Reflections on Winter and Jazz in New York

January and therefore jazz time in New York – Winter Jazz is swinging the city for 2 days of marathon concert events and other shows around these and it is the time when the Jazz Connect Conference is happening with more showcases (as well as in connection with APAP) and panel discussions on the state of jazz today. I came into town for lots of meetings and to moderate the panel at Jazz Connect on Israel – an introduction into this market and its musicians – one of the international aspects of the Conference, which I cover now since a few years. It is always great to meet friends and colleagues at Jazz Connect and this year was no difference, and then of course, it is always great to go out and hear some music … as long as the weather is not getting too crazy. This year the winter said HELLO with cold winds and snow, but all acceptable and not disrupting the festival or my plans on what to check out.

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Choice is the word if you want to describe New York and what happens when you want to go out to hear some jazz – especially during Winter Jazz, but as well in general. I arrived on the 4th and took it easy, but on the 5th I had to see something – originally I wanted to see Jonatha Brooke performing new material at the City Winery, but in the end, as our dinner took a bit longer than expected, Kurt Elling and I decided to go and see John Beasley’s MONK’estra at Dizzy’s – great arrangements of Monk’s tunes performed by an amazing big band and some guests, which that night included harmonica player Gregoire Maret and the wonderful Dianne Reeves. Perfect music after a day of meetings! I heard as well a few tracks of young singer Vuyo Sotashe, who followed the orchestra on stage and he again proved to be a unique talent with lots of control and great songs.

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The so called jazz marathon started on January 6th and the first gig I went to was the Rachel Z and Omar Hakim band, performing at the Zinc Bar, one of the many venues in the Bleecker Street area hosting the festival. Sandro Albert on guitar and Jonathan Toscan on e-bass completed the band, which played some new tracks of contemporary fusion, with power and beautiful little melodies.

From there I took a quick trip up to the Jazz Standard to see Regina Carter with her band playing songs connected to Ella Fitzgerald – some of the famous songs were performed, some less known, but incredibly beautiful ones like Artie Glenn’s CRYING IN THE CHAPEL. Regina is a master on her instrument and these great songs are perfect material for her improvising skills.

Next up was SOMI, who presented some of her new songs at a packed Subculture. As I arrived early I had a chance to hear a bit of the group before her Jacob Garchik’s Ye Olde, featuring Jacob on trombone, Ava Mendoza, Mary Halvorson and Jonathan Goldberger on guitars and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums – jazz and rock and power and subtle playing all perfectly done. Unusual – and really great!! Then Somi came on stage and presented her new songs, from the album Petite Afrique which will be released end of March. Somi is the essential story teller and these beautiful songs are no exception and the band played them wonderful, carrying the emotions and stories she wants to communicate perfectly. Liberty Ellman on guitar, Tory Dodo and piano, Michael Olatuja and Nate Smith managed to make a great singer sound even better. She is one of the best today and her mix of jazz, soul, R&B and African grooves is unique and catchy. A very special show, with a very special talent.

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After a short walk through the wintery and freezing cold NYC I arrived at The Bitter End just in time to see Nir Felder starting his set. The young guitar player was accompanied by Matt Penman on bass and Jimmy MacBride on drums and for me the set was really amazing – Nir seemed to be much more relaxed and less focused on the song format than on the essence of the song and simply let fly … with incredible technique and power. Since I saw him the last time about a year ago, this young man definitely has improved a lot. Glad I made it to that gig.

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Day 2 of the jazz marathon I started with the Michael Leonhart Orchestra – Michael had asked me to come and see his orchestra and I had no idea what to expect – surprise, surprise!!!  He had 26 musicians on the stage of the Poisson Rouge and used these musicians to create some very impressive music! There was no limit to what these guys were able to do under Leonhart’s direction – from arrangements of music to Charlie Browns Christmas to a newly arranged Wu Tang Clan song. He seems to have the history of Big Band jazz within the orchestra, but at the same time is very unique thanks to his compelling arrangements: powerful, deep, thoughtful and emotional at the same time. A very impressive orchestra, under an immensely creative leader. I am looking forward to hear more of them in the near future. My show of the festival and after the usual 40 minutes all bands do in Winter Jazz, this one left me duly wanting for more.

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From there it was a short walk in the snow to the Zinc Bar for Claudia Acuña’s set. She performed with her Chilean Connection band featuring Pablo Vergara – piano,  Pablo Menares – bass, Yayo Serka – drums and Juancho Herrera – guitar and as usually she was best when singing in Spanish. Claudia is a great singer and I always enjoyed listening to her – this show was no exception to that.

