Winter Jazz 2016

New York is always a good place to visit if someone wants to hear good jazz – but January is special, as people from all over the world come for the Jazz Connect Conference and APAP, as well as Winter Jazz, which has grown to a showcase festival for amazing new and established talent in improvised music. Reason enough for me to go there for many years now and this year was no exception: in short – 2 days of running around a lot, but incredible music and I saw and heard only a small part of what was on offer …

I arrived on Wednesday afternoon and after a long flight all I needed was some cool music and Kurt Elling at Birdland was the one to deliver that. He is always great listening to and never have I heard a dull concert when he performs .. and Birdland was no exception: mostly repertoire from Passion World, his recent album, with the amazing Samurai Cowboy thrown in and a new song in the repertoire by Carla Bley for which he wrote lyrics … impressive.

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The next day meeting from morning to evening … then gladly a dinner with friends and business partners (best combination) and off to the next gig: the new Joshua Redman band at the Jazz Standard. They call themselves Still Dreaming and are a tribute to the group Old And New Dreams, which Dewey Redman founded with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell as a tribute to the music of Ornette Coleman, in the mid 70’s. I was lucky enough to see these original guys perform in the late 70’s and always was a fan of the music of this group – therefore I was pleasantly surprised to see Joshua with Ron Miles, Scott Colley and Brian Blade slipping easily into the spirit of the original band and playing music on an immense level and with deep intensity. Their own compositions as well as songs from Old And New Dreams and of course compositions of Ornette – perfectly done. This quartet is like a re-incarnation of the original, taking the music into today. When they finished their set with Ornette’s Happy House is was simply in jazz heaven … marvellous!!

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January 15th the Festival started with the first day of the jazz marathon … after another day of meetings and a panel at the Jazz Connect Conference I was looking forward to see a few gigs that day – starting with James Brandon Lewis, who performed at the Zinc Bar with his trio featuring Luke Stewart on bass and Warren ‘Trae’ Crudrup on drums. What makes James so special is the intensity of his improvisations and the melodic approach he has. Powerful and imaginative, but within the essence of the songs he performed – mostly from his recent album Days Of FreeMan – especially that nights version of Don Cherry’s Bamako Love was touching and full of rough emotions. A great trio, worth checking out.

Next was Korean singer Youn Sun Nah, who has already made a name in most of Europe, but not yet in the US – as I like her records, but never had seen her perform and I was looking forward to it and it was simply impressive: partly alone, partly with the incredible guitarist Ulf Wakenius, her simple approach to the song material was stunning and effective – from standards to Randy Newman to Korean folk songs – her voice and personality carried the performance – very impressive, very special!

On recommendation of a producer I met at Youn Sun Nah’s gig I went with him and his wife to see a bit of Banda Magda, whom I didn’t know before – lead by singer, accordionist, pianist etc Magda Giannikou (who has performed frequently with Snarky Puppy) their music is a powerful mix of Greek folk music, jazz and Latin influences – very cool!

But I had to leave after a few songs as I wanted to hear young trumpet star Theo Croker performing material from his forthcoming OKeh record Escape Velocity …. Theo’s band DVRK FUNK featuring Kassa Overall on drums, Anthony Ware, saxes; Michael King, keys; Eric Wheeler, bass and Ben Munson on guitar, was on fire – the new songs are great and modern, swing and rock and the new ballad Because of You is simply incredible. The Bitter End was packed – a young and hip crowd did come to check Theo out – and they got something they enjoyed: intense music, great grooves and beautiful melodies – some hot trumpet playing by the leader, who is on the way to become a true star. No problem to hang around until 3 am with music that cool!

