new music – using a Jaco Pastorius song this time to write lyrics over the solo – it sounded already great, but will just get better the more this band will play it. A happy and enthusiastic audience was rewarded with 2 encores and left smiling – nothing compares to the art of Kurt Elling!

Enjoying the Fairground

Currently on tour in Europe – the Jeff Ballad Fairground and so I went to see them at the A-Trane club in Berlin. A band that consists of Ballard on drums, Lionel Loueke on guitar, Kevin Hays on keyboards and Reid Anderson on electronics can’t do much wrong and even on their first night out as a band, they sounded amazing: careful sonic explorations with Ballard’s sensitive percussion driving the music forward, little themes popping up and disappearing, searching what this band could sound like. Loueke sometimes adding just sounds to the soundscapes of Hays and especially Anderson, who on occasion adds beats to drive the exploring further into rhythmic territories … with a smiling Ballard following happily. It seemed the band was working from kind of sketch sheets, developing the music while playing and coming up with new ideas, going around unexpected corners. There were some freer elements, which you would expect by musicians of this calibre improvising, but there were great beautiful melodic parts and a wonderful tune sang by Kevin Hays.

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Jeff Ballard’s Fairground are still touring Europe until the end of the month … and I am sure the shows will get even better than the already amazing first gig was. Go for your ride on the Fairground – no regrets guaranteed!!

ECHO Jazz 2015: OKeh Records Nominations

All of us at OKeh Records are very proud to inform you that seven of our Jazz artists have been nominated for the most important German music award: ECHO Jazz 2015. The winner will be announced at the award ceremony on May 28th in Hamburg.
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Here are our nominees:

Singer International
Somi – The Lagos Music Salon

Instrumentalist / International Saxophon / Woodwinds
Branford Marsalis – In My Solitude: Live in Concert at Grace Cathedral

Instrumentalist / International Drums / Percussion
Jeff Ballard – Time’s Tales

Instrumentalist / International Brass
Theo Croker – Afro Physicist
Nils Petter Molvaer – Switch

Instrumentalist / International Guitar
Bill Frisell – Guitar In The Space Age

Instrumentalist / Special Instruments
Regina Carter (Violine)- Southern Comfort (Masterworks)
For a complete list of nominations, visit echojazz.de.

Made in Spain

Almost 2 years ago I wrote the following in one of my blogs: Went out to see Ariadna Castellanos yesterday – a young and immensely talented pianist, who plays flamenco on the piano, with power and feeling and a lot of fun. The presentation of her debut album ‘Flamenco en Black & White’ at the club Clamores was a great show with several special guests, including singer Sandra Carrasco. As her producer Javier Limon said in the introduction: She is not playing the guitar – she is not a man – she is not a gypsy – but she surely plays Flamenco! Now I saw her again perform, this time at the club Bogui Jazz – she is definitely more confident, more relaxed and so is her music – still deeply rooted in Flamenco, she performed solo, just with percussion and in a trio, adding a sax to the mix. When I saw her 2 years ago I could hear her classical training in the way she played and improvised … that is not the case anymore, she has surely matured and her embellished improvisations on the flamenco themes and rhythms show her progress clearly. The moments with the percussionist were interesting as some understanding was there, but the trio hadn’t obviously played together before and one could hear that – still good, but they will need a few more gigs under their belts to make it great and easier flowing. I hope I won’t take another 2 years to hear her again, as she is worth seeing develop.

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Josemi Carmona is one of my favourite guitar players here in Spain – versatile and always open for something new. Being the ‘young one’ in million selling group Ketama, he got the openness to music from his father, Pepe Habichuela, with whom he played with Dave Holland for a while. Then he started his connection with keyboard master Bugge Wesseltoft, being a member of his group OK World and performing with him around the world. He is making himself a name as composer and producer as well and last week performed in Madrid with a trio that included percussionist Bandolero and leading Spanish bass player Javier Colina – all three masters of their instruments and they had played together before, backing up Jorge Pardo. The repertoire was very much on the Latin side: from jazzy Flamencos to Mexican composers (Consuela Velazquez among them) and Antonio Carlos Jobim … all done with great style and arrangements which gave the musicians room to play around, improvise and generally having a good time in each other’s company. The all-acoustic setting of the small room helped to create an intimate atmosphere and the musicians showcased their skills in the service of the songs … listening to each other, supporting the soli with subtle chords and rhythms. If these guys are going to play more often together, this trio could be really something else. Let’s just hope they do.

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Paula Grande

Club La Fidula, Madrid, January 29th. The young woman steps on the stage and welcomes the twenty something people in the audience … then starts putting some vocal snippets into her loop machine … a second layer, creating a beautiful groove and then starting to sing on top of these loops … constructing captivating atmospheres and showing what a great singer she is. Originals, standards (like a great version of Nat King Cole’s Calypso Blues) and covers …in English or Spanish or Catalan … she makes it all her own, doesn’t seem to be bothered by limits and genres, enjoying the moment of music making and sharing this joy with the audience.

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I saw Paula Grande for the first time at the Montreux Academy in October last year and was impressed by the few songs she did there in a kind of jam situation – she had been in the Montreux Vocal competition and then invited to the Academy to meet other musicians and hear and learn about all aspects of the music business. As she lives in Barcelona, she told when she would be in Madrid and I was glad to go out and see her perform … as she showcased her amazing talent in different ways … as described above just being her own band, creating the rhythms and patterns to walk on and perform solo, or with some friends she invited to the club in Madrid to perform with her – first a guitarist who sang with her, than a female vocalist together with a sax player, who opened up her music and added some gorgeous lines on his instrument and last, but not least, a young rapper who improvised his lyrics on top of her vocal loops with great feel and power… and she answered him in an improvised rap, which was pretty impressive as well.