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At the same venue I listened then to The Baylor Project, as I had heard some good things about them – and I wasn’t to be disappointed: Jean Baylor and Marcus Baylor together with Shedrick Mitchell on piano and organ, Yasushi Nakamura on bass, Keith Loftis on saxes and Freddie Hendrix on trumpet and flugelhorn delivered a grooving set, supporting the beautiful vocals of Jean Baylor perfectly. Outstanding their rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. One act to watch.

Then off to see the duo of Bill Frisell and bass player Thomas Morgan – another gig that was much too short for my liking, but it gave the audience a taste of their forthcoming album (touching communication on beautiful themes and impressive improvisations from both artists), which will be out in spring this year. A must have.

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I intended to end the night with Marc Ribot and the Young Philadelphians, featuring my friend Jamaaladeen Tacuma. I had seen this project already in Madrid last year, but enjoyed it so much that I wanted to hear them again …. Unfortunately quite a few people had the same idea and the SOB’s was packed to the limit … and waiting outside in the snow at – 9 degrees Celsius wasn’t really what I had in mind …. So I just had a little whiskey at the hotel and got some sleep.

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Winter Jazz again proved to be what the name promised – winter and lots of jazz in New York. Looking forward to next year already.

2016

Looking back to 2016 I can only do with mixed emotions: so many great and important musicians left us these last 12months, but on the other side, so much great music was released or performed throughout the world. A world of immense beauty, but tremendous horror as well.

As every year I will put my Best Of lists together – as always completely based on my personal recollections of these concerts and my individual taste in music. And as every year I will not include in the CD list any of the releases I have been involved in, even so I am extremely proud to have been part of making these recordings.

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CONCERTS OF THE YEAR 2016

  1. Dhafer Youssef / Madrid, Jazz Festival, November + Paris, Theatre du Chatelet, April
  2. Hakon Kornstad / Bremen, jazzahead, April
  3. Still Dreaming / NYC, January (Joshua Redman-Ron Miles-Scott Colley-Brian Blade)
  4. Branford Marsalis Quartet & Kurt Elling / Rotterdam, North Sea Jazz, July
  5. Kenny Barron & Dave Holland / Vitoria-Gasteiz, Festival, July
  6. Julian Lage Trio / NYC, Winter Jazz, January
  7. Melody Gardot / Madrid, July
  8. Terje Rypdal / Madrid, Jazz Festival, November (Mikkelborg, Vinaccia, Tylden)
  9. Somi / Madrid, Jazz Festival, November (Jerry Leonide, Michael Olatunja)
  10. FLY / Madrid, Bogui Club, June

Plus more outstanding shows by James Brandon Lewis, Theo Croker, Tillery, Becca Stevens, Avery Sunshine, AZIZA, Ibrahim Malouf, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Bill Frisell, Gregory Porter, Nils Petter Molvaer and Madeleine Peyroux. Details on all of these shows you can find when going through the various posts of 2016 on my little blog.

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CDs OF THE YEAR 2016

  1. Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith – a cosmic rhythm with each stroke
  2. Julian Lage – Arclight
  3. Bugge Wesseltoft – somewhere in between
  4. GoGo Penguin – Man Made Object
  5. David Bowie – Black Star
  6. Wolfgang Muthspiel – Rising Grace
  7. Wolfgang Puschnig – Faces And Stories
  8. Robert Glasper – ArtScience
  9. John Scofield – Country For Old Man
  10. Hamasyan/Henriksen/Aarset/Bang – ATMOSPHERES

It is always difficult to pick 10 records out of the mass of great releases every year – further recommendations you will find as well in the various posts of my blog – so much great music has been released, including the 10 releases we had on OKeh Records in 2016, out of which the Bill Frisell ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ and the Branford Marsalis Quartet with special guest Kurt Elling ‘Upward Spiral’, got a Grammy nomination each.

Sadness has been a big part of this almost finished year – sadness about the madness that drives people to terror attacks killing innocent men, women and children; about the horror of war and that mankind hasn’t learned anything in its short period of time on this planet; about intolerance and hate and of course about the long list of musicians and other influential people that left us this year. I wrote about many of these in my blog, especially when I had the pleasure and honour to meet or work with them. A few days ago Rick Parfitt, partner of Francis Rossi in the band Status Quo, passed away much too early. I worked with Status Quo for a few years in the mid and late 80’s and Rick was just a lovely down to earth guy, charming and funny, loving and enjoying good food and wines.He will be missed. The photo below shows Peter Pernica, the PolyGram promo chief at the time, myself, Rick and Francis in 1986. R.I.P.

