Stacey, Goran and more …

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What is there more to enjoy than a great concert … and I got two last week!!! First Stacey Kent, who brought her working group to Madrid for a show at the Teatro Nuevo Apolo, performing in the small group setting material from her new orchestral album ‘I know I dream’. A tight band, led by husband and composer Jim Tomlinson, who has worked with writer and lyricist Kazuo Ishiguro on various songs, including ‘Bullet Train’, which was performed on the night. Kent seems to move effortless through the songs and sang immaculate – deserving the standing ovation and long queues to sign her records after the show. Wonderful!

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The day after it was a Balkan groove party at the Teatro Circo Price : Goran Bregovic and his ensemble got everyone up and dancing after a few minutes and kept the groove going for almost 2 hours! Mostly performing songs from his latest album ‘Three letters from Sarajevo’ (which features special guests Bebe and Rachid Taha), but as well going into his past hits – like Ederlezi, Bella Ciao and Kalasnjikov – much to the audience’s delight. Great music – great fun!!!!

A few recommandations:

Michel Camilo / Live in London    The first solo live recording by piano great Camilo and a perfect combination of the power play he is known for and his more lyrical side, both showcased impressively on this concert recording. A master at work.

Wolfgang Haffner / King of Spain    Drummer Haffner is in very good company on this tribute to the country he chose to live in – Jan Lundgren on piano, Sebastian Studnitzky on trumpet, Daniel Stelter on guitar, Christopher Dell on vibraphone and Lars Danielsson on bass help to create a beautiful and laid-back atmosphere throughout the album. To be enjoyed with a glass of Rioja wine to make this a perfect experience!

Paolo Vinaccia / Dommedag ifølge Paulus    This CD/DVD set is something truly special: Vinaccia came up with the concept and co-wrote all the music for this touching and emotional concert for drums (Vinaccia), guitar (the amazing Eivind Aarset) and choir (The Norwegian Soloist’s Choir under Grete Pedersen). Be moved by the strength of the music, its emotional content and expression of the love for life. Essential listening!!

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Winter Jazz 2018

New York is always worth a trip, but when Winter Jazz is on and Jazz Congress is in town, even more so! Wednesday, January 10 was the first day of the Jazz Fest with a showcase of new British talent, hosted by Gilles Peterson and featuring Terry Callier-influenced singer, guitar player and composer Oscar Jerome, young trumpet player Yazz Ahmed, who musically sits somewhere between Nils Petter Molvaer and Ibrahim Maalouf, saxophonist Nubya Garcia and last but not least one of saxman Shabaka Hutchings bands, The Comet is Coming – a powerful trio of Sanders-inspired saxophone, electronics and drums. Some amazing talent on display – the first three acts still kind of work in progress and Shabaka showing again his incredible potential – no surprise one of his other bands, Sons of Kemet, have been signed to the new Impulse! label.

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Thursday off to a dinner with Pat Rains, the manager of David Sanborn and the getting back to Le Poisson Rouge, the main venue of the fest – this time just to see Jose James celebrating Bill Withers. This was one great show: Jose took these songs and made them his own, from Lean On Me to Ain’t No Sunshine and Hello Before (featuring the wonderful Jean Baylor) he showed respect to the originals, but put his stamp on these songs as well. Making them modern, cool and a pleasure to listen to in this form. Supported by an exceptional band, featuring pianist Sullivan Fortner, guitarist Brad Allen Williams, Ben Williams on bass and Nate Smith on drums, as well as Markus Strickland as a special guest, the soul and jazz grooves on the music got top treatment and carried James to new heights. A sensational gig, nothing less!!!