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Day 2 of the marathon started with warming up in the afternoon at the Gail Boyd Mgmt. and Karen Kennedy 24Seven Artist Development showcases – young violinist Scott Texier impressed with a beautiful sound and a great performance; Jen Shyu’s performance was deep and powerful, but for me in the wrong place – this is very theatrical in visual and musical terms and the venue just didn’t her justice; Tillery – wow! The trio of Becca Stevens, Gretchen Parlato and Rebecca Martin performed 4 songs from their new and forthcoming album and it was pure magic! Vocal harmonies and beautiful melodies, simplicity with a focus on the voices – touching, emotional and truly special. I hope to see them when come on tour in support of the new album – this is just the best vocal performance of a group in ages!

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Sax player J.D. Allen just did one song with his group – enough to make it clear that he is one of the most talented improvisers around and for me together with James Brandon Lewis the future of this instrument. And finally Somi, who as always did a great show, singing impeccable with great support from her band. She is just such a personality on stage, powerful, but at the same time vulnerable when she is singing about the fate of African women ….the songs of this showcase came all from The Lagos Music Salon, as the new ,material she is working on for her next record is not yet ready to be performed – can’t wait to hear the new songs soon.

Dinner and then off to see Becca Stevens at Rockwood 3 – she brought her band and some special guests – I never have seen her doing her own material, just seen her opening the London Jazz festival with a few songs by other, or with Taylor Eigsti – so this was it – it how good it was ! She is a star in the making – great voice, great performance and great compositions. Beautiful the song she performed with Jakob Collier and perfect the rest!  Loved every minute of it!

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To end these crazy days of amazing music I went to see Julian Lage with his trio featuring Scott Colley on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums = great show. I think Julian is the best of the young guitarist and he proved this again here – amazing playing from all three guys with Julian leading the way with jazz and rock tinged licks, backed up by one of the best rhythm sections around. The many musicians in the venue did enjoy this gig as much as I did – screaming and endless applause showed for it. Julian will be on European tour in March with the Trio album out by then – don’t miss it!

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Now resting to get ready for next year !

Looking back: 2015

As every year following is my personal Best of list in terms of records I heard, concerts I saw, etc. and as every year, it was not easy to pick out of the great amount of good music released or great performances, which I was happy enough to hear and see. In the album section there are no OKeh Records releases, as they would obviously take most of the top spots, as I really like the artists and records I work with.

 

Best Albums:

Tigran Hamasyan                                             Luys I Luso

Hakon Kornstad                                               tenor battle

Brad Mehldau                                                   10 Years Solo Live

Jef Neve                                                              One

Melody Gardot                                                 Currency of Man

John Scofield                                                     Past Presence

Christian McBride Trio                                  Live at the Village Vanguard

Perez Patitucci Blade                                     Children of Light

Cecile McLorin Salvant                                  For One to Love

Robert Glasper                                                 Covered

Kamasi Washington                                       The Epic

Kurt Elling                                                          Passion World

Bugge Wesseltoft                                            Bugge & friends

Eivind Aarset                                                     I.E.

Various                                         Entre 20 Aguas – a la musica de Paco de Lucia

Doran, Stucky, Studer, Tacuma                  Call me Helium

Various                                                                Homage a Eberhard Weber

Chris Potter                                                        Imaginery Cities

Maria Schneider                                              The Thompson Fields

Antonio Lizana                                                 Quimeras de mar

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Best of Live:

Best live act of the year has – again- been Branford Marsalis – I saw him in 2015 a few times: whether it was with the quartet, solo or with the quartet and Kurt Elling, he always manages to draw me in, touch and surprise me and maintains a level of musicianship that is simply astonishing.

Dee Dee Bridgewater, Irvin Mayfield Jr. & The NOJO      Rotterdam and Alicante

Marc Ribot & The Young Philadelphians                               Madrid

Jose James                                                                                         Rotterdam

James Brandon Lewis Trio                                                           Vitoria

John Scofield with Joe Lovano                                                   Madrid

Rebekka Bakken                                                                              Madrid

Gregory Porter                                                                                 Madrid

Taylor Eigsti’s Free Agency                                                        New York

Kurt Elling                                                                               Madrid & New Orleans

Avishai Cohen (tp)                                                                         Madrid

Bugge Wesseltoft, Dan Berglund & Henrik Schwartz      Rotterdam

Christian Mc Bride Trio                                                                Madrid

Ganavya                                                                                              Madrid

Airelle Besson                                                                                  Bremen

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Best of the rest – among the many books I read last year I think that Leonardo Padura’s The Man Who Loved Dogs was the most impressive – a great birthday present from a close friend who seem to know what I may enjoy reading. Some great TV – An honorable woman, True Detective (Season 2), and documentaries about Nina Simone and Amy Winehouse.