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Wishing you all the best for 2017: Love, Jazz and Happiness!

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This year most of the concerts of the Jazz Madrid festival were happening either at the Conde Duque, a nice little venue for about 320 guests or the Teatro Fernán Gómez, which is more or less double that size. Following are short reviews of the concerts I went to this past November:

Our first gig was the new Dave Holland project AZIZA at Conde Duque. The band, featuring Chris Potter on tenor and soprano saxes, Lionel Loueke on guitar and Eric Harland on drums, just had released their first record, as well called AZIZA. And they opened the show the same way that great album does, with Loueke’s ‘Aziza Dance’, a groovy little number showcasing all the musicians as well as the groups fantastic interplay and understanding. This band, these musicians, can go wherever they want – from swinging jazz to rock riffs and grooves, to freer explorations of a theme to beautiful ballads – and it all makes sense, as the artistry on display is just tremendous. Holland keeping the pulse going, Harland pushing the beats, changing accentuations, always keeping time perfectly and Potter and Loueke improvising jointly or individually on the highest level! Check out the album and if you get a chance to see these guys live, don’t miss it!!

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Somi opened her intimate show at the Teatro Fernán Gómez with a beautiful rendition of her own ‘Ankara Sunday’. Like this song, most of the performed music came from her ‘The Lagos Music Salon’ album, but she did, as well, sing a few new songs: ‘They are like Ghosts’ and ‘I remember Harlem (Like Dakar)’ did stand out as extremely beautiful and catchy.  To perform just with piano and bass put the spotlight surely on her, but with her sublime vocal skills this was no problem at all – probably a benefit for the audience, as the intimate atmosphere got every listener deeper into the songs.  Pianist Jerry Leonide supported Somi incredibly, filing spaces perfectly and bass player Michael Olatuja pushed when necessary and otherwise was the heartbeat to Somi’s soul. Outstanding, as well, their renditions of ‘Brown Round Things’ and ‘Last Song’. The standing ovation was more than deserved.

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The next gig we saw must surely count as one of the concerts of the year – the Dhafer Youssef Quartet delivered not only a powerful and spiritual  show, but they managed to keep the listeners on their toes, holding attention and giving suspense, before grooving again – until the audience got up as one to dance. Simply incredible how Dhafer’s voice touched everyone, Aaron Parks on the piano played some beautiful soli based on Dhafer’s melodies, Ben Williams kept the odd rhythms going and put in some powerful bass soli and Justin Faulkner drummed as if his life was depending on it – with a smile on top of that incredible energy. This is a band of top players, having fun with complex music that still makes their audiences moving, dancing and screaming even more encouragement to the musicians … one gig to remember for a long time!

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Kristin Asbjørnsen has a voice that would fit a rock singer – slightly rough, but with immense control and power. Her latest records were based on songs from the Afro-American culture – gospels, work songs and spirituals and she does them surprisingly well for a small girl from Norway! Supported by guitarist Olav Torget and Gjermund Silset on bass, she did glide through these songs with ease and made them her own. A beautiful first concert for her in Madrid.

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Next on the list of shows was the ever amazing and surprising John Scofield. ‘Country for old man’ is the title of his latest release and was as well the program for this fantastic show. As usual John had assembled an amazing group to work with him – Larry Goldings on piano and Hammond organ, Steve Swallow on bass and Bill Stewart on drum. What else can you ask for?  Outstanding in this collection of country songs were their versions of Shania Twain’s ‘You’re still the one’ and Jack Clements’s ‘Just a girl I used to know’, were Scofield’s soli were simply beyond: inventive, melodic and full of emotions. Goldings, when on the piano (my preferred instrument for him in that show), was subtle and beautiful and on organ powerful and seemingly having fun. Both Swallow and Stewart were at their best and John… whatever the base for his music – the music will become his. A group of masters at work.

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When Sly & Robbie, the veteran Jamaican rhythm group of drummer Sly Dunbar and bass player Robbie Shakespeare, meet up with Norwegian trumpet player Nils Petter Molvaer one thing is sure – the music grooves!!! Add to that mix the genius of guitar player and sound creator Eivind Aarset and the electronic percussion of Vladislav Delay and you get some truly cool music, groovy and beautiful, sometimes ambient, but with a steady pulse. Molvaer is such an interesting trumpet player with his little melodies and haunting sound. It was a perfect mix of musicians and ideas and the concert was extremely enjoyable, even so it was a bit too loudly mixed, which took away some of the fun. These guys are in the middle of recording an album together, which will be released next year – can’t wait to hear that.