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Friday was the first day of the Jazz Marathon and I started at 6 pm at 55 Bar to see Tessa Souter, whose forthcoming new record I listened to already and did enjoy. The gig was just her with bass and guitar and an intimate affair, perfect to support her voice. The new songs sounded good live as well and I thoroughly enjoyed that set. Next for me was David Sanborn at B B King’s – with his new jazz band Sanborn seems to be rejuvenated and full of energy: even so, the band isn’t that new, as I saw them late 2016 already and they performed more or less the same repertoire – 3 compositions by Michael Brecker, some Sanborn classics and other jazz standards – but they seem to be tighter and more powerful … Andy Ezrin on piano, Wycliffe Gordon on trombone, Ben Williams on bass and Billy Kilson on drums have develop into a group that is starting to have its own sound. This could be an interesting band to see moving forward in the coming months. Powerful jazz!! As I was hanging at Dave’s gig and enjoyed it so much that I didn’t leave in time for my next gig, I simply missed James Brandon Lewis, the young sax player I worked with the last few years, who is finally getting some recognition and as well now is part of Marc Ribot’s project Songs Of Resistance. Next time ….

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The Jazz Marathon continued on Saturday, but my first showcase was at 11:30 pm and was by The Baylor Project, whose self-released debut album garnered 2 Grammy nominations …the group of singer Jean Baylor and drummer husband Marcus are blending Soul, R&B and jazz in a perfect way, carried by Jean’s incredible vocal skills. A Saturday morning can’t start better than this mix of gospel, jazz and deep musical expression. Great! The first show of the evening was the Theo Croker Big Brother Big Band – combining his usual working band with some of New York’s most amazing talents, Croker lead a big band only for the second time and surprised the capacity audience in the Poisson Rouge with a mix of standards and own compositions. Opening the show with Moten Swing, Milestones and Bobby Timmons Moanin’ in the arrangement by Quincy Jones, was his way to pay his dues to the great composers and arrangers in the jazz history and the big band played these arrangements with fa ire and passion that made the young audience jump!!Theo Croker successfully combining the past and presence of jazz!! He surely is one to watch!!!

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Next up were Norwegian neo-soul band ROHEY at the Nublu – a packed venue seems to have turned into a music business meeting: at least 3 label representatives, managers, artist and media were gathered to see the US debut of one of Europe’s most acclaimed new groups and Rohey Taalah on vocals, Ivan Blomqvist on keys, Kristian Jacobsen on bass and Henrik Lodoen on drums delivered big way! As much as I like the album, this show was simply impressive: powerful vocals over grooving synth sounds and danceable rhythms got the audience going beginning to end. Not only a very strong US debut, but already one gig to be remembered for a while in the young new year.

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Last, but not least I was on my way to see my old friend Jamaaladeen Tacuma, whose project Brotherzone ended the festival for me – with a musical, political and social relevant show. Powerful grooves over spoken words from Wadud Ahmad and Abiodun Oyewole (of The Last Poets). A perfect ending to my Winter Jazz Fest.

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Sunday morning – on my way to a brunch meeting and sitting tired, but happy in the Metro when the door opens and 5 gentlemen come in and start singing a simply wonderful vocal arrangement of My Girl …. Smiles all around and we gladly give a few bucks for this … New York is full of music!

Okehlogo.jpg  update:

The first half of 2018 will see a bunch of releases that we are particularly happy and proud about:

Till Brönner & Dieter Ilg  /  Nightfall    Intimate musical conversations by two masters of their instruments! Essential listening!

Camille Bertault  /  Pas de geant    New album by the young French singer with her astonishing vocal acrobatics – produced by Michel Leonhart.

Bill Frisell  /  Music IS     A simply wonderful Frisell solo recording which gets him to the essence of his music. Stunning!

Kurt Elling  /  The Questions      The leading jazz vocalists new release is full of deep music and lyrics that ask the big questions in life! Not to be missed!!

Sly & Robbie + Nils Petter Molvaer  /  NORDUB     Jamaican groove masters Sly & Robbie meet NPM and are creating together a fantastic and accessible new musical world. Get up and dance!

