ECHO Jazz 2015: OKeh Records Nominations

All of us at OKeh Records are very proud to inform you that seven of our Jazz artists have been nominated for the most important German music award: ECHO Jazz 2015. The winner will be announced at the award ceremony on May 28th in Hamburg.
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Here are our nominees:

Singer International
Somi – The Lagos Music Salon

Instrumentalist / International Saxophon / Woodwinds
Branford Marsalis – In My Solitude: Live in Concert at Grace Cathedral

Instrumentalist / International Drums / Percussion
Jeff Ballard – Time’s Tales

Instrumentalist / International Brass
Theo Croker – Afro Physicist
Nils Petter Molvaer – Switch

Instrumentalist / International Guitar
Bill Frisell – Guitar In The Space Age

Instrumentalist / Special Instruments
Regina Carter (Violine)- Southern Comfort (Masterworks)
For a complete list of nominations, visit echojazz.de.

Made in Spain

Almost 2 years ago I wrote the following in one of my blogs: Went out to see Ariadna Castellanos yesterday – a young and immensely talented pianist, who plays flamenco on the piano, with power and feeling and a lot of fun. The presentation of her debut album ‘Flamenco en Black & White’ at the club Clamores was a great show with several special guests, including singer Sandra Carrasco. As her producer Javier Limon said in the introduction: She is not playing the guitar – she is not a man – she is not a gypsy – but she surely plays Flamenco! Now I saw her again perform, this time at the club Bogui Jazz – she is definitely more confident, more relaxed and so is her music – still deeply rooted in Flamenco, she performed solo, just with percussion and in a trio, adding a sax to the mix. When I saw her 2 years ago I could hear her classical training in the way she played and improvised … that is not the case anymore, she has surely matured and her embellished improvisations on the flamenco themes and rhythms show her progress clearly. The moments with the percussionist were interesting as some understanding was there, but the trio hadn’t obviously played together before and one could hear that – still good, but they will need a few more gigs under their belts to make it great and easier flowing. I hope I won’t take another 2 years to hear her again, as she is worth seeing develop.

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Josemi Carmona is one of my favourite guitar players here in Spain – versatile and always open for something new. Being the ‘young one’ in million selling group Ketama, he got the openness to music from his father, Pepe Habichuela, with whom he played with Dave Holland for a while. Then he started his connection with keyboard master Bugge Wesseltoft, being a member of his group OK World and performing with him around the world. He is making himself a name as composer and producer as well and last week performed in Madrid with a trio that included percussionist Bandolero and leading Spanish bass player Javier Colina – all three masters of their instruments and they had played together before, backing up Jorge Pardo. The repertoire was very much on the Latin side: from jazzy Flamencos to Mexican composers (Consuela Velazquez among them) and Antonio Carlos Jobim … all done with great style and arrangements which gave the musicians room to play around, improvise and generally having a good time in each other’s company. The all-acoustic setting of the small room helped to create an intimate atmosphere and the musicians showcased their skills in the service of the songs … listening to each other, supporting the soli with subtle chords and rhythms. If these guys are going to play more often together, this trio could be really something else. Let’s just hope they do.

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Paula Grande

Club La Fidula, Madrid, January 29th. The young woman steps on the stage and welcomes the twenty something people in the audience … then starts putting some vocal snippets into her loop machine … a second layer, creating a beautiful groove and then starting to sing on top of these loops … constructing captivating atmospheres and showing what a great singer she is. Originals, standards (like a great version of Nat King Cole’s Calypso Blues) and covers …in English or Spanish or Catalan … she makes it all her own, doesn’t seem to be bothered by limits and genres, enjoying the moment of music making and sharing this joy with the audience.