Remembering the people in the business I knew whom we lost in 2015 – Ornette Coleman, Bruce Lundvall, Bob Belden and Natalie Cole, whom I met a few times working two of her Verve releases internationally in the early/mid 2000’s. A great lady with a good sense of humor and a very professional attitude. Rest In Peace.

NOLA

New Orleans – a must visit for every jazz fan and finally we made the trip over there … and it turned out to be everything I had imagined … even a little better in terms of music, but more about this later.

The cradle of jazz is still a place full of music – in almost every bar, at the corners of the streets in the French Quarter and of course in the many jazz venues, there are bands playing – and most of them on a pretty high level of musicianship. From big bands to solo performances, the streets and plazas of New Orleans cover it all.

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We made the trip because of the Branford Marsalis Quintet recording a new album there with singer Kurt Elling and did perform at the Snug Harbor club in advance of the recording – they did 4 days, 2 shows each night, to get the new repertoire working. We went to show 3 out of 8 first and the wide spectrum of the repertoire was a real positive surprise, with them performing songs from Nat King Cole to Jobim and Sting. Not all songs were yet ‘there’, but one could hear what the possibilities were …. On show 8, the second one we watched, it all came together and this show was full of promise and excitement for a great recording to be made. On top of a great performance by the quartet (Branford, Joey Calderazzo, Eric Revis and Justin Faulkner) – they started the evening with an amazing rendition of Keith Jarrett’s The Windup, fast and powerful in all soli and interplay – and Kurt’s immaculate singing, especially in Sting’s Practical Arrangement, a beauty of a song, the night came to a unexpected and incredible end with Dee Dee Bridgewater and Irvin Mayfield, as well as Delfeayo Marsalis joining the guys on stage for some amazing music and fun. Something really special was happening in front of our ears and eyes …. magic!

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While walking home that night we passed a wedding procession – swinging and dancing! The city grooves !!

The next few days we explored the amazing city, had a little cruise on a steamboat on the Mississippi, did some tours to learn more about New Orleans and its history, but stayed mostly Riverside and didn’t venture further into the city – too much to discover in a few days!  And we visited the New Orleans Jazz Market, home of Irvin Mayfield’s New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, which was rehearsing for its Christmas shows, with guest Dee Dee Bridgewater. A truly great place with a community program, lots of music and a great hall to perform.

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While being there Irvin mentioned that his drummer Adonis Rose would play his club on Bourbon Street, The Irvin Mayfield Jazz Playhouse, that night – so we decided to spend the last night of our trip with some more music. And music we got! We were there a bit early and sat down on our table having a drink – there were maybe another 10 people in the club. Just as the band started to play Irvin and Dee Dee and her manager/daughter walked in and came to our table – what company to have, which only got better when Joey Calderazzo and his wife joined the group .. and the stage – Dee Dee and Irvin were having fun with Adonis’ band and Joey joined in as well before leaving earlier .. then Branford walked in as well and sat down with us, but didn’t play, as he was at a friend’s house before and didn’t bring his horn. What a night – great company and great music again!!

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We actually did enjoy the food in New Orleans, even so it is a bit on the heavy side – best meal was at Antoine’s – fabulous!!

When leaving even at the airport a band was playing – now I understand the song ‘You don’t know what it means to miss New Orleans’ a little better ….

