VOICES

Karen Mok is a Chinese super star – as a singer as well as an actress and has won the Golden Melody Award, which is the Taiwanese equivalent to the Grammy, 3 times. Her 2013 album in English, ‘somewhere I belong’ was one of the last projects I did before leaving Universal Music and one I am particularly proud of, as it is simply a great record by a very good singer. Now her REGARDEZ world-tour brought Karen to Madrid to perform – being the first Chinese artist to do so under her/his name.

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In front of a mainly Chinese crowd of estimated 2500 people, she performed songs from her Mandarin and Cantonese catalogue and the audience sang along with enthusiasm and seemingly enjoying the concert – even not understanding the lyrics, it was clear that these were great songs, perfectly performed by her nine piece band and with immaculate vocals by Karen herself. A fantastic light and video show – stylish and always in support of the music, not overpowering it – made the concert an overall amazing event, a feast for ear and eye. Absolutely great was when she did a song from the album we worked on together – her version of Wicked Game, which without a problem fitted the rest of the program, as well as Cheek To Cheek, which she had recorded a year back with Andrea Bocelli.  Great music can come from any place on earth – no matter what the genre. Karen proved this at this show and with the jazz album I worked on. A true star … and a very nice person on top!

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Friday May 6th the Soul singer and keyboarder Avery Sunshine performed as a duo with her husband, guitarist Dana Johnson, at Clamores in Madrid. Avery isn’t really that much known yet, but I bet this is going to change soon: a voice to die for, a great personality and a fantastic performer with a great sense of humour. She sang mainly repertoire from her two albums – Avery *Sunshine (2010) and The Sun Room (2014) – and a little tribute to Aretha Franklin as well as Maroon 5’s Sunday Morning. And how she sang: powerful and quiet, full of emotions and in total control of her instrument – if you think India.Arie and Hil St. Soul, that’s the kind of quality you get with Avery, telling her own stories through her songs. And got the audience captivated from the first to the last minute, singing along whenever requested. She as well introduced 3 new songs to the small, but enthusiastic audience and especially JUMP sounded great and fresh – the Ice Cream Song was as well really cool and charming and the last of the new ones was like being in Church in a way: a gospel-like showpiece of her voice and an invitation for the audience to participate.

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This was helped and improved by the presence of a choir in the crowd – GOSPEL FACTORY – and at one point Avery asked them out in front of the stage and they sang with her – simply gorgeous!!! She ended the night with ‘You’ve got a friend’ and the audience gave her a well-deserved standing ovation. Watch out for her – Avery will bring sunshine as well to you soon!!!

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Great voices to look out for … there will be a new album by Gregory Porter in late May and I am sure it will be as good as the previous one, judging from the first single, which is already out – Can’t wait to hear the full record. The Branford Marsalis Quartet has teamed up with Kurt Elling for UPWARD SPIRAL, a fantastic album coming out June 10, followed by an European summer festival tour. Paula Grande has finally released her cool first album Viatge Interestellar and is performing the music around Spain at the moment – she will be in Madrid May 19th and I am looking forward to hear her and her band to perform these songs. And there is a new live DVD (her first) by Melody Gardot, which I am going to check out in the coming days.  Great voices – great music!

 

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jazzahead 2016

Jazzahead, the world’s biggest jazz meeting, which this year as well included companies from Asia and Cuba besides the European and American presence the fair already had, stood under the sign of Switzerland this year. And artists from this partner country had a strong presence at the festival  – the opening night on Thursday, April 21 presented  the Colin Vallon Trio, Weird Beard, Christoph Irniger Pilgrim, Elina Duni, Julian Sartorius, Plaistow, Pommelhorse and Luca Sisera Roofer. Most of these performances can now be seen on the jazzahead youtube channel – https://www.youtube.com/user/jazzaheadtradefair/videos

and some of these are definitely worth to check out – saxist Christoph Irniger and his band Pilgrim as well as Pommelhorse the outstanding ones for me, next to the already more established one like Colin Vallon and Elina Durni.

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Beside the focus on the partner country, the festival has 3 more lines of programming: German Jazz Expo, European Jazz Meeting and Overseas Night. I didn’t manage to see any of the German acts (guess in the end I simply had to many meetings scheduled …), went instead to check out some of the Overseas Night acts like Canadian singer Laila Biali (photo above), whose simplistic version of Nature Boy was amazing to listen to and showed her immense talent and voice control, or the Aaron Diehl Trio (photo below), which used dynamics to a great result, keeping the listeners drawn in the music, surprising constantly and communicating on the highest musical level. A real outstanding show!