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I saw Paula Grande for the first time at the Montreux Academy in October last year and was impressed by the few songs she did there in a kind of jam situation – she had been in the Montreux Vocal competition and then invited to the Academy to meet other musicians and hear and learn about all aspects of the music business. As she lives in Barcelona, she told when she would be in Madrid and I was glad to go out and see her perform … as she showcased her amazing talent in different ways … as described above just being her own band, creating the rhythms and patterns to walk on and perform solo, or with some friends she invited to the club in Madrid to perform with her – first a guitarist who sang with her, than a female vocalist together with a sax player, who opened up her music and added some gorgeous lines on his instrument and last, but not least, a young rapper who improvised his lyrics on top of her vocal loops with great feel and power… and she answered him in an improvised rap, which was pretty impressive as well.

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Overall a big surprise, as she kept all the various sounds and musicians together by being herself, giving them space and direction, but always staying in control of the song and where she wanted it to go. Paula is now working on her first album and I am sure it will surprise a lot of people in a positive way. A singer who is at home in jazz and many other genres and who seems to find her own voice, combining all the genres she feels at home with into one unique sound. One to watch for the future. Nomen est omen!

A quick update on OKeh Records and what we are working on:

Okeh BLACK

· Sachal – his first OKeh album, Slow Motion Miracles will be out in March, the single No More Tears in late February with a cool video. Sachal, whose previous releases appeared under Sachal Vasandani, recorded this album with Michael Leonhart and it is a more modern affair than anything he has done before. On the OKeh-Records soundcloud you can hear some snippets already. https://soundcloud.com/okeh-records/sets/sachal-slowmotionmiracles

· David Sanborn recorded a new record with producer and bass player Marcus Miller, with whom in the past he had worked very successfully. Time And The River as well features special guest appearances by Randy Crawford and Larry Braggs, the voice of Tower of Power.

· Silje Nergaard has delivered her album for a March release entitled Chain of Days. The album features a new song she sings together with Kurt Elling – absolutely amazing. Watch out for that one.

· Grammy winner Irvin Mayfield and his New Orleans Jazz Orchestra invited none other than Dee Dee Bridgewater to record with them and the result, Dee Dee Feathers, is a great New Orleans groove record with some incredible performances – check out your local gig guide, they will be around from May onwards!

· James Brandon Lewis is ready to go into the studio for this second OKeh album, this time featuring bass legend Jamaaladeen Tacuma and drummer Rudy Royston, plus a DJ and a rapper, as the recording will be a tribute to the early days of hip hop, but done in James very unique way …. You can be part of making the record happen and pre-order your copy here http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/jamesbrandonlewis?utm_campaign=project10188&utm_medium=email&utm_source=pledgemusic

· The sound track to the music documentary Playing Lecuona, which features Michel Camilo, Chucho Valdes and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, plus special guests, will be ready as well for a spring release – some great music here to check out.

That’s it more or less for the first half of the year. Keeps me busy !

Jazz Connect, Winter Jazz and more:

Just got back from New York where I attended the Jazz Connect Conference, which for the first time was not part of APAP, but running independently for two days of panels, discussions and speeches at Saint Peter’s Church. Interesting aspects of all parts of the jazz world being discussed and presented by some of the key artists of the genre and people in the business. I did conduct the panel on Canada and together with my panellists singer Kellylee Evans; Jean-Pierre Leduc (Lunched Management & Booking); Ross Porter (JAZZFM91) and Jim West (Justin Time Records/Wild West Artist Management) we informed the audience of the situation in Canada’s jazz market. Very interesting. Just walking around the venue of the event after the panel was quite amazing with so many familiar faces and great artists being around, talking, doing interviews and generally having a good exchange on topics of jazz.

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Great that the annual Winter Jazz Festival is always at the same time, so there is a lot to see and hear whenever I come for the conference – because of a bunch of meetings this year I had to be selective and went out on the 10th to see Taylor Eigsti’s Free Agency featuring Gretchen Parlato, Becca Stevens and Alan Hampton on vocals, Eric Harland on drums, Harish Ragavan on bass and James Francies on more keyboards. A very sophisticated vocal project with beautiful written harmonies for the singers. Sometimes reminding me of Carla Bley’s Escalator .. and at other times of Grace, the John Donne project by Ketil Bjornstad, but overall it is very much it’s own music. Once they have performed that project a few more times it is going to be even more amazing. Taylor is not only a pianist/keyboarder of incredible talent, but a songwriter and arranger worth checking out.