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The next concert showcased 3 European jazz legends in one gig – Norwegian guitar hero Terje Rypdal, Danish trumpet player Palle Mikkelborg and Italian drummer Paolo Vinaccia – they added young keyboarder Rune Tylden to the mix and performed music from the ‘Skywards’ album from 1997 – and how fresh that music still sounded! Rypdal’s sound is so personal, longing and still kind of uplifting – easily recognisable since his early recordings in the 70s and Mikkelborg is one of the greats as a composer and trumpet player and he showed again why: from Miles influenced muted ballad playing to powerful moments he did it all in perfection – and Vinaccia powered all this energy from his drums, culminating in a fascinating solo over a dialog from the movie The Godfather (at least I think it was from that film). The keyboards filled the sound gaps, made the music complete and so it was really a concert to remember for a while.

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Theo Croker is a very talented young trumpet player and has a great band that feels at home in all kinds of music, as long as they can play it like jazz. The show in Madrid consisted of material from his latest OKeh album ‘Escape Velocity’ and he did built up the concert beautifully, giving his band members space to show their skills, but maintaining an ensemble feel at the same time. Kassa Overall on drums, Michael King on keyboards, Anthony Ware on sax and Eric Wheeler on bass are a great band to play with and Theo seemingly had a great time on stage, as had the rest of the gang, enjoying the freedom of improvising on his compositions – a standing ovation at the end and a furiously great ‘Because of You’ as an encore made everyone going home with a smile. One for now and the future!

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As the reader of my little blog will know, I do like Madeleine Peyroux a lot, her way of phrasing and playing with the melody of a song. And I am a fan of the intimate format she has chosen to perform in lately, as I believe that guitarist Jon Herington and bass player Barak Mori are the perfect musicians for her and that format gives her space, as well as, focusing on her voice and singing. The repertoire of the concert in a full Teatro Fernán Gómez was based on her latest release ‘Secular Hymns’, recorded also with these two outstanding musicians, but included some of her previous well known covers and songs and a heartfelt version of ‘Bird on a wire’ as a tribute to the late Leonard Cohen. Madeleine and her two guys seemed to have fun on stage, she successfully made most of her announcements in Spanish, which the audience really appreciated. A unique artist on top of her form. Extremely enjoyable!

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The last show of the festival for us came from the amazing Gregory Porter, performing the songs of his latest album ‘Take Me To The Alley’, but as well singing his previous hits like the gorgeous ‘Hey Laura’ and even going into a cool version of ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’. The band was very good, especially his longstanding pianist Chip Crawford was in great form, bassist Jahmal Nichols surprised with a reference to ‘Smoke on the water’ in his bass solo and sax player Tivon Pennicott and drummer Emanuel Harrold did also an amazing job. Gregory is such a huge personality, his voice and control of it is tremendous and his own songs are truly great – some people asked: Is this really Jazz? Who cares – it is great music, presented well, giving the audience a great time!!

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Then, outside of the Festival, I went to see Harold Lopez-Nussa – a young Cuban pianist who played with his trio in the Clamores Club in Madrid last Sunday, November 27th. I had heard some of his music before, but live I really enjoyed his melodic playing. His focus is on the essence of the song, using rhythms, but not having them overpower the melody. He played an absolutely beautiful solo piece as part of the show, which left the small, but dedicated, audience speechless. Definitely one player to watch for the future.

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But the last few weeks were not only about hearing great music, unfortunately they were as well about saying goodbye to some of the most important and influential musicians of our time – Mose Allison, Leon Russell, Leonard Cohen, Victor Bailey and Sharon Jones … may they all rest in peace.

Autumn Songs

The autumn of music in Madrid started for me with the concert of the Bill Frisell group performing his latest album WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR on October 27th at the Auditorio Nacional. The program was based on the music of the record, with slight variations and focused therefore on movie and film themes. Petra Haden, the singer on the record and in the show, was unfortunately suffering from a cold and therefore kept her performance to 3 songs, which on the other hand gave Bill and his bass player Thomas Morgan and drummer Rudy Royston more space to explore the inner secrets of these compositions … and how they did! Bill’s beautiful explorative melodic lines, clear and captivating and full of twists and turns, kept the listeners attention, supported by his rhythm section perfectly. Especially in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE the improvisations of the trio were amazing and a spectacular exchange of ideas from all 3 musicians. Whatever Frisell is taking on in terms of repertoire, he always is making it HIS – adding depth and personality to the music he performs. This show was no exception and another proof of that.

