jazz around the world

Despite the problem jazz is facing in terms of how to access new music – as streaming isn’t yet the way for the jazz fan to listen to his/her music and CD shops are disappearing fast around the world – there seems to be a wave of new talent and newly recorded music coming from all corners of the world. I listened to a few of them and will introduce some interesting recordings to my readers this time, as I haven’t seen any live shows lately, simply enjoying the summer in Spain.

Adam Palma “Palm-Istry”. Palma is a virtuoso guitar player from Poland, who is endorsed by Tommy Emmanuel – and rightly so! This is wonderful guitar music on the highest level and Palma’s compositions are beautiful and musically interesting. Amazing his Hendrix medley featuring Little Wing/Hey Joe/The Wind Cries Mary and his version of Django Reinhardt’s Nuages. One for the quiet moments.

Juan Sebastian Trio “Tribute”. Spanish pianist Juan Sebastian Vazques is one of the shining talents of the Spanish jazz scene. Playing solo, with his trio or with his friend Theo Croker, he always makes his statement musically – elegant original compositions by Vazquez are the content of this engaging trio recording. Centre piece is the composition tribute, with its beautiful little melody and Spanish feel to it – the song is on the album in two versions – once as a trio and the second is with Jorge Pardo on flute. Juan Sebastian is definitely worth checking out and to have an eye on for the future….

Café Drechsler “and now…boogie!” Austrian Trio Café Drechsler had disappeared for a few years and now decided to get back together and have some fun: and on ‘boogie’ sax player Ulrich Drechsler, bassist Oliver Steger and drummer AleX Deutsch are having just that! Cool grooves, powerful improvisations and togetherness make this a really outstanding record. Any bet you can’t hold your legs still! Great the rap by FlowinImmO over the groove of ‘Fake News’ or the slowly flowing Silent Pearls, that ends the record. Fascinating!

Ambrose Akinmusire “A Rift In Decorum”. This live recording by trumpet star Akinmusire is the result of a few nights at the Village Vanguard in New York and shows all the amazing abilities of this young musician – song writing, improvising and leading a great group of musicians to play at the top of their game. 2 discs of powerful ensemble play and incredible soli by all members of the band, which, beside Ambrose, are Sam Harris on the piano, Harish Raghavan on bass and Justin Brown on drums. This is ’sit down with a glass of wine and close my eyes’ music as it needs focus and concentration to enjoy the incredible communication between the musicians and their expressions of unity. Deep and rewarding!

Vein “Vein plays Ravel”. Swiss piano trio Vein is slowly building a reputation in Europe and I am sure this new disc will speed this process up a bit … Vein are Michael Arbenz on piano, Thomas Lähns on bass and Florian Arbenz on drums and they have previously released albums with guests like Dave Liebman and Greg Osby and on the Ravel album they got Andy Sheppard as a soloist for ‘Bolero’ (which has some very cool horn arrangements and is of course the centre piece of the album) and Mouvement de Menuet, the rest is trio. Sheppard sounds amazing and fits into their arrangements perfectly. For the many jazz fans who haven’t heard of Vein yet, this one is a good starting point.

Avishai Cohen “Cross My Palm With Silver”. The second ECM album by trumpet player Cohen is the logical sequence to his first outing on the label and highlights his and his group’s abilities to create beautiful and haunting atmospheres and wonderful improvisations. There is fluidity to their performance that is seldom found and as a band they are really tight. Beside Cohen the record features Yonathan Avishai on piano, Barak Mori on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. Excellent.

There’s more to come … I just need to find the time to properly listen to all the music on my desk …. No complains there!!!

update:

Dee Dee Bridgewater will release next month a fabulous R&B based album entitled “Memphis …Yes, I’m Ready” – which is a trip back to her home town and the music she grew up with. Dee Dee pure and simply amazing!