 

2017

As every year, I have a look back on the last 12 months and see a very varied picture: a scary movement to the political right across the globe and a rise of right populism that makes me feel uneasy …. Race and gender discrimination increasing and ‘fake news’ dominating the headlines, as it is not the true story that counts, but how many eyeballs and sales one gets …. The I in the centre and the We in the background …. but thankfully in all of this madness there is still music to give moments of joy and intense emotions. I have been extremely lucky to be able to see over 50 shows in the last 12 months and listen to tons of records as well and what I perceived as the Best of the Best I will list below –

The best gigs of 2017

1 Julian Lage – both shows I attended of him this year – jazzahead and Clamores in Madrid – were simply stunning in terms of musicality, improvisations and emotional content.

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2 Chris Potter – at the Madrid Jazz Festival – a powerful trio performance with the tasteful use of electronics. One of the leading saxophonist of today in truly amazing form.

3 Tigran Hamasyan – a solo piano concert of incredible deepness and beauty.

4 Pepe Habichuela – Pepe @ 60 with the amazing guests Miguel Poveda and Silvia Perez Cruz. A master celebrating his life and music. Simply beyond!

5 Dee Dee Bridgewater – Dee Dee brought her Soul to Madrid and got the audience going!

6 Fred Hersch Trio – sublime piano expressions.

7 Dave Holland Trio – a group performance of the highest level, giving a lesson on the history of improvised music.

8 Michael Leonhart Orchestra – powerful and captivating arrangements and compositions at New York’s Winter Jazz Fest.

9 Michel Camilo & Tomatito – the art of the duo, perfectly set in the Teatro Real in Madrid.

10 John Scofield’s Uberjam – one of the guitar masters of our time – groovy, funky and full of ideas.

Not to forget Lee Ritenour, Bill Frisell and strings, Camilla Meza, Christian Scott, Jose James, Madeleine Peyroux, Becca Stevens, Cristina Branco, Ganavya ……..

 

My favourite records of 2017           (excluding OKeh)

1 Hudson / Hudson – a record that got it all: great compositions and amazing playing that captures the listeners imagination and heart.

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2 various artists / Celebrate Ornette – a wonderful box set celebrating the genius of Ornette Coleman. A must have!

3 Ellen Andrea Wang / Blank Out – a truly special album with new compositions by bass player and singer Wang. Modern and cool!

4 Ron Miles / I am a man – essential and powerful. Miles’ strongest statement so far!

5 Fred Hersch / Open Book – solo piano excursions of the highest level.

6 Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan / Small Town – the beauty of the duo performed to perfection!

7 Café Drechsler / and now …. boogie! – the more than welcome return of the power trio – amazing interplay and improvisations!

8 Silvia Perez Cruz / Vestida de nit – another little master piece by Spain’s best kept secret … Stunning!

9 Rohey / a million things – what a voice, what songs!! One for the future. Check them out!

10 Jef Neve / Spirit Control – Belgium’s piano master with strings and electronics … captivating.

And of course, there have been the OKeh releases I had the pleasure to be involved with – some incredible and globally celebrated music from Dee Dee Bridgewater, Somi, Silje Nergaard, Stacey Kent, Regina Carter and Markus Stockhausen.

Look out for more great recordings from OKeh in 2018!

 

Jazzfest Madrid, part 3 +

Outside the jazz festival there are as well a few interesting gigs in town and Cristina Branco in the Auditorio Nacional was one of them. Cristina is blessed with a voice and a control that is very unique and her place as one of the most impressive Fado singers is undisputed. The repertoire for this incredible show came mainly from her latest album ‘Menina’ and the rest from her extensive catalogue. The simplicity in the instrumentation, just piano, bass and Portuguese guitar, gives her voice focus and musical support, without drowning her in sound. A great artist, with style and taste, in the tradition of the Fado, but as well bringing the music into our times. Marvellous!!