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Becca Stevens is for me one of the most interesting new singers and song writers and her show on November 1st at Clamores in Madrid simply confirmed that – just in a trio with her on vocals, guitar and other string instruments and with Chris Tordini on bass (with added backing vocals) and Jordan Perlson on drums, she did perform repertoire from her marvelous PERFECT ANIMAL album, as well as songs from her forthcoming new song cycle REGINA, which will be released in March next year. Becca is an amazing singer with perfect control of her voice and her writing is challenging and needs the listener to pay attention to capture the subtleties and beauty of her music and lyrics. I can’t wait to hear the new album and see her live again soon.

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A few CD tips:

From Norway there are a few great new releases to check out, lead by a wonderful compilation from Bugge Wesseltoft’s recording history of the last 20 years – SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN is a collection of old, new and unreleased gems by the keyboard master and not only the perfect starting point if you are not yet a fan, but as well a great reminder how incredibly talented Bugge is in many ways. A must!

MOST PERSONAL is a kind of best of by singer Rebekka Bakken taking the material from her Emarcy recordings .. and a few new tracks, ranging from a touching Norwegian folk song to one in German by the late singer/songwriter Ludwig Hirsch and three new songs in English – all worth listening to beside all the great songs from her 5 albums so far. A showcase for her great song writing and singing skills. Essential listening.

Madeleine Peyroux’s SECULAR HYMNS shows her in a semi-live recording with the format I think works best for her – just accompanied by bass and guitar, with her on acoustic guitar and vocals .. Simplicity that gives focus to her amazing voice and phrasing …perfect. The choice of repertoire is great as well, ranging from Allen Toussaint via Tom Waits to Lynton Kwesi Johnson … amazing how she deals with these songs and creates that beautiful tight and personal atmosphere. Highly recommended.

SPAIN FOREVER is the third cooperation of pianist Michel Camilo & Tomatito, the incredible flamenco guitar player from Spain. The repertoire here again is Spain based, but not exclusively and is definitely more laid back than on the previous 2 releases. Outstanding Charlie Haden’s OUR SPANISH LOVE SONG and GNOSSIENNE NO.1 by Erik Satie … and as on the previous releases there is a great version of a Chick Core tune, this time ARMANDO’S RHUMBA.  Excellent!

Composer, band leader and bass player Pablo Martin Caminero has just released his new group album SALTO A VACIO, featuring his usual working band with Ariel Bringuez on saxes, Toni Belenguer on trombone, Moises P. Sanchez on piano and Borja Barrueta on drums. Pablo’s compositions are simply some of the best that jazz / flamenco has to offer and his band is executing them perfectly – with power and feeling! From the various guests especially singer Ganavya Doraiswamy needs to be mentioned with her beautiful performance in VALSE POUR NOOR for which she as well wrote the lyrics. Worth checking out!!

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New York swings

A business trip to New York is always a good opportunity to hear some music and meet some friends and artists. This time was no different and the first to hear was David Sanborn, who performed for one week at the Blue Note, introducing a brand new band. I never had heard of the pianist Andy Ezrin before, but throughout the show did enjoy his playing on piano and organ, of course I know Wycliffe Gordon, but had never seen him performing and loved every second of it, especially when he performed on the soprano trombone, which sounded almost like a slide trumpet. The rest of the gang beside the amazing Sanborn were Ben Williams on bass and Billy Kilson on drums and both don’t need further introduction. This was the first night this group ever played together and they were smoking from the first note – they started the set with a powerful rendition of Michael Brecker’s Tumbleweed and with that made a statement of intent – this is going to be a hard hitting and swinging modern jazz band! They continued with 2 more Brecker compositions – Half Moon Lane and Night Blooming Jasmine – both showcasing the amazing talents of this band, led by Sanborn, who was in the best possible mood and inventive and inspired in his soli, followed by Wycliffe, who pushed  his sidemen to deeper musical levels. This was followed by two of Sanborn’s own compositions – Maputo and Sofia – here given a hard swinging and grooving treatment and the D’Angelo/Roy Hargrove tune Spanish Joint, featuring more impressive soli. They ended the set with Gordon’s On The Spot and smiles all around – one can only wonder how these guys will sound after a few more gigs. Incredible!!