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Great too was trumpeter Amir Elsaffar and his Two Rivers Ensemble, whose blend of Arabic music and jazz reminded of Dhafer Youssef and Ibrahim Maalouf, but still had something individual to offer,  as well as Kevin Hays’ New Day Trio. Here Hays focused on his piano playing and occasional singing and created a relaxed atmosphere for the trio to dwell in.

The European Jazz meeting opened with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Ole Morten Vagan and it started therefore powerful and bassist Vagan’s compositions got the best out of this remarkable orchestra, featuring as well violinist extraordinaire Ola Kvernberg. Modern Big Band Jazz at its best! A bit annoying was, that while the band played the announced last piece of the show, on the side of the stage some stage-hand held up a sign YOUR TIME IS UP and as they tried to finish the song the sign, a minute or so later, changed to STOP NOW !!! – for a jazz meeting and concert this is slightly out of place, even when a tight schedule of shows needs to be preserved.

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After more meetings on that Saturday I went to see the 20th anniversary celebration concert of the Norwegian Jazzland label at the NDR Sendesaal. I had the pleasure of working with Bugge Wesseltoft and Sten Nilsen, the two forces behind the label,  for many years and I am still a great fan of the music these guys put out every year. Celebrations started with Beady Belle introducing the audience to some new material of her forthcoming record – with Gregory Hutchinson on drums, Bugge Wesseltoft on piano and Ole Marius Sandberg on bass. The new songs are really great and the band performed extremely well – not surprising Bugge ahead of everyone else with some incredible piano work. One album to watch out for!

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Then one of my favourite Jazzland acts took the stage – Hakon Kornstad with his ensemble performing music from his album ‘tenor battle’, which sees his tenor sax battle with his tenor voice … simply incredible!!! He is one of the most interesting young sax players in Europe, studied operatic singing for 3 years and now combines the two worlds he is living in musically to something utterly unique and touching – as the audience in Bremen experienced first-hand – most of them didn’t know what to expect and were moved to tears by the simple beauty of these melodies and Hakons performance and the acoustic sound fitted the venue perfectly – gig of the jazzahead for me!

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Then followed Bugge Weseltoft’s New Conception in Jazz (anniversary edition) and some awesome grooves and improvisations. The new band (Marthe Lea on saxes; Oddrun Lilja Jonsdottir on guitar; Sanskriti Shrestha on table and Siv Ǿyun Kjenstad on drums) did extremely well for only playing their second gig together – supporting the master keyboarder perfectly – this will only get better when they have played a few more gigs – looking forward to hear them again soon.

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The evening ended with a short set by Moksha, a new group on Jazzland Recordings, featuring Jonsdottir and Shrestha plus percussionist Tore Fladjord. A beautiful finale to a very special night! To many more years and to many more great releases from my favourite musical country: Jazzland!

jazzahead is always worth a trip – lots of jazz to be discussed and business to be conducted, but first of all many great shows – and that’s what jazz is all about in the end: live performances that catch our imagination and heart.

It’s a kind of magic …

In a way music surely is magic –out of nothing sounds are created, connected and then give rhythm, melody and, in the best cases, emotions.

The two shows I saw last week, as different as they were, both gave you the performers’ feelings and therefore could touch emotions within the listeners as well. Josemi Carmona, guitarist extraordinaire and Javier Colina, Spanish bass master presented, with the help of percussionist Bandolero, their new album De Cerca. From wonderful originals played as a duo or trio to some tracks with guest vocalist Antonio Montoya or with special guest Jorge Pardo on flute – this was all about beauty and melody.  Josemi can of course do the fast runs on the guitar, but in general he is a flamenco player with a jazz feel that is based in melodic playing with rhythmic undertones – the beautiful version of ‘You and the night and the music’ is an amazing example of that approach. Colina not standing much behind with some of his soli being impressive in terms of ideas and expression and Bandolero has grown into a full flamenco drummer from the cajon player of early – sensitive in his support of the two masters. De Cerca is for sure an album worth listening to and if these guys come by any chance to your home town to perform – don’t miss it!