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On the 28th of November then was the show of the Dave Holland Trio, which should have played the Teatro Fernan Gomez and not the Clamores … but sometimes with all the shows going on during the festival, the better room is unfortunately not available… Nevertheless, the Trio, featuring beside Dave guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Obed Calvaire, delivered a show that must count as one of the best of the year: powerful jazz, blues and rock elements mixed to a unique brew that only musicians of this calibre can create! Despite some memorable soloing by Eubanks, this is first of all a group effort and without the different individuals it wouldn’t work the way it does. They include the whole history of jazz somehow, from blues to Miles (especially Tribute to Jack Johnson) plus a bit of the Band of Gypsies … with incredible group interplay and improvisations. Can’t wait until these guys are going to release their album next year!!! Sensational!!!

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Just a day later another highlight of the festival, the solo piano concert of Tigran Hamasyan. I know Tigran and his music since many years and met his first when he was playing in the group of Dhafer Youssef. He has developed a unique voice on the piano and it shows best when working solo – from ‘a fable’, his first solo piano album from 2010 to the new solo recording ‘An Ancient Observer’, he has made various steps into becoming one of the most celebrated composers and performers today and the show in Madrid, in front of a very young audience, just showed that his music doesn’t know borders and attracts an audience that is not necessarily jazz, classical or world music oriented – they come to simply hear great music – and that’s what they got in abundance!

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Another artist who wasn’t part of the festival, but surely worth checking out was China Moses, who performed on Friday, December 1st with her band in the smaller room of the Auditorio Nacional. China’s captivating soul, jazz and R&B mix didn’t really fit into the venue, which is more for acoustic music and therefore the sound wasn’t too good – unfortunately the drums drowned a lot of what else was going on … this only improved a bit after 3 songs … the really good band (featuring Luigi Grasso on sax and keyboards; Joe Armon-Jones on piano and keyboards; Neil Charles on bass and Marijus Aleksa on drums) did their best and China worked hard to get her audience going, which in the end happened and they did sing along and got up and danced … The music of the concert came from China’s latest album ‘Nightintales’, which, as the live show, I can only highly recommend.

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more jazz from Madrid 17

Saxophonist James Carter hasn’t performed in Madrid for a while and as I had been working with him on his Emarcy records, I was looking forward to see him again and with a new project entitled Elektrik Outlet. This new group features keyboarder Gerard Gibbs, who has so effectively played the organ in James’ previous trio, Ralphe Armstrong on bass and Alex White on drums. Wednesdays show was only the second gig of this group, which uses electronic effects to enhance their sounds and grooves, as this is truly a more funk based project that any other James did before. These guys can definitely groove – Carter blowing so hard that at one point he lost the mic on the soprano sax and just stepped closer to the audience and continued to play and we could still hear him well over the infectious bass grooves and drum shots. James has this incredible technical ability and uses it perfectly to fit the songs.. with the grooves of the trio behind him he could showcase his incredible circular breathing and spectacular sax runs …keeping it in the song and pushing his band to further limits … once these guys have played a few more gigs, this is going to be one hot show – it was already great here in Madrid, but I am sure there will be more to come. Not to be missed!!!

The Fred Hersch Trio with Hersch on piano, John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums has been playing together for many years now and have developed an almost telepathic way to communicate while playing together – which makes the music-making look and feel very easy and light, despite the difficulty of the compositions presented here. The majority of these were by Fred Hersch, from which for me the tribute he composed for British pianist John Taylor was the most touching. Like on their last trio album ‘Sunday Night at the Vanguard’, the guys performed Paul McCartneys ‘For No One’ and Monks ‘We See’ perfectly. The Trio’s playing almost feels understated, there is no showing off in any form and maybe because of that the music is so emotional and touching. The solo encore Hersch gave the thankful audience, alone would have been worth attending this show: a beautiful ballad whose emotional content brought tears to the eyes of the people sitting next to me. If music can create such strong emotions, it is at its best.