Late August will see the release of the first Okeh album by trumpet player Markus Stockhausen “Far Into The Stars”. Stockhausen and his band Quadrivium creating hauntingly beautiful music of a rare quality. One that should not be missed

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summer sounds

I have written about Madeleine Peyroux many times, as I am a fan of her singing, phrasing and the trio format she lately performs in. This summer open air show was based on her latest release Secular Hymns, as was the last gig I saw of her in the Teatro Fernan Gomez last November. The trio with her on acoustic guitar, Jon Herington on electric guitar and Barak Mori on bass, is even more tight and together and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the concert, as did the audience, despite temperatures of more than 30 degrees Celsius at 9 pm. Beside the songs from Secular Hymns, the trio performed most of her best known covers – as usual paying a tribute to Leonard Cohen, making Randy Newman’s Guilty all her own and entertaining the audience with a song that is a pretended call to Donald Trump … They are tasteful in ballads, swinging when need to and maintain an overall high musical standard and Madeleine’s singing is still full of melodic invention. A great show, nothing less!

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Madeleine was followed on the stage by singer Jose James and his band, featuring James Francies on piano and keyboards, Nate Smith on drums and Josh Hari on bass. I hadn’t seen Jose in a while and it was good to hook up a bit before the show and then he went on and it was pretty cool: strong songs with heavy grooves, plus a few ballads of sheer beauty – this was more the R&B leaning James than the jazzy guy, but nevertheless, this stuff is funky and has its roots in jazz in any case. A great band with an outstanding singer .. in his gorgeous version of Lean On Me he sang immaculate and James Francies played a solo on the e-piano that was reminiscent of Les McCann, but still modern and all his own. There is not much more to say about the qualities of drummer Nate Smith that hasn’t be said and written in other places – he is just a driving force in this music and Josh Hari was the solid anchor they all needed. Jose James favourites like Trouble sounded fresh and powerful and everyone left with a smile after his final encore of Ain’t No Sunshine …. He’s got it all!!

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John Scofield’s Uberjam is one of my favourite of his various projects – having been started in 2002 with their first release, simply called Uberjam, then featuring Avi Bortnick on guitar, Jesse Murphy on bass and Adam Deitch on drums. The record was a surprise as this funky and groovy outfit used samples and electronic on record and stage – something Sco hadn’t really done before to that extent. That first version of the band toured in Europe and I was lucky enough to see them perform – so powerful and full of rhythmic ideas and wild grooves. In 2013 followed Uberjam Deux and Andy Hess replaced Jesse and Louis Cato drummed on some songs and was the drummer on the tour as well – I saw them in Berlin at the jazz festival then and loved every minute of it and now they came to Madrid and this time the drummer was Dennis Chambers! The repertoire was taken from both albums and they gave each song a lot of space to improvise and Bortnick and especially Scofield made the best use of that space with some incredible soli – sitting on top of some astonishing grooves by Chambers and Hess. This funk based, electronically enhanced groove band gives one of the best shows around at the moment – go and move your legs and listen – amazing!

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Once a year the Teatro Real becomes part of a little festival organised by Universal Music, where they present some of the their  top local and international acts in the 1400 seating venue – this year including among others Sting, Zucchero and Michel Camilo and Tomatito. This venue seemed to be the perfect place for them in terms of ambience and sound and style … I have seen the two perform in many different venues, but none of them felt so right for this duo than the Teatro Real. Playing material from all three releases in their Spain Trilogy (Spain, Spain Again, Spain Forever) it was clear right from the start that they had grown even closer musically, to the point that sometime one could only hear one sound – piano and guitar melted into one by being played perfectly together. From Libertango to Charlie Haden’s Our Spanish Love Song, via Eric Satie to Chick Corea or some originals, everything sounded as if composed for this duo. The best of the many shows I have seen by them and a deserved standing ovation after two encores. One of the best gigs of the year so far.

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Yesterday, today

Theo Croker at the Bogui Jazz Club in Madrid: two nights of straight, but modern jazz – old standards played for an audience of our times, by a group of talented young musicians, who understand that there is no today without yesterday and that you can only move the music we call Jazz forward, if you know what happened before you. Young rising trumpet star Theo Croker made his name touring for over a year with Dee Dee Bridgewater as her musical director and arranger and then took his own group out to tour his two OKeh albums in the last years. On a break between gigs with his own band, he took the opportunity to perform a few dates in Spain with his friend and pianist Juan Sebastian Vazquez and his trio, featuring bassist Francisco Manuel Lopez and drummer Daniel Garcia Bruno.