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After days of meetings and dinners finally another show to attend: Dee Dee Bridgewater – Songs We Love at the Jazz at Lincoln Center. Supported by a group of 10 musicians, led by trumpeter Riley Mulherkar, Dee Dee and the band went through the American Songbook and who is better than she to do so? Starting off with St. James Infirmary, she showed why she is the best jazz singer around today: she has total control, is inventive in her soli, can be powerful and forceful and just a second later in low voice and captivating, but always pushing the song and its emotional content. She is an amazing performer, but never puts the show before the song. On the night she had two guests working with the same group of musicians – singers Vuyo Sotashe and Brianna Thomas. Young South African Vuyo I had met in October last year at the Montreux Academy and it was a pleasure to see how confident and really good he performed his own pieces and especially his duet with Dee Dee on Miss Brown To You. Brianna Thomas is a delightful singer with a great voice – obviously trained while on the road with The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra and truly beautiful in ballads. Dee Dee as always was the best, but the guests showed promise and it is good to see Dee Dee nurturing new talent that way.

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OKeh update:

October 28th will see the release of the first OKeh album by singer extraordinaire Kurt Elling – The Beautiful Day. The album, a collection of swinging and beautifully arranged and performed Christmas songs, is another proof that Kurt Elling is without doubt one of, if not the, leading male jazz singer today. It is simply amazing how this album can get you swinging and in a relaxed mood, being a Christmas album without the cheesiness these records mostly tend to display. Serious music!

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Miles Ahead & OKeh update

This blog will feature an update on the forthcoming OKeh releases and my personal review of Miles Ahead – the movie. Finally I had a chance to see the film and did enjoy it – as the music won over the images by a clear count. I am not sure what the film wants to be – a film about Miles Davis or an action movie with Miles Davis in it, but in the end that doesn’t really matter – the movie is truly enjoyable, the character Miles Davis is there with all his dark and self-destructive sides and the light of his music. Whether the representation of his personality is correct or not, only people who knew him can really answer. Is the story of the stolen tape really necessary to show what person Miles was? I don’t think so and I had the feeling that the story took over the movie at one point and forgot about Miles, but then there are scenes that are drawing you into the music making, as the one with Gil Evans, and they make up for all the rest. The great music is mostly from Davis’ catalogue and some from Robert Glasper and at the end from a cool live concert with Don Cheadle that featured among others Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Robert Glasper and Esperanza Spalding. In general the movie is well acted and with the flashbacks to earlier times works well in terms of narrative and therefore keeps you engaged in the story. A bit too much sometimes and I am sure Miles’ life had enough bad, good and crazy moments to make a captivating film from, but overall I would recommend it.

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Just a quick review on forthcoming OKeh releases for the second half of 2016:   first out at the end of August will be the new album by The Bad Plus IT’S HARD – and it will be hard not to love this incredible album of cover versions from the likes of Prince, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Peter Gabriel, Cyndi Lauper, Kraftwerk, Ornette Coleman and others. This will be supported by a massive tour in Europe – worth checking out indeed!!!

German trumpet star Till Brönner is releasing his first OKeh/Masterworks album in early September and is making us enjoy The Good Life by performing and singing some of the world’s best known standards and a few originals – sublime and perfect music for the quiet hours we all need. Recorded with Larry Goldings, Anthony Wilson, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton – a beauty!

Nils Petter Molvaer’s new opus entitled BOYANCY will be released on September 9th and is a fantastic and powerful group effort highlighting the intense musical partnership his band has achieved, as well as the beautiful and lyrical play by Nils Petter. On tour in the fall in Europe as well – go and hear them!

Dhafer Youssef, the great Tunisian singer and oud player, will release his second OKeh album in September as well, featuring a great band of young US talent – Aaron Parks on piano, Ben Williams on bass, Mark Giuliana on drums and on a few tracks Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet. DIWAN OF BEAUTY & ODD is a record of amazing and powerful, groovy compositions, delicate and touching ballads and some outstanding music performances and of course angelic chants by Dhafer himself. European tour to start after the release and will be going far into 2017. A must!

There’s more, but about that I will report another time …. I am truly honored and happy being involved in all these incredible projects.