After that I walked in freezing temperatures from the Subculture to 55Bar to see Nir Felder and his band performing in a full house. Nir is a truly gifted young guitar player with a good ear for a tune and his compositions are part rock, pop and jazz and are appealing and catchy, but musically full of surprises and deepness. Could have listened all night, instead of two intensive sets only ….

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The next day, after having a great lunch with Theo Croker, James Brandon Lewis and Somi I went in the evening to see Sachal (Vasandani) perform his new music at the Rockwood Music Hall. Unfortunately the singer who was on stage before didn’t know when to stop, so everyone had to wait outside in the cold …. But once inside and immediately after he started, that was forgotten …. Sachal sang the new tunes perfectly, with fitting movements (on a small stage) and a very good band behind him, featuring Taylor Eigsti on one of the keyboards. Songs like No More Tears and Cover The Water came across extremely well and the rest of the new songs simply caught everyone’s ear – the band will need to play the material a bit more often to get the best out of the songs, but that is normal. And hopefully in the future he will have his own sound engineer, as too much bass reduced the listening pleasure a bit. But the evening was all about him and the new songs and he fully delivered in terms of vocal performance and song writing. Slow Motion Miracles will surprise a lot of people …. in a positive way!

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As Sachal started late and we had a drink together after the show, I missed Theo Croker’s DVRK FUNK, which I am really sorry about, as I had seen them with Dee Dee Bridgewater in Madrid and was looking forward to hear them playing some new songs live. Maybe soon, as they will tour Europe in spring and summer.

2014 – a look back

As the end of 2014 is coming closer, it is time to look back and select some of the highlights of the year in musical terms:

CDs

Of course top of any list I would have to compile would be the records I have been putting out on the OKeh label, as I sign artists and work with them on their recordings because I believe that these artists are special and have something to add to the vast archive of recorded jazz music. In 2014 I released the following recordings:

Jeff Ballard Time’s Tales

Nir Felder Golden Age

James Brandon Lewis Divine Travels

Magos & Limon Dawn

Theo Croker AfroPhysicist

Sonny Rollins Road Shows, Vol. 3

Somi The Lagos Music Salon

Sergio Mendes Magic          Grammy Nominee 2015 !

MSMW Juice

Bill Frisell Guitar in the Space Age

Branford Marsalis In My Solitude – Live at Grace Cathedral

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From all the other great music I heard during the year, the following CDs, in no particular order, stood out:

Bugge Wesseltoft OK World   Jazzland Rec.

Wesseltoft Schwarz Berglund Trialogue   Jazzland Rec.

Ola Kvernberg The Mechanical Fair   Jazzland Rec.

Towner Muthspiel Grygorian Travel Guide   ECM

Jarrett / Haden Last Dance   ECM

Ketil Bjornstad Sunrise   ECM

Chick Corea Portraits   Concord

Jason Moran All Rise   Blue Note

Lars Danielsson Liberetto II   ACT

GoGo Penguin v2.0   Gondwana Records

Silvia Perez Cruz Granada   Universal

Jamie Cullum Interlude   Universal

Paco de Lucia Cancion Andaluza   Universal

Kenny Barron / Dave Holland The Art of Conversation   Impulse/Universal

bushman’s revenge thou shalt boogie!   Rune Grammofon

The Bad Plus The Rite of Spring   Sony Masterworks

Leonard Cohen Popular Problems   Columbia

Antonio Serrano Mahalo   Mahalo Produciones

Niccolo Faraci It came to broadcast the Yucatan   Auand Records

Pablo Martin Caminero O.F.N.I.   Bost

Gretchen Parlato Live in New York   Oblique

Airelle Bresson / Nelson Veras prelude   naïve

J.D. Allen Bloom   Savant

Ron Miles Circle   enja

And so many more, I enjoyed, but can’t mention for space reasons ….

Gigs

The outstanding performer for me this year has been Branford Marsalis – his concert with the quartet in Barcelona was simply something else and then the solo concert in the Kulturkirche Hamburg, proved that he is one of the most innovative improvisers with a great melodic sense.