Saxophonist Melissa Aldana is growing in stature in the jazz world and rightly so: the show with her quartet featuring Sam Harris on piano, Pablo Menares on bass and Craig Weinrib on drums was energetic, intense and a great example in modern jazz improvising, as the group perfectly supported Aldana in her sax excursions with free playing, but always checking what her leader was up to, so musical context could be created. Outstanding her solo intro to ‘I Loves You Porgy’, which then the group performed beautifully. All in all a great show, which could have even been better if the drums wouldn’t have been too much upfront in the mix, making it sometimes hard to hear the exciting piano runs by Sam Harris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that’s what I call a power trio: Chris Potter on saxes, sounds, samples, loops and electronics, Reuben Rogers on electric bass and Eric Harland on drums!!Starting their show with an extended version of The Police’s Synchronicity was a statement as such – this is modern jazz and we can take any starting point and then move freely around in the song to express what we want to communicate to our audience! Potter, using electronic and loops to empower his sound and use different colours within each song, played with a seldom heard intensity and bass and drums powered him to further impressive soloing when needed, or simply and sensitively supported his ideas. 5 compositions performed in a show of over 90 minutes …freedom to play around within a song, to go to new places and find new expressions as a group is an important part of this music, which only can be achieved by true masters of their instruments and musicians with an understanding for each other. Potter + Rogers + Harland = an amazing musical adventure of the highest level. Truly stunning music making and another contender for jazz gig of the year!!

JazzMadrid 17

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One of the shows I was looking forward to within the excellent program of this year’s festival was Bill Frisell: Music For Strings. Frisell, in musical partnership with long time collaborators Jenny Scheinman on violin, Eyvind Kang on viola and Hank Roberts on cello, re-visited gems from his own catalogue plus other compositions, notably Burt Bacharach and the theme to the TV show Bonanza, which ended the concert as second encore. The 4 musicians drifted between arrangements that felt more Americana and some like contemporary classical pieces, never forgetting the beauty of the basic melody in each tune. The concert again showed how great Frisell’s compositions are and that they can shine, no matter what instrumentation he decides upon. In this case Scheinman, Kang and Roberts were the perfect partners and created a laid back atmosphere to enjoy this great music. A deserved standing ovation showed the appreciation of Frisell’s art by the audience.

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The concert of John Medeski’s Mad Skillet on Sunday, November 12th, could be described as ‘Sun Ra visits New Orleans’, as the quartet with Medeski on piano and organ, Will Bernard on guitar, Kirk Joseph on tuba and Julian Addison on drums, grooved their way through some impressive originals that the band has recorded for their forthcoming new album, as well as ‘Golden Lady’ by Sun Ra, which completely fitted in with the rest of this psychedelic groove gig. Medeski is a master on the Hammond B3 and the rest of the gang did some great soloing as well were extremely tight as a group. Couldn’t keep my feet still ….. this is going to be one hell of a festival act!!

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After New Orleans, the next gig took me on Tuesday night to Memphis, birth place of the unique singer Dee Dee Bridgewater. Dee Dee brought the Memphis Soulphony with her to perform songs from her new album ‘Memphis…Yes, I am ready’ and did so in style! Dee Dee is probably one of the greatest singers of our time – whether she does Jazz or Soul – it doesn’t matter – she makes the songs her own and delivers without fail. This project is a step back into her teenage years and the music she listened to then, but putting her own stamp on these compositions.  One of the many highlights of the 2 hours show was Pops Staples ‘Why (Am I Treated So Bad)’ with an explanation of the roots of this song and a performance that was full of emotion and power. The band with Farindell Smith on keyboards and organ, Barry Campbell on bass, Charlton Johnson on guitar, Carlos Sargent on drums, Curtis Pulliam on trumpet, Bryant Lockhart on saxes, as well as singers Monet Owens and Shontelle Norman was absolutely incredible and helped Dee Dee to deliver her vocals on the highest level.  Her story telling between the songs was interesting and funny, but maybe for some of the audience, which didn’t understand English, a bit too much. All i9n all one of the best shows of the year – Dee is still on tour with this program for a while – don’t miss it!!!