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The Trio started of each of the two sets we saw on July 8th with music from its latest release ‘tribute’, a session worth checking out for composition and performance. After these strong introductions into each set, Theo came on and they played some Miles, Gershwin, Shorter and the title track of the Juan Sebastian Trio album, as well as the Croker composition Meditations, from his Escape Velocity album – all performed to the highest standards, especially from Croker and Vazquez, who showed inspired and melodic improvisation skills. Played acoustic, the Croker tune, on the album in a more modern sound bed, showed what a great composition it is and held its place beside the other great standards the group performed. Celia Krill, a local jazz singer, joined the band for two beautiful songs, one of them you can hear as well on the Trio album by Juan Sebastian.

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The musicians had a lot of fun and Theo obviously enjoyed playing the standards, something he isn’t doing very often, as he usually tours with his own band and their brew of modern and hip jazz, which I can only recommend if anyone get the chance to hear them. Theo Croker is surely an artist for today, having his roots in the music’s past and leading jazz into the future.

Guitar Masters

Summer in Europe – Jazz Festival and main touring season for artists from all around the world – bringing a bunch of great bands to Madrid as well – lots to check out in the coming weeks … first was Lee Ritenour with Dave Grusin and Tom Kennedy on bass and Wesley Ritenour on drums – a rare club concert of two music legends and a master class in elegant guitar playing. And elegant is the right word for Ritenours style of playing – even when he rocks (and did he rock sometimes that night!) it is with style … and a smile on his face, watching his son and Kennedy pushing him into further explosive soli. Keyboarder Grusin is the perfect partner for Ritenour, but as well a great pianist in his own right, which his incredible solo performance over one of his film themes showed – a packed Clamores club as silent as it can be, only to jump at the end into roaring applause. Ritenour is the rare beast of a musician who is at home in all possible styles .. from smooth to swinging jazz, into rock and a touch of Brasil – it all makes sense and comes natural … and elegant! After not having seen Lee for a while it was great to hear Captain Fingers again and catch up a bit between the two shows, one of which had a short live broadcast on local TV station Tele Madrid!!

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The day after Lee, on July 4th, young American guitar player Julian Lage stopped by in the same club and had a sold out show. This time he showcased a new trio, featuring Chris Lightcap on bass and Eric Doob on drums – both great musicians and fitting sidemen for this extremely talented young artist. Personally I think Lage is the best of his generation – he can simply do anything and can add something personal and individual to everything he does – he has an amazing technique, but what he does with it, that makes him special: his flow of ideas is surprising and never ending and his expression one of joy and deep-felt emotions, expressed in a groovy melodic way. The repertoire for this show came from his latest album Arclight and some new compositions, which will be on his next recording, due to be released in February next year. After 2 hours of playing he went to sign some CDs and shared some time with his many fans – a lot of them surely guitar players … the instruments on their backs giving that away! Julian is the outstanding young guitar player for me: for now and tomorrow.

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Meanwhile everyone in the jazz world will have heard about or read about the group HUDSON – the new jazz super group featuring Jack de Johnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski and John Scofield. Usually I am not a fan of superlatives in advance of any music being heard, but here it is actually true – the album HUDSON is an instant classic and has tons of great moments to offer to the listener. This is musicianship on the highest level and I surely hope to get a chance to see these guys live one day, but the record is already amazing – whether it is own compositions or covers – this is just incredible and each musician is showing again and again why they belong to the best on their respective instruments. A beautiful sequenced record with a finale that reminds me a bit of Jim Pepper’s music – powerful and emotional American Indian influences in a song of sheer beauty. My top album of the year so far … and one that will be difficult to beat!

 

a world full of music

Antonio Lizana, saxophonist and singer, just released his new album Oriente, which includes 11 songs of his unique jazz and flamenco mix and he presented 6 of the new songs in a short showcase at the Casa Arabe in Madrid. The evening, held outdoors, included as well painting (live to the music) and food – one specially created tapa for each song of the album. Lizana is a great flamenco singer and jazz sax player and when he improvises he is truly a jazz man and when he sings he is truly flamenco – combining both worlds without losing the strengths of each of them is remarkable and rewarding for the listener. This is the third album by Antonio and musically he is more leaning to Arab influences … but still in Flamenco terms and the jazz idiom. The song Fronteras being a good example of that, and so is Vengo Perdio. All in all a really good album, a great show and some good tapas! What more can one ask for?