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The other shows that really got me on an emotional level and did draw me deep into the music performed were:

The OKeh Night at Winter Jazz in New York in January with performances by James Brandon Lewis (whose November show in Madrid was another highlight of the year), Theo Croker, Jeff Ballard with Lionel Loueke and Miguel Zenon, Somi (who as well performed a great show later in the year in Paris), Nir Felder and Craig Handy. A pleasure to watch these young musicians show that they deserve to be recorded and promoted around the globe.

North Sea Jazz Festival – with outstanding performances by Dave Holland’s Prism, Nir Felder, John Scofield’s Uberjam Band and Sachal Vasandani. A festival full of great music – 3 exhausting days, but heaven for a true jazzman.

Madrid Jazz Festival – a series of great concerts in a relatively small venue – with a fantastic atmosphere when the show is good – and Dee Dee Bridewater featuring The Croker’s DVRK FUNK as a backing band was just incredible – powerful support for the greatest jazz singer of our time from her protégée Theo and his band. Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood performed music from their album Juice and did groove as there was no tomorrow …and the James Brandon Lewis Trio delivered a night of free flowing melodic improvisation on the highest level.

Twice I saw this year Pablo Martin Caminero performing his new album O.F.N.I. – Flamenco/Jazz as good as it gets, live and on record.

The Brad Mehldau Trio at the Teatro Lara in Madrid – still one of the tightest and best jazz combos around.

Jef Neve solo at the jazzahead in Bremen – impressive jazz compositions based in European classical music. Sensational.

Madeleine Peyroux at Ronnie Scott’s – just her on acoustic guitar with bass and electric guitar – the format her voice gets the best support and she seem to enjoy the most. Sublime.

Michel Camilo solo at the Blue Note in New York performing music from his Latin Grammy Award winning album What’s UP? A true master.

Ola Kvernberg with his trio and special guests Pablo Martin, Josemi Carmona, Enriquito and Bandolero at the Off The La Latina club in Madrid – musical exchange between North and South – powerful !

And there have been many more great nights at festival like the one in Vitoria-Gasteiz or concerts in various places in Europe. Too many to mention them all, but some are mentioned in the earlier blogs, for the interested reader.

In 2014 unfortunately the world of music lost too many great musicians, a vacuum that will be difficult to fill. I was lucky enough to have known and have worked with some of them and I will carry the memories of these great artists with me forever. I pay my respects to Paco de Lucia, Charlie Haden, Joe Sample and Idris Muhammad. R.I.P.

As we are speaking or better writing about all things music, I want to recommend a book as well: Stuart Nicholson Jazz and Culture in a Global Age. An eye and ear opening analysis of the international jazz development. Captivating.

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Lucky …

Lucky to have had the chance to hear Branford Marsalis twice in the last few weeks – first with his quartet as part of the Barcelona Jazz Festival and then again solo in the Kulturkirche Altona in Hamburg, performing the repertoire from his amazing new album In My Solitude, recorded during another solo concert at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. When his quartet is in a good mood, there are few groups as tight and communicative musically as they are. Branford presented new drummer Evan Sherman, who with his 21 years got plenty to learn, but overall did a great job and fitted well into the musical adventures the rest of the group got themselves into. Joey Calderazzo, as ever, full of ideas and with powerful and impressing solo work and Eric Revis was keeping the beat and telling stories. Branford let them go, listening, reacting and played absolutely amazing – always keeping the melody in mind and at the centre of his improvisations. The audience simply loved it, whether it was an original, a known standard or some New Orleans groove – all used as a base for improvisation, individually or as a unit. When it comes to play, Evan Sherman is probably in the best group to learn how to do so – communication is the key, understanding and listening the next step and then it is all about letting go and enjoy the moment together. If that works for the group, it surely will work for the audience … as it did in Barcelona.