Summer Jazz 2016

ViJazz stands for Vilafranca del Penedes and as well for Vino y Jazz, a truly sensible combination. While you walk around the city, sampling the various local wines, you can as well enjoy some of the free concerts in the square in front of the church … or go to one of the proper and guided wine tastings, obviously promoting the local whites and Cava – for me a tasty surprise the Cosmic by the Pares Balta Winery – a great mix of Sauvignon Blanc and Xarello (the local grape in the region). And of course the music – the beautiful setting on the square helps to create a good atmosphere, but once you got Dee Dee Bridgewater on stage, supported musically by young trumpeter Theo Croker and his gang, the already hot square got to boiling temperatures! Dee Dee is so energetic and the young band is pushing her limits, and she is accepting the challenge with a smile. Whether it is her repertoire or music from the two Theo Croker recordings, which both feature Dee Dee on a song and of course the music of New Orleans, Dee Dee and the band deliver – in musical terms and in terms of entertainment. No wonder she was named Jazz Master by the NEA a few weeks back … for me the greatest jazz singer we have at the moment and by far the best entertainer.

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The second day in Vilafranca offered more good wine and music by GoGo Penguin, reminiscent a bit of e.s.t. in the more powerful and driven moments, but still their own and making a few waves around Europe. This UK piano trio is really strong and deserved the great applause it got before making way for Richard Bona and his Mandekan Cubano project – cool rhythms and all that is great about Bona: good songs, great vocals and unreal bass!! The audience loved it and had a great time – what else can you ask for!

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Next on the list of summer jazz festivals was North Sea Jazz in Rotterdam – 3 days of an unbelievable menu for jazz lovers – what to pick? I kept it relaxed this year, started the Friday with a bit of Snarky Puppy, which was fine, but didn’t blew me away; tried to listen to Diana Krall, but didn’t have the right wrist band to see her as this was one of the few bonus concerts, where you have to pay extra, but was happy enough to go backstage and say Hi to her; off to see Kamasi Washington with the Metropole Orkest, conducted by Jules Buckley, and the ZO! Gospel Choir. Great music, really powerful stuff, but unfortunately the sound in the venue didn’t transport that power as much as I would have liked – sometimes the orchestra sounded thin, the choir too much in the background and the group with Kamasi too dominant – but one could hear still how good everyone on stage was, how beautiful the band and orchestra fitted together and how the choir gave a different dimension to the compositions.  Christian Scott is a great young player, with cool and captivating compositions and a fantastic live band and he proved again that he can capture his audiences and give them a good time. As I wanted to see Ibrahim Maalouf with his Kalthoum band, I left Christian after a while and moved to the next venue to see Maalouf performing with Mark Turner on saxophone, Frank Woeste on piano, Scott Colley on bass and Clarence Penn on drums – what a set! Khartoum is a homage to the Egyptian singer and composer Baligh Hamidi and her work  ‘Alf Leila Wa Leila’, which was presented here as a jazz suite – and all players were in the mood to stretch and improvise and give this music something special. Maalouf at his best!

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I started the Saturday with a young man whom I had met a few years ago when he was just an internet phenomena and who has developed his musical ideas now into his first record: Jacob Collier. As on the album, the show featured only Jacob, but on all instruments – loops and samples make this happen and it still keeps being spontaneous – he even looped some of the videos he had running in the background, so even visually you could see him playing 3 or 4 instruments at the same time …  but let’s take away the gimmicks for a moment and the young man shows a lot of talent – between his own songs and his covers of standards or more modern songs, he not only can play, but he is as well a great singer and got lots of ideas on improvisation and the use of his technical tools. When he performed a song just with acoustic guitar and singing beautifully one got the picture – the ’I do it all’ is part of his story and the new album and the show strengthens that, but there is more to him than that and once he has developed fully and has his own band, this could be an interesting (jazz) singer who doesn’t seem to know borders – what for anyway?

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I had looked forward to the next show for a while now and I wasn’t disappointed: young saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and his bass player Luke Stewart and drummer Warren ‘Trae’ Crudup played a free flowing melodic funk jazz set based on JBL’s latest album Days Of FreeMan – and the audience really got into it and screamed and gave standing ovations within the set – the hip hop based grooves and Lewis’ impressive improvisations were simply stunning and local media mentioned the gig as one of the highlights of the festival – absolutely true. This young man needs to be heard! Got to listen a bit of Cyrille Aimee after that – she is a great singer with incredible control – sometimes I am not so sure about the repertoire choices, but the girl can sing!! In all that I missed to see and hear Airelle Besson, the amazing French trumpet player and composer as well as Hiatus Kaiyote, one of the coolest bands around at the moment …. Had to go and see the Branford Marsalis Quartet featuring special guest Kurt Elling now that their record was out … after seeing them last a few days before the recording in New Orleans … and how was that worth it …. They have grown so together as a unit and are able to do almost anything with the songs they performed, mostly from their recently released disc Upward Spiral. A pleasure of interactivity between all musicians, surprising changes and smiles all around – the guys surely had fun and it was reflected in the audience’s enthusiastic response … and at the end Cecile McLorin Salvant came on stage to do a song with them …gorgeous!