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A different kind of magician is Dhafer Youssef, the Tunisian oud master and singer, who performed with his band at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris on Thursday, April 7th. The venue (sold out with around 2000 people) was the perfect place for him – carrying his incredible voice in every corner of the hall, giving the audience the Goosebumps …. The band featured the young pianist Isfar Sarabski, Phil Donkin on bass and Ferenc Nemeth drums and long-time collaborator Eivind Aarset on guitar and they performed on an incredible level and supported the voice of Dhafer perfectly – grooving when necessary or supporting melody and ambient sounds when requested. Besides the incredible painter of sounds Aarset, especially new pianist Isfar Sarabski was a bit of a surprise with his almost classical touch in the ballads and his powerful sounds when pushing the rhythm. Beautiful as well in a haunting ballad that Dhafer just performed with him and Phil on bass … here the voice was just riding over the two other instruments in clarity and emotions carrying beauty, which is hard to describe …. Feel it and you will know what I mean. Not many voices can carry so much message without words, can touch by simply expressing emotions – and always ending in a uplifting tone.  If you need a bit of magic in your life, music can provide it and Dhafer is one of the top artists in that respect. The audience in Paris definitely agreed with that and gave him a standing ovation plus asking for 2 encores … after almost 2 hours of music previously. Magic!

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R.I.P Gato Barbieri  –  Magic as well was when ‘El Gato’ took his horn up – the early Impulse Recordings or the Flying Dutchman releases … up to the softer Columbia ones … and not to forget that famous soundtrack … he took Latin Jazz to a new level and audience and I was glad to have seen and heard him in the 70’s – powerful rhythms and improvisation of the highest level. Unforgettable.

A jazzy week

Saturday, March 12 – the jazzy week starts in one of my favourite hangs in Madrid, the Bogui jazz Club and it is my friend Pablo Martin Caminero presenting for the first time music from his forthcoming new album Salto Al Vacio (which means roughly: jump into the unknown) – after being in the studio the week before his trusted sidemen and Pablo were looking forward to present the music live. Ariel Bringuez (sax), Toni Belenguer (tb), Moises P. Sanchez (p), Borja Barrueta (dr) and new member Cepoillo on cajon, jumped right into the new music, which is again a great mixture of flamenco rhythms and jazz phrases, is full of surprising (and musically challenging) changes. Probably some of the best music Pablo composed so far and played on the highest level by these incredible musicians – with Pablo and especially Moises standing out in an excellent group. A sold out Bogui and of course that he will open the 40th edition of the Vitoria Jazz Festival this summer is evidence of Pablo’s growing stature in Spain’s jazz scene today. I can’t wait to lay my fingers on the new album later this year …

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Monday, March 14 – Cecile McLorin Salvant is performing for two sold out nights at the newly refurbished Clamores Club – we were late in getting there and therefore had seats on the side of the stage instead of in front of … but you close your eyes and listen in most cases anyway …. Cecile did a lot of the repertoire from her 2015 album For One To Love, plus a few jazz standards thrown in – she is an incredible singer, with an astonishing technique and amazing control. Her band, Renee Rosnes on piano, Rodney Whittaker on bass and Lewis Nash on drums, was perfect for her – especially Rosnes did some fantastic Soli taking the music to a higher level. McLorin Salvant seemed for me to be better in the standards, more relaxed than in her own songs, which are not on the same level as the standards are. At times I thought that her technique got in the way of expressing deeper feelings, but maybe that was just the room and seeing her from the side … a huge talent in more traditional jazz singing. One to watch out for.

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Thursday, March 17 – I hadn’t see Geri Allen for some time and then I heard that she would play in Madrid and of course I had to see and hear her – and it was everything one could expect from a piano solo concert – sheer beauty in expression, melodic improvisations and adventurous excursions into the inner most places of a song … Detroit, Allen’s hometown, stood in the center of the concert and she was performing songs from composers somehow connected to the city (a bit of Motown thrown in of course) – from Alice Coltrane to Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, Marcus Belgrave, Monk others – a true trip through the city and its music. The repertoire can be heard on her critically acclaimed 2013 Motema album Grand River Crossing – recommended.