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The solo concert in the beautiful Kulturkirche Altona was a completely different beast: this was only the second time Branford actually did a solo concert – the first being the new album and then Hamburg. More or less he played the same repertoire in Hamburg than what you can find on the album, notable exceptions here that he played Body & Soul, On the sunny side of the street and Bach’s Allemande, from the Cello Suites No 1, which was for me one of the highlights of the evening. Twice more or less 45 minutes plus an encore! A tough call on any soloist – Branford used the space and sound of the church to its best, changed between soprano and tenor and kept the audience mesmerized. It is difficult to explain the beauty of the sound in this place, the melodic inventiveness of Branford’s soli and the beauty of the selected repertoire, as not every song works in that setting. The two concerts simply confirmed that Branford Marsalis is not only one of the leading sax players of our time, but he is as well still open to take risks, to move into areas unknown and be able to make a valid musical statement there.

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Dee Dee Bridgewater came to Madrid on her latest European tour, in which she used her protégées band as her backing group – Theo Croker’s DVRK FUNK, featuring the amazing alto sax player Irwin Hall (here without his Roland Kirk impression, which he did so well when in Melody Gardot’s band), Eric Wheeler on bass, Michael King on piano and Kassa Overall on drums. Theo and the guys started the proceedings with a few tracks from his latest album Afrophysicist, before giving Dee Dee the powerful support that still amazingly energetic singer needs. Theo arranged most of the music for her and the group and gave standards like Love For Sale a different edge, a more modern and darker vibe. Same is true for a gorgeous arrangement of Abbey Lincoln’s Music Is The Magic, which moves from hauntingly beauty to a sinister dark place and back ….. true magic! Dee Dee still is one of the best performers out there, her voice immaculate and her control second to none. It was fantastic to see her energised by the young players around her and the great arrangements they came up for her music.

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Finally catched yesterday Pablo Martin Caminero’s quintet performing the music of the new album OFNI, which I have mentioned already in an earlier blog. I just love his compositions, the melodies and grooves they create in a true flamenco/jazz style. Pianist Moises Sanchez is a great improviser, his soli full of ideas and references, but in this group as well he is a great part of the overall sound, filling spaces with a delicate touch and supporting the other members when their time for a solo has come. Sax player Ariel Bringuez and trombone player Toni Belenguer are a great horn section and individual voices when it comes to take the lead and drummer Michael Olivera pushes them on with a steady beat, helped keeping the pulse by a smiling Pablo, who enjoys hearing his fantastic composition played by this group. Catarsis, one of the pieces on OFNI, has a beautiful little melody, builds up over the 10 or so minutes the song was played and ends with a powerful recall of the melody … a pleasure to listen to. As I probably said before: Pablo is one to watch out for, as a player, as a composer and as a band leader!

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Juice … live

Madrid Jazz Festival ’14 – yesterday evening in a full Conde Duque: Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood!

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A groove night with many surprises! Playing mainly repertoire from their latest album Juice, the quartet moved from jazz to funk and rock without letting the audience feel musical borders. Scofield made his guitar scream and swing, cry and tell stories, each played emotion mirrored by facial expressions, simply showing how deep he dug into himself to perform these incredible soli. But this is a band project, not a Scofield solo show, and Medeski, Martin & Wood again proved why they are such an amazing trio, with free flowing improvisations, groovy tunes and incredible musicianship all around. Adding Scofield to the mix is simply taking them to a different playing field.

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John Medeski showed why he has been riding high in all keyboard and organ polls and added some great piano soli as well, while Chris Wood and Billy Martin gave the music a solid carpet and heartbeat, with a few irregularities …. Just amazing! Constant changes in the music keep them and the listeners alert, once you think they settled in a groove, they are just taking it apart, flowing freely around, only to get back to the initial rhythm again. A great example of this was Sunshine of your love, even spacier than on the album, groovy, even when they went into a free improvisation and only the inherited groove kept things moving, before they got back into their own time again and finished the song as they started it: lose, but tight on the beat. When they finished the night’s concert with The Doors’ Light My Fire the audience jumped up and gave them an immediate standing ovation and only left after an encore that closed the evening on a quiet note: Bob Dylan’s The Times They are A Changing. A great concert with a great band – almost 2 hours of music and not one dull moment.

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