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Ganavya is not only are very charming and bright young woman, but as well one amazing singer and she proved that again when performing in Madrid recently with her Spanish band featuring Albert Sanz on piano, Pablo Martin Caminero on bass and Borja Barrueta on drums and on three songs Rajna Swaminathan on a small hand drum! Songs from her forthcoming first album (to be finally released in the fall) made most of the repertoire of the night, but as well some new songs … like a gorgeous version of Blackbird and a touching and intense duo with pianist Sanz on Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman, to which she wrote her own lyrics. Mesmerizing! Whenever you get a chance to hear this young singer .. please don’t miss her … there is some magic happening!!

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Some music I am listening to at the moment: 

Bill Frisell / Thomas Morgan – Small Town

Sublime duo conversations between guitar and bass over themes by Paul Motian, Lee Konitz and others. Each listen is rewarding and leads to more discoveries in their expressions.

The Great Harry Hillman – TILT

This Swiss band featuring Nils Fischer on reeds, David Koch on guitars and effects, Samuel Huwyler on bass and Dominic Mahnig on drums delivers a very cool record with great music and lots of variety – from ambient sounds to hard hitting, grooving jazz, this disc contains it all and it makes sense, as The Great Harry Hillman has its own sound.  A discovery.

Silvia Perez Cruz – Vestida de nit

The new album of Spain’s most exciting current artist is another stepping stone in her career – a great song selection from various composers/writers and some originals to a very touching version of Leonard Cohens Hallelujah, make this record standing out. Her own songs Ai, ai ai and Loca are incredible and so is the rest … can’t stop listening ….an artist the world will discover!

Looking back …. Leon Thomas – Anthology

Just his version of The Creator has a Master Plan on this album is worth listening to  … and the rest is pretty awesome as well … Song for my Father, It’s my life I’m fighting for …. What a control of his voice, what a beautiful sound. Unforgettable when I saw him with Santana in 1973 … always great to listen back and so keep moving forward.

Pianists and other music

Over the last weeks I saw two very different pianists – a young one, still developing and showing great promise and a more experienced and settled one. Let’s start with the young one: Guy Mintus, whom I had meet at the Montreux Academy earlier this year, as he had been in the piano competition final there the year before – a young man of immense talent, who performed a self-booked gig in Madrid and presented some of his own compositions and some standards, solo on the piano, just using the occasional loop to add some clapping or vocal bits to the piano improvisations. His own pieces are full of beautiful little melodies and surprising changes and allow the listener to fall into the music easily – his improvisations on known themes like All Of You are full of ideas and understanding and are going to the essence of the song. He did start occasionally to sing as well, something he is experimenting with since a few months, but for me isn’t half as good as his piano playing – which I believe, with the right focus, will make him a musician to watch out in the future.

 

Luciano Supervielle is an accomplished pianist, keyboarder, who has performed with Jorge Drexler and is a prominent member of Bajofondo (formerly known as Bajofondo Tango Club) and he as well performed solo in Madrid  a few days ago … piano, keyboards, samples, beats and turntables were at his disposal to create partly solo pieces that could be modern classical music – with beautiful melodies and simplicity and partly grooving modern  tracks with cool beats and tasteful selected samples and piano work – even including the powerful Perfume, from the first Bajofondo Tango Club album – a great version that got the audience going!!!The show was truly amazing – his use of all the tools he had always enhanced the song, which was performed perfectly on the great sounding piano in the Café Berlin. Luciano is slowly stepping out of the shadow of Bajofondo and building himself a reputation as a composer and performer.

 

Some new CDs I am listening to at the moment:  I just love what Belgian pianist Jef Neve is doing and his new album Spirit Control is no exception – this time he is using strings and horns to enhance his compositions and is creating hauntingly beautiful and captivating music that defies categories. Freefall is a touching piano/vocal duo recording by singer Anna Lauvergnac and her music partner of many years Claus Raible. Spontaneous captured in the studio, these songs are all about musical communication, understanding and challenging each other within the songs, getting the best out of each musician that way and at the same time bring the standards of these recordings to life. Definitely worth to check out.