JazzMadrid15

For me the JazzMadrid15 festival started November 9th with the John Scofield / Joe Lovano Quartet, featuring Ben Street on bass and Bill Stewart on drums. The music they performed came mostly from John Scofield’s latest recording PAST PRESENT and took that very personal album to new heights on stage. Great tracks like Mr. Puffy and the title track were live extremely powerful and intense and the soloing of both main artists was immaculate! Deep musical exchanges of ideas, powerful statements about the artist in their time and their emotions, made this concert a very special one. I am a big fan of Sco and have followed his development with pleasure and still can hear that he is getting better and better …digging deeper into himself to reveal his inner thoughts through his writing and playing.

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Next was Marc Ribot with the Young Philadelphians, which consist of Mary Halvorson on guitar, Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass and Calvin Weston on drums. It was –correctly – described to me before I heard this as 70’s Philly Soul meets Ornette Coleman – and that’s what is was: powerful grooves with free flowing guitar improvisations and cool sounds, created with the help of three local strings, which did extremely well to create the amazing overall sound and power of this music. Marc and Mary were tremendous and inspired and the groove section as you would expect from these legendary guys. Masters at Work, no question and worth checking out their Live in Japan album – great!

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While sitting backstage after the concert we heard the first news of the Paris attacks ….and they got worse by the minute. What a world we are living in! We are suffering with the victims of the attacks in Paris, Beirut and all the other places where people are killed for religion, economics or politics. As tolerant human beings we will stand together to fight any attack on our liberty and freedom.

Let’s go back to music and stay for another moment with the guitar – another album which features bass master Tacuma is CALL ME HELIUM by Doran Stucker Studer Tacuma – and they play the music of Jimi Hendrix. Swiss guitar hero Christy Doran and his team make these songs their own, add modernity and jazz feel to them and just let go ….perfectly done.

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November 15th and it was time to see Kurt Elling again – after some emotional and touching words and a minute of silence for the victims of the attacks in Paris, Kurt opened the evening with La vie en rose, a fitting tribute. He then went through the songs of his latest album Passion World and brought the audience exactly that: a world of passion. His immaculate voice carried these songs, plus a few from earlier recordings, like the amazing Samurai Cowboy from the album THE GATE, into messages of love and harmony and understanding. The storyteller trying to heal the world with his words and emotions. Supported by a great group of musicians – John McLean on guitar, Clark Sommers on bass, Ulysses Owens Jr on drums and new in the team the very talented Stu Mindeman on piano and Hammond B3.

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Something different: tenor battle by Hakon Kornstad. This young Norwegian sax player is a major European talent and has many credits to his name as an instrumentalist – now he is adding singing credits to these .. and how unique that is, one can hear on the new Jazzland album ‘tenor battle’. Having created his own ensemble (including harmonium, harpsichord, double bass and percussion) to play a mix of jazz and classical music, he is the singer as well as the sax player on the record (and live). Compositions from Massenet, Tosti, Strauss etc. are the base for the music and Hakons beautiful tenor voice is impressively soaring over the ensemble. A special, unique and truly exceptional combination of two musical worlds through one musical mind.

Montreux Academy 2

From October 5th to 11th for the second time the Montreux Jazz Artists Foundation, under the leadership of artistic director Stephanie-Aloysia Moretti, organised a week of education for young jazz musicians, who were part of their annual competitions – all in all 10 musicians from the finals of the vocal, guitar and piano competitions gathered in Montreux for an intensive residential arts program.

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As the program of the event states: THE ACADEMY IS AT ONCE A PUBLIC AND A PRIVATE EVENT, AND HAS BEEN DESIGNED TO ENCOURAGE ENCOUNTERS, DISCOVERIES, AND THE TRANSMISSION OF KNOWLEDGE. THE ACADEMY PROVIDES NURTURE AND SUPPORT FOR A NEW GENERATION OF ARTISTS AT A KEY MOMENT IN THEIR MUSICAL CAREERS.

