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.

 

more jazz from around the world

Mario Biondi is a star in his native Italy and known around Europe, but not yet on the same level as at home …. His first ever visit to Madrid therefore was something special and a good chance to see a singer whose records I enjoyed, but never had seen live. The repertoire for this show came mainly form his last 2 records SUN and BEYOND and the audience happily sang along to the great performance – a top band that got the groove and Mario singing absolutely wonderful. Live he showed what a great singer he actually is and what control he has and that there is much more to him than having a voice like Barry White. Mario is at the moment working on a Brazil influenced album, which is slated for a spring release in 2018 – looking forward to him signing and swinging through that repertoire. Don’t miss if he comes to your city – you’ll simply enjoy a singer at the peak of his art.

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Pepe Habichuela is a master of the flamenco guitar and he celebrated 60 years of performing live over three days at the Teatro Circo Price in Madrid last week – with most of his family and friends, who travelled all or part of this journey with him. On day one he had invited the Morente family, Arcangel, Antonio Canales  and more; then on the second day he was celebrated by and was celebrating with Jose Merce, Tomatito, Nina Pastori, El Pele and Farruquito.

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We went on the third day when dancer Israel Galvan, Miguel Poveda, Silvia Perez Cruz, Javier Colina, Jorge Pardo and the rest of the Familia Habichuela ended the celebrations in style! The show opened with a spectacular solo dance by Galvan, which was not only amazing in terms of body movements, but as well a treat rhythmically as his feed created a firework of percussive sounds. Miguel Poveda, either with Pepe or his own group showed again what an amazing and emotional singer he is and the same can be said of Silvia Perez Cruz, who from solo, via duos with bass player Colina to a trio with Pepe and Colina simply got everyone screaming OLE! – two extraordinary talents! Then Josemi Carmona, Pepe’s son and fellow guitar player, who acted as musical director for all three days, played a new composition dedicated to his father – a beautiful and touching song full of love for life and music. Incredible writing and performance! After a wonderful flute solo by Pardo the family came on stage and all played together – danced together – sang together! Even Tomatito joined in for that part of the show again – a great end to a concert that as such will be long remembered and will be impossible to do again – it was like being invited to the Mount Olympus of Flamenco and watching the gods having a ball …..

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CD recommendations:

Ellen Andrea Wang / Blank Out – Ellen Andrea is one of the leading young bass players in Europe and on top of that is a great song writer and singer. Blank Out is her second album and a great step forward as an artist: this is modern jazz, soul, and pop fused into a unique blend of accessible and challenging music and lyrics. From the critical Peace Prize to the cool grooving Bad Blood and the beauty of Heaven, this is one great record. Check it out!

Bafana Nhlapo / Ngikhumbule khaya – South African singer and percussionist Nhlapo, delivers, with a little help from his Norwegian friends, an album of great world music with some jazz included. Great horn sections and great grooves are what help the songs and his voice to be as powerful as they are – Nhlapo is a mix of Abdullah Ibrahim, Fela Kuti and Youssou N’Dour. Difficult to pick a track here as a starter – listen to it all and enjoy!!

Zadza / Momentum – Zadza is a French piano trio featuring Nicolas Granelet on piano, rhodes, machines; Dominique Benete on bass and effects and Alban Guyonnet on African percussion and effects. The compositions are really interesting and keeping the listener captured – especially in the two long pieces The Change and Momentum Part I – with great grooves and changes and beautiful little melodies. The effects are used to maximise drama in the composition, but it is all about the great playing by all three musicians as a unit. They make this one of the most exciting and different piano trios around.

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Book recommendation:

Fred Hersch / Good Things Happen Slowly – A great read! It was actually difficult to put this one down …too much going on and too much I didn’t know. As Hersch was born in the same year as I was, I can relate to a few things he is describing. I do like some of his records, but have never been too much into his music – I enjoyed some of the solo recordings and lately the album with Julian Lage and the Trio album Sunday Night at the Village Vanguard tremendously, but never got deeper. His story is interesting in many ways and on many levels (from the musicians point of view, the gay man’s experiences and the health issues he dealt with and how they all affected each other) and it is well told – the highs as well as the many lows through which he fought his way.  But in the end it is all about the music, the will to create, and the desire to perform, no matter what! Captivating and educational at the same time.

jazz around the world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

update:

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

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

summer sounds

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

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

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

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

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Yesterday, today

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

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

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

Guitar Masters

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

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

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