Then I am listening as well to  some older CDs – kind of hearing back stuff I like and haven’t heard for a while … Julius Hemphill’s The Hard Blues from his album Reflections … so much power, so much energy and deep musical expressions. That track is just incredible. And as well the Nobuyoshi Ino & Lester Bowie album DUET with the masterful bass/trumpet version of Sting’s Moon Over Bourbon Street – a track I revisit frequently for many years.. and the rest of the album is pretty cool as well.

jazzahead 2017

This year’s event in Bremen was the 12th edition of jazzahead and had the most exhibitors and visitors and, as always, it was good to see old and new friends, having meetings and chats about the state of the jazz business and discuss promising talent and exciting new releases. Jazz industry people from all over the world came to Bremen this year and made it a truly global event. But the showcases were, as every year, the main draw and some of them this time were simply spectacular. After long day of meetings and chats I needed some music and decided to check out Eli Degibri, whom I had met during our panel in New York at Jazz Connect – his quartet of himself on saxes, Tom Oren on Piano, Tamir Shmerling on bass and Eviatar Slivinik on drums ran through some originals showcasing the incredible technique Degibri has. Wonderful his sound on the soprano and powerful his soli on this instrument. Glad I had a chance to check him out.

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After some very interesting dinner conversations at the Karsten Jahnke / Enjoy Jazz dinner on Friday, I had to hear the new project by Marilyn Mazur SHAMANIA. I always liked her compositions and her performance and recordings, since the time I saw her first with Miles Davis. Her 40 minute late night set was pure power – 2 percussionists, drums, piano, bass, vocals and horns make up that all female ensemble – great grooves, really good soli by all musicians and fantastic interplay. It got rhythm and space to improvise, nice little melodies and amazing energy. I just loved it – if anyone wants to check this gig out, go to http://concert.arte.tv/de/marilynmazur-shamania-jazzahead-2017 .

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Saturday was less meetings and more music, starting with German pianist Lorenz Kellhuber, whom I had met at the first Montreux Academy and always wanted to see him live – 30 minutes is never enough if the show is good and his was – a great and inspired trio performance of originals and extended improvisations. A very talented young man indeed, perfectly supported by Arne Huber on bass and Gabriel Hahn on drums.

Next up was Gilad Hekselman, a young guitar player who is making waves in the jazz scene and rightly so – his melodic compositions are timeless and beautiful and his playing ranks with the top on his instrument. The trio with Rick Rosato on bass and Jonathan Pinson on drums is tight and shows great understanding and communication. I am sure this is one musician we will hear a lot from in the coming years.

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Camilla Meza I had heard in New York about 2 years ago – a recommendation by a Spanish friend of mine and I did enjoy her show then, but she really has developed amazingly and her set in Bremen was interestingly diverse with great guitar work by her and some astonishing vocals. Her music is reflecting the two cultures she lives in: her Chilean roots and her New York influence. Effortless she moves between these worlds, sometime expressing them together, sometimes keeping them apart. Her guitar playing is very good and reminds me a bit of George Benson the way she sings along to her soli. Her version of ‘Cucurrucucu Paloma’ was unique and very touching – someone to watch for the future.

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I saved the best for last – the Julian Lage Trio, with Julian on guitar, Jorge Roeder on bass and Eric Doob on drums played a perfect and incredible 40 minute set of Julian’s music from his recent release Arclight and from a forthcoming album, to be released in the fall. Julian is growing musically every year and now is one of the most important young musicians in jazz. His compositions are stylish and accessible, even so the trio’s improvisations leave space to wander and let go. His sound is beautiful and clear and his playing doesn’t leave you asking for more. Not even 30 years old yet and he has become the one guitar player everyone is talking about and he deserves it: he is at home in any musical environment, whether it is duos with Bill Frisell or Nels Cline, the trio format or guesting in Eric Harland’s group. Some of the new songs have a slight Americana feel or influence to them, but overall sound really good, which makes me curious about the new album. Can’t wait to see a full gig in July, when he will be back in Europe and listen to the new album later this year.

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Jazzahead 2017 – for three days Bremen became the jazz centre of the world and showed that, even so the jazz record business is having a tough time, the music is alive and kicking!

For the curious ones: if you want to check out any of the above mentioned shows, just go to https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=jazzahead%21+2017

Enjoy!!!