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Saturday, March 19 – back to Bogui for a concert of the Eric Revis Trio featuring Kris Davis on piano and John Betsch on drums. Revis, whom I have seen many times with the Branford Marsalis Quartet, takes a slightly freer approach to his music with this trio and explores the essence of the compositions, moving from a beautiful melody to a free improvisation only to go back to the beauty of the song – as if to say: there is more to life than beauty and we need to explore it, as it will lead us back to beauty, but with a different understanding of it. Revis is a great bass player and he showed that not only in his Soli, but as well in the collective trio improvisations and Kris performed with such sensibility and understanding of the music, that all her playing seems to make perfect sense. John Betsch, a historic figure in his own right, played at times with such minimalist use of his drums, but still driving the music forward – he made every hit count …. Outstanding music by a tight-knitted trio. The perfect ending of a great jazz week, which allowed me to listen to three of the most amazing (female) pianists around today and showed again how many ways there are to make great improvised music.

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Welcome friends .. to the show that never ends ….

 

If I remember right, this was the announcement that opened the ELP show I saw in Vienna on May 17th, 1974 and the concert of Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer was one to remember for a long time. And it was of course the title of a live triple album from the same year. I had followed Keith Emerson since his days with The Nice, whose album Five Bridges (1970) was the first LP I ever bought and ELP were one of my all-time favourite bands with their eclectic fusion of rock and classical music.

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Now the show unfortunately did end with the passing of Keith Emerson, whose musical inventiveness and powerful compositions and arrangements of classical pieces will not be forgotten. Neither his great showmanship, with his organ set on fire and treated with knifes, jump upon but always creating amazing and captivating music. Rest In Peace!

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Nana Vasconcelos was probably one of the most amazing percussionists working in improvised music – his own recordings or his contributions to the music of Pat Metheny, Don Cherry, Egberto Gismonti and many others are proof of that – but for me his biggest contribution to jazz and world music came with the group CODONA, featuring Don Cherry and Collin Walcott beside him. They recorded 3 albums for ECM in the years 1979 to 1983 and all three are little masterpieces, with Codona 2 still my favourite. I was lucky to see them perform at the Saalfelden Jazz Festival in Austria in 1981 and it is one of these unforgettable musical moments – magical in many ways, touching my innermost feelings and letting me enjoy music on a different individual level – spiritual and emotional. The death of Collin Walcott in a car crash in Germany in 1984 set an abrupt end to this group, but the recordings are still beauty in sound. Rest in Peace, Nana Vasconcelos.

Take Five Switzerland II +

For the second time PRO HELVETIA sponsored this event, arranged for and run by Serious Productions in London, this time featuring 7 young Swiss jazz musicians plus one young man from South Africa – the event was held, as in the past, at Bore Place, outside of London and lasted a full week.

I arrived on Thursday around midday and had my general session, together with agent and manager Mike Bindraban and concert promoter Jan Ole Otnæs, talking more general how the music business works and how labels, managers, agents and concert promoters (festivals and clubs and other venues) need to work together in the long run to create awareness for new artists and built careers.

After that initial session we had that evening and all of Friday morning for one-to-one discussion, so we could discuss topics individually important to each musician and maybe give advice and guiding.

An interesting change in the program, these face-to-face sessions proved to be extremely valuable and interesting – not only for the musicians (at least I hope that was the case) but as well for me, as it is interesting to get to know these young artists a bit better and, as this is an exchange, to learn something as well.

The participants this year were (plus a listening recommendation):

Julie Campiche – harp /  ORIOXY   Lost Children – GLM Music

Yilian Canizares – violin/vocals / Invocacion – Naïve Rec.

Yeal Miller – vocals / ORIOXY   Lost children – GLM Music

Nils Fischer – sax/cl / The Great Harry Hillmann  Veer Off Course – KLAENG

Joel Graf – sax / pommelHORSE    Winter  Madness – Unit Records

Christoph Irniger – sax / PILGRIM    Italian Circus Story – Intakt Records

Manuel Troller – guit / SCHNELLERTROLLERMEIER   X – Cuneiform Records

And from South Africa

Mandla Mlangeni – tp / Amandla Freedom Ensemble   Bhekisizwe    self released

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A great variety of different approaches and a lot of great music – In case you want to hear some of these guys, and more that Switzerland has to offer, live, come to jazz ahead in Bremen and check them out at the Swiss Night on April 21st – See you there!

For more info on the Take Five initiative, please follow this link:  http://www.serious.org.uk/about/artists/artist-development/take-five

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 !