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fall shows

Comes fall, comes the Jazz Festival season and in Madrid the festival this year started on November 2nd … but just before the festival got under way I went to the concert of the Norwegian World Orchestra, which did perform for 2 days in town. Lead by Javid Afsari Rad this 10 piece orchestra is a reflection of our world: 10 musicians from 4 continents; 8 countries and their cultures mixed into one sound, one idea of expression. Here music shows what politics is missing: communication on a human level, common expression for the love of life and compromise and understanding.  The orchestra on the night I saw featured beside Rad, who plays the santur, saxophonist Trygve Seim, violinists Harpreet Bansal and Sara Ovinge, Andres Maurette O’Brien on viola, Adrian Fiskum Myhr on double bass, Solo Cissokho on cora and vocals, Aissa Tobi on sinter, rabab and vocals, Jai Shankhar on tablas and Habib Meftah Boushehri on percussion. Each musician and instrument contributed to the universal sound and beauty of the music, which had a flow and lightness to it that is difficult to achieve. From duos to the full orchestra playing, the music never stopped to cross borders and engage the listener – global expressions of the highest kind. A flicker of humanity in a crazy world.

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Gilad Hekselman is one of the leading young guitarist around today and his trio with Rick Rosato on bass and Jonathan Pinson on drums, a great band to hear live. Add to that the amazing saxophone of Mark Turner and you are in for a night of great jazz. Hekselman’s compositions are beautiful and clear, as is his playing and his understanding with Turner, who adds some deepness to an already great band. The communication between the sax and the guitar is truly special, as is the support the bass and drums are providing. The musicians seemed to have fun on stage and the audience was enjoying the show as well, as a standing ovation highlighted. Clap Clap was not only the name of one of Gilad’s great compositions performed that night, but as well the sound of the audience after each song.

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I have kind of a soft spot for Becca Stevens: her song writing is simply amazing and her vocal performance in a league of her own. Her show in Madrid, featuring Alicyn Yaffee on bass and backing vocals and Jordan Perlson on drums, featured songs from her album ‘Perfect Animal’ and of course of her latest release ‘Regina’ and again showed what an excellent singer she is – her songs are not easy pop songs, but compositions of fine art and touching and with excellent lyrics. And even when she is performing someone else’s songs (like Stevie Wonder’s Always) it sounds like it is one of hers, she makes in completely her own with her phrasing and arrangement. The audience had a great time listening, sometimes singing along and in the end asking for 2 encores! Becca Stevens is an artist on the rise and deservedly so.

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CD shorts

Kasia Pietrzko / Forthright Stories – still in her early 20s, this young Polish pianist and composer has a lot to offer – cool ideas in her songs and fantastic playing with her trio, as well a beautiful  song with added cello (Zielone Oczy Grafitowe). One to keep an eye on!

Swiss singer Yael Miller released a self-titled 5 song EP, which is definitely worth checking out. Simple and modern in the arrangements, this music doesn’t fit into any genre, but nevertheless is great: well written music with great lyrics and perfectly performed. Check her out. Can’t wait for the first full album of her!

In 1995 Wolfgang Puschnig released the acclaimed album Mixed Metaphors, which just was re-issued. The recording features a singer, a poet and a rapper to perform their vocal skills over groovy and touching jazz composition by the Austrian sax player and features Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass, Questlove on drums, Rick Iannacone and the Andy Manndorff on guitars and Milton Cardona on percussion. The vocal parts are performed by Linda Sharrock, rapper Antoine ‘Bun’ Green and poet Ernst Jandl. A unique album then, the re-issue just shows how timeless this music is.