The Montreux Jazz Artists Foundation (MJAF) is committed to stimulating exchanges between generations and cultures, and seized on the challenges confronting young musicians as an area in which it could contribute to its core mission of nurturing the artists of tomorrow as they launch their careers. The participants are already virtuoso performers. However, the Academy will help them find their way in the vast world of music without losing their heads – or their souls – by providing them with a new set of tools as well as unique opportunities for exchanges, performances, and new perspectives. Their program: IMMERSION, MENTORING, AND THE CREATION OF TWO EXCEPTIONAL CONCERTS ALONGSIDE THEIR MENTORS, ALL OF WHOM ARE ESTABLISHED JAZZ ARTISTS. DEVELOPMENT OF PROFESSIONAL CAREER-ENHANCING SKILLS THROUGH WORKSHOPS FROM ACTORS IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS. NIGHTLY THEMATIC JAM SESSIONS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

The Academy is first and foremost an intimate musical experience, both between the artists and as regards the public. For that reason, the MJAF has made it possible for the public to dive deeper into this environment where so much creativity is unleashed. The Academy is proud to offer free events that are open to the public: WORKSHOPS EACH EVENING AND JAM SESSIONS AT FUNKY CLAUDE’S BAR IN MONTREUX

This year’s participants were:

Guitar

Hector Quintana Ferreiro – Cuba    /     Pedro Martins   – Brazil    /   Sebastian Böhlen – Germany

Vocals

Alina Engibaryan – Russia   /   Yumi Ito – Japan/Poland/Switzerland   /   Vuyo Sotashe – South Africa   /   Amiyna Farouque – Sri Lanka

Piano

A Bu – China   /   Yakir Arbib – Israel   /   Krisztian Olah – Hungary

I went to see them on Saturday night performing at the Session in Funky Claude’s Bar and was positively surprised by the quality of what I heard – even so one has to have in mind that the music they performed was not what they might usually do, one could hear the individuality and quality of what they were doing – all three guitar players with great sound and technique, good expression and especially Sebastian with some surprising soli, full of unexpected twists and turns, while at the same time staying with the song. Same for the pianists – all three very good and interesting, but the show when I was there was stolen by a ten minute solo performance from Yakir Arbib – powerful and energetic and full of references and musical statements …. for once the noisy audience stopped talking and listened. The vocalists are more difficult to judge – great control from all of them and they performed the standards on display very well – Alina and Vuyo doing most of the work that night, Yumi sounded great to and so did Amiya when she did a very personal take on Feeling Good – I wonder what they sound like when they do their own material?

Their musical mentors during this week were Yaron Herman, Al Jarreau, Ziv Ravitz, Joe Sanders, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Nils Petter Molvaer. And beside the workshops and the jam sessions (and the final concert) they had lectures concerning matters such as Social Media Today, Composing and Arranging for Films, International Tax Aspects of Music, Branding Yourself and Understand the Music Business, in which I shared the panel with friends from festivals around Europe and TSF radio in Paris. A great panel and discussion which we ended talking through lunch in the garden of the villa where the musicians stayed for the week.

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A great event and I am sure of high value for the musicians who had been invited to participate.

The people’s favourite jazz singer

In times like these, when one could become disillusioned by the clueless behaviour of most global politicians, when right-wing idiots raising their voices and the naive and afraid are listening, it is even more important to have moments of great humanity and these can be found when individuals step over borders and help other human beings or when you go to a concert and experience someone who is painting his emotions on an imaginary canvas – as Gregory Porter did last night at the Nuevo Teatro Alcala in Madrid.

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Porter and his band started the night with one of my favourite of his songs: Painting on Canvas and that’s what he did the rest of the show – painting on an imaginary canvas scenes of our lives today, scenes of horror and sadness, but as well of humanity and love. They went through the repertoire of his 3 albums released so far: Water, Be Good and Liquid Spirit. He is as good a song writer as he is a performer – expressive and powerful,  laying his emotions bare for us, the audience, to take them on and experience what music can do in a positive sense … and when he sings Hey Laura or Musical Genocide or the powerful 1960 What?, he gets us all.

