B.B, Bruce and Bob R.I.P.

It has been a few tough weeks for the music world – the passing of three influential and important people have left a big void … possibly one not to be filled ever.

B.B. King truly was the King of Blues, defining a genre over 5 decades of music making. I heard him first on an album my father had at home when I was about 10 or 11 – Live at the Regal, which is worth checking out, a gem among the many great recordings B. B. left for us. I am glad I did see him perform as well – a special musician with a unique sound on his instrument, a great performer and someone who never stopped being creative and spontaneous on stage.

Bruce Lundvall might not be known to the general public as such, but he has been an immensely respected and influential music business executive – from Electra Musician to the revamp of the prestigious Blue Note label, he did it all – with a passion and love for the music and their creators, which has been second to none. For me he was kind of a role model in many ways – the passion, the determination, his way in treating artists fairly and honest and the good taste in picking the right artists at the right time and sticking with them … lots to learn there. I met the man a few times and we chatted about music … what else? I recommend to everyone to read his biography, to get some insight into this man’s life and work.

Bob Belden, the immensely talented musician, composer, producer, writer, was a true renaissance man, who, being just 58 years old, passed away much too soon. We had met a few times over the years and the kind spirit he was, we stayed in touch, him sending the occasional track, info what he was working on or an article about one of his projects, deservedly proud about the reviews he got. Just a few months back he had a trip to Iran, on which the NY Times reported – asked in an email how the experience going there was, he just wrote to me: ‘Amazing! Beyond my wildest dreams’. I am glad he could live this dream.

R.I.P.

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International Jazz Day 2015

And what did you do on International Jazz Day? Checking out the live stream from the main event in Paris online, featuring a host of jazz stars including OKeh’s Dee Dee Bridgewater and Dhafer Youssef, or going local and check out what the club in your town had to offer? That’s what we did – Clamores Jazz in Madrid didn’t offer anything specific under the umbrella of International Jazz Day, but used the day to celebrate 25 years of the Spanish jazz magazine Cuadernos De Jazz and to remember its founder Raul Mao, who unfortunately passed away 2 years ago. The magazine has its prominent place in the history of jazz in Spain and is today, as an online edition only, run by Raul’s widow Maria Antonia and still a great source of information for the interested listener and reader.

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After short speeches about Raul and the magazine the music proceedings started with pianist Agusti Fernandez, who performed with the drummer Lucia Martinez. The pianist, who has worked with Evan Parker, Derek Bailey and other musicians of the European avant-garde jazz scene and the young drummer and percussionist Lucia Martinez (Jason Lindner, Alexander von Schlippenbach, etc.) started with powerful improvisations in which Fernandez took the lead and Martinez followed sensibly by listening and watching the pianist and when he let her took the lead, a great improviser showed her skills.

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This opened the appetite for the main course of the evening: the Joachim Kühn Trio featuring alt-saxophonist Ernesto Aurignac und drummer Ramon Lopez, who has played and recorded with Joachim before. Kühn is a European jazz legend, one of Germanys leading musicians in that genre, who has won many awards for his music, but still continues to challenge and is still one of the most exciting and powerful pianists in a freer sense to listen to. And he was one of only very few pianists Ornette Coleman chose to work with and record a beautiful album with and during the night Joachim called two Ornette tunes for the trio to perform – they did so in a very tight and powerful way, Joachim improvisational skills leading the way to open up the compositions, leaving a little melodic touch lingering and still driving with relentless force to new areas within the song. In the end Joachim as well took up his horn and he and Ernesto blew out the night. An impressive and worthy celebration.

jazzahead 2015 – Come:Shine

Bremen’s jazzahead has truly become the most important international jazz meeting of the year, together with Jazz Connect in New York. This year’s edition moved into a bigger hall, therefore giving more space to more exhibitors and guests to meet and talk and listen …. and they came – 929 exhibiting companies and over 3000 industry attendees from 55 countries registered this year. And it worked perfectly – having 2 great venues to showcase talents, the other venue where gigs are played in a 2 minutes walking distance … just great. If they can move the venues for the panel discussion out of the exhibition hall and as well into the hall where the showcases are, that would make sense as well, as the main room is too noisy if you want to hold a panel discussion there …. Just a thought to improve things a bit!

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I arrived on Friday early afternoon and basically ran from one meeting to the other, which was cool in a way, as it is always only a few steps to the next place, but even then you will run into someone unexpectedly and your schedule for the day is messed up pretty quickly …. After dinner I went to see my first live act of jazzahead 2015 – Canadian singer Kellylee Evans, who I had the pleasure to meet (but not hear) at Jazz Connect earlier in the year and I did enjoy her show – Kelleylee mixes her jazz with a big portion of Soul and HipHop and is not afraid to improvise or scat over an Eminem song and make that her own. The band she played with didn’t knock me out, but was good enough in this showcase to let her talent and individuality shine – one to watch out for! A beer at the bar with some old friends, chatting and then off to the SACEM Night, which was part of the French focus of jazzahead this year, to see trumpet player Airelle Besson, whose project Prelude, a duo with guitarist Nelson Veras, I adore. Here she premiered her new project: the Airelle Besson Quartet, featuring Isabel Sorling (voc), Benjamin Moussay (p, keyb) and Fabrice Moreau (dr) and it was as impressive in terms of song writing and performance as the first album is. Airelle has a beautiful sound on her instrument and wrote some cool tracks for this bass-less band to perform – great as well singer Isabel Sorling, whose voice mainly adds wordless colours to the music, intensifying the emotions and supporting the overall sound … at one point the group sounded like the Pat Metheny group when he still used a vocalist … impressive!!! The album of this group is expected to be released in the fall of this year – watch this spot – I am sure I will report about it.

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Saturday: meetings and running into Sten Nilsen, my friend from Jazzland Recordings in Oslo, which was a great surprise, as I didn’t know he was coming as well and we both then talked to our ex-colleague Christian Kellersmann, who now runs edel:kultur and through that the MPS label. Fun! First music of the day: Franz von Chossy Quintet, led by the pianist himself and featuring the slightly unusual line-up of clarinet, violin, bass and drums. A few people lately mentioned Franz to me and I can understand why – his music is an eclectic mix of jazz, classical and European folk music, often wandering into Balkan grooves and sounds. I did enjoy the set and will check him out a bit more in the coming months. Next: Come Shine, the Norwegian band fronted by the amazing singer Live Maria Roggen with Erlend Skomsvioll on piano, Sondre Meisfjord on bass and Hakon Mjaset Johansen on drums – a true band with a unique sound and a captivating way of playing with the American Songbook. The opener, a strangely grooving, but slow Caravan was sublime, later their version of Dock of the Bay was so cool and the song the band took their name from, Come Rain Or Come Shine was the icing on the cake with sublime vocals and overall improvisations. The audience loved it and I hope they can get a break in Germany after this – they deserve it!!! As a tip to check them out – most of the repertoire they were playing in Bremen you can find on their latest release RED AND GOLD.

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Later I checked a bit of the Arkady Shilkloper & Vadim Neselovskyi duo – dreamlike sounds and beautiful playing by french and flugel horn player Shilkloper and young pianist Neselovskyi .. and beside a great music statement this was as well a political one: a Russian and a Ukrainian creating beauty together – no problems when it comes to music! Then I was hanging with above mentioned friends, plus a few others and missed the ECM night, which I heard was spectacular and singer Kenny Wesley, who I actually wanted to see, but didn’t know that the venue he was on, was about a 40 minutes cab ride away …..

Good meetings, interesting new people and lots of new talent to check out. See you at jazzahead 2016.

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.