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Overall a big surprise, as she kept all the various sounds and musicians together by being herself, giving them space and direction, but always staying in control of the song and where she wanted it to go. Paula is now working on her first album and I am sure it will surprise a lot of people in a positive way. A singer who is at home in jazz and many other genres and who seems to find her own voice, combining all the genres she feels at home with into one unique sound. One to watch for the future. Nomen est omen!

A quick update on OKeh Records and what we are working on:

Okeh BLACK

· Sachal – his first OKeh album, Slow Motion Miracles will be out in March, the single No More Tears in late February with a cool video. Sachal, whose previous releases appeared under Sachal Vasandani, recorded this album with Michael Leonhart and it is a more modern affair than anything he has done before. On the OKeh-Records soundcloud you can hear some snippets already. https://soundcloud.com/okeh-records/sets/sachal-slowmotionmiracles

· David Sanborn recorded a new record with producer and bass player Marcus Miller, with whom in the past he had worked very successfully. Time And The River as well features special guest appearances by Randy Crawford and Larry Braggs, the voice of Tower of Power.

· Silje Nergaard has delivered her album for a March release entitled Chain of Days. The album features a new song she sings together with Kurt Elling – absolutely amazing. Watch out for that one.

· Grammy winner Irvin Mayfield and his New Orleans Jazz Orchestra invited none other than Dee Dee Bridgewater to record with them and the result, Dee Dee Feathers, is a great New Orleans groove record with some incredible performances – check out your local gig guide, they will be around from May onwards!

· James Brandon Lewis is ready to go into the studio for this second OKeh album, this time featuring bass legend Jamaaladeen Tacuma and drummer Rudy Royston, plus a DJ and a rapper, as the recording will be a tribute to the early days of hip hop, but done in James very unique way …. You can be part of making the record happen and pre-order your copy here http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/jamesbrandonlewis?utm_campaign=project10188&utm_medium=email&utm_source=pledgemusic

· The sound track to the music documentary Playing Lecuona, which features Michel Camilo, Chucho Valdes and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, plus special guests, will be ready as well for a spring release – some great music here to check out.

That’s it more or less for the first half of the year. Keeps me busy !

Jazz Connect, Winter Jazz and more:

Just got back from New York where I attended the Jazz Connect Conference, which for the first time was not part of APAP, but running independently for two days of panels, discussions and speeches at Saint Peter’s Church. Interesting aspects of all parts of the jazz world being discussed and presented by some of the key artists of the genre and people in the business. I did conduct the panel on Canada and together with my panellists singer Kellylee Evans; Jean-Pierre Leduc (Lunched Management & Booking); Ross Porter (JAZZFM91) and Jim West (Justin Time Records/Wild West Artist Management) we informed the audience of the situation in Canada’s jazz market. Very interesting. Just walking around the venue of the event after the panel was quite amazing with so many familiar faces and great artists being around, talking, doing interviews and generally having a good exchange on topics of jazz.

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Great that the annual Winter Jazz Festival is always at the same time, so there is a lot to see and hear whenever I come for the conference – because of a bunch of meetings this year I had to be selective and went out on the 10th to see Taylor Eigsti’s Free Agency featuring Gretchen Parlato, Becca Stevens and Alan Hampton on vocals, Eric Harland on drums, Harish Ragavan on bass and James Francies on more keyboards. A very sophisticated vocal project with beautiful written harmonies for the singers. Sometimes reminding me of Carla Bley’s Escalator .. and at other times of Grace, the John Donne project by Ketil Bjornstad, but overall it is very much it’s own music. Once they have performed that project a few more times it is going to be even more amazing. Taylor is not only a pianist/keyboarder of incredible talent, but a songwriter and arranger worth checking out.

After that I walked in freezing temperatures from the Subculture to 55Bar to see Nir Felder and his band performing in a full house. Nir is a truly gifted young guitar player with a good ear for a tune and his compositions are part rock, pop and jazz and are appealing and catchy, but musically full of surprises and deepness. Could have listened all night, instead of two intensive sets only ….

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The next day, after having a great lunch with Theo Croker, James Brandon Lewis and Somi I went in the evening to see Sachal (Vasandani) perform his new music at the Rockwood Music Hall. Unfortunately the singer who was on stage before didn’t know when to stop, so everyone had to wait outside in the cold …. But once inside and immediately after he started, that was forgotten …. Sachal sang the new tunes perfectly, with fitting movements (on a small stage) and a very good band behind him, featuring Taylor Eigsti on one of the keyboards. Songs like No More Tears and Cover The Water came across extremely well and the rest of the new songs simply caught everyone’s ear – the band will need to play the material a bit more often to get the best out of the songs, but that is normal. And hopefully in the future he will have his own sound engineer, as too much bass reduced the listening pleasure a bit. But the evening was all about him and the new songs and he fully delivered in terms of vocal performance and song writing. Slow Motion Miracles will surprise a lot of people …. in a positive way!

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As Sachal started late and we had a drink together after the show, I missed Theo Croker’s DVRK FUNK, which I am really sorry about, as I had seen them with Dee Dee Bridgewater in Madrid and was looking forward to hear them playing some new songs live. Maybe soon, as they will tour Europe in spring and summer.