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Then he jumps into a simple but captivating version of Papa was a Rolling Stone … his voice as always impeccable, his singing strong and without fault – pushing the message on a lyrical and emotional level. His great band supports him perfectly and adds some deep jazz moments to the show – especially pianist Chip Crawford and saxophonist Yosuke Sato delivering some impressive solo work. He surely is one of today’s best known jazz singer and deservedly so – an impressive songwriter and even better singer, a great performer and a true character make him standing out and make people listen. Can’t wait to hear his next album … and for the next show when he comes back into town. One of the best gigs of the year so far!

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Some music to check out: Anneli Drecker – rocks & straws. She is one of my favourite singers in Europe – a unique voice and amazing control. Her new album is a collection of hauntingly beautiful compositions by herself with the lyrics being poems by Norwegian Arvid Hanssen, translated into English. The opener Alone is simply amazing, Fisherman’s Blues a great track and so is the title song of the album and the rest is fantastic too. Check it out and relax and let yourself float within the music …GREAT!

Tigran Hamasyan – Luys I Luso. This first ECM release by pianist Tigran is a step in a new direction: he arranged sacred music from Armenia for piano and voices and performs these arrangements with the Yerevan State Chamber Choir under Harutyun Topikyan. The result is incredible! Gorgeous melodies, incredible voices and the added sound of the piano are creating beauty in sound. Tigran is not only a unique pianist and composer, but he is now opening himself up to other ways to express himself  – this is a major step for him to be finally recognised for what the is: a very important artist of our times.

The Lady sings … and Marcus swings…

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Festival International de Jazz in Alicante Friday, July 24th and a full Auditorio is expecting to hear and see Dee Dee Bridgewater, Irvin Mayfield, Jr. and the New Orleans 7 to perform music from their recent release Dee Dee’s Feathers. And like the record they are opening the show with Harry Connick Jr’s One Fine Thing and all musicians are on top form from the first note: Dee is just such an amazing singer, she can do anything, is the best when it comes to scat and extremely sensitive to ballads, as she shows in Come Sunday and the Irvin Mayfield Jr. original C’Est Ici Que Je T’Aime, but can go deep into the blues as she does in St. James Infirmary and groove as needed in Big Chief. Perfectly supported by the band with leader, arranger and trumpeter Irvin Mayfield Jr a class on his own: emotional in What A Wonderful World, powerful in the groovy material and full of surprising ideas with musical depth, firmly rooted in the New Orleans tradition. And the rest: all great players within the ensemble and remarkable when ask to step forward and take the lead …a great duet by trombonist Michael Watson with Dee being one of the many highlights of the show; others come from pianist Viktor Atkins and sax player Ricardo Pascal, all set on the tremendous rhythm work by Jason Weaver on bass and Adonis Rose on drums. A great project with the big band, a great show with the smaller version – they all got new Orleans within themselves and brought a piece of the city to Alicante … and the audience simply loved it, dancing at the end and asking for more … all standing! Great music by the first lady of jazz and the amazing NOJO of Irvin Mayfield, great entertainment as well and fun. What else can we ask for?

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The following day it was up to Marcus Miller to close the festival, that over the course of a week had as well Avery Sunshine, Kenny Garrett, The Bad Plus Joshua Redman and Snarky Puppy performing in the Auditorio. Miller came with a great band of players: Adam Agati on guitar, Alex Han on saxes, Brett Williams on piano, Lee Hogans on trumpet, Louis Cato on drums and Mino Cinelu on percussion. Afrodeezia, Millers latest album provided the core of the material for the show … and it was truly great: amazing bass work by Miller – alone the solo in Papa Was A Rolling Stone would have made any other bass player jealous – incredible work especially by Cato and Cinelu, which laid the grooves and the rest simply walked on them confident and using the space given to them to express themselves by their leader. And the audience danced along with them, getting the requested encore, Blast from his album Free, and left with happy smiles for a late drink or two …. As we did.

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Something totally different: a recommendation of the documentary AMY, about the incredible singer Amy Winehouse. Surely worth to spend two hours on. Sad and tragic and therefore important to see.