Saturday I started with seeing a few old friends – Michael Mantler performed The Jazz Composers Orchestra Update with the Austrian Big Band Nouvelle Cuisine, conducted by Christoph Cech and in the band, as soloist next to Mantler was my friend Wolfgang Puschnig, alto sax player, composer and Harry Sokal, tenor sax player and another of Austria’s greats.

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They all performed a captivating show of incredible big band music – doesn’t get much deeper and better than that! And yes, the radio.string.quartet was part of that gig as well. Ran into Christian McBride and Chick Corea, who was celebrating his 75th birthday there  in a musical homage to his heroes – with a great band that featured beside McBride Kenny Garrett, Wallace Roney and Marcus Gilmore … Totally amazing the other legends I went to see after that: Charles Lloyd and Pharoah Sanders. Lloyd performing with Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland – nothing could go wrong here … these guys played so well together, supporting Lloyds beautiful sax sound and laying the ground for his improvisations … I was just sitting there with a smile on my face …. Which didn’t go away when Pharoah Sanders came on. The trio was completed by William Henderson on piano and the excellent Trilok Gurtu on percussion – they supported a kind of softer Sanders perfectly and with lots of feeling and intuition. And last on Saturday night it was the trio of John Scofield, Brad Mehldau and Mark Giuiana – really funky grooves and the usual great guitar work by Scofield. The perfect show to let the weekend finish – as usual: great music and too many choices to make, but a fantastic place to meet musicians, hear the new and old and have a good time.

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The jazz festival in Vitoria-Gasteiz in the north of Spain, was celebrating this year their 40. anniversary and they put a very good program together, which we only visited for 2 days – the Friday and Saturday, July 15 and 16. We have a lot of friends there and it is always great to come back to this festival and so it was this year – and the music was pretty impressive too! Friday started with the Kenny Barron / Dave Holland duo, which I didn’t see in Rotterdam, as I knew I would have a chance to see them in Vitoria – and they were simply incredible …. The Art Of Conversation is the album most of the music came from and the title makes truly sense when these two world class musicians are talking to each other via their instruments – as if one mind speaks and improvises, together searching for new ideas or melodies within a song .. constantly challenging each other without showing off. One of the highlights of the jazz summer this year! Then Jamie Cullum – a great performer, who every time I see him becomes a better pianist … his just piano and voice version of Blackbird was absolutely outstanding! And he still can make every song he touches his own …Love For Sale was cool and modern and still the same great song, but that night it was Jamie’s and so it was with the rest and especially his And The Wind Cries May   .. I guess Hendrix would have been proud. The audience was having the best of times and so had I … love the guy!

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Saturday was the end of the festival and started with the Pat Metheny & Ron Carter duo, which I did enjoy, but in comparison to the day before with Barron/Holland, this was a less connected affair – great soli by both, but less communication and deeper understanding. Great their version of Sonny Rollins St. Thomas, surely one of the outstanding tunes of the show. Cecile McLorin Salvant closed the festival – once again showcasing her undeniable talent and control – she is a star in the making, but as I have said before, there is still too much technique and not enough emotions for me … she tries too hard to show what she can do and doesn’t let the song decide what it needs … except when she sang at the end of the show Alfonsia Y El Mar in Spanish.. then the audience was touched, as she concentrated on the beauty of the song (and most likely the Spanish pronunciation) instead of unleashing a technical firework … absolutely beautiful. Incredible as well Aaron Diehl on the piano, who really made her sound even better and got the loudest screams and applause of the show for one amazing solo – breath-taking.  A great festival came to an end and we wish the Festival all the best for the coming years – looking already forward to go there next year again.

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What better way to end our jazz festival summer than going to see Melody Gardot in the Noches Del Botanico in Madrid: an open air show on a hot summer night and amazing music from one of my favourite singers. Melody is a natural performer, reaching to her audience with her songs and little stories once in a while and with her outstanding band (featuring young sax player Irwin Hall), she can do whatever she wants … slow and quiet as in the beautiful and touching Baby I’m A Fool or powerful and engaging as in Preacher Man or She Don’t Know from her latest CD Currency Of Man. She is an artist who can touch me deeply, as she did with her incredible rendition of Morning Sun from the same album and a simple, but extremely powerful See-Line Woman, the iconic song by Nina Simone, which she made completely her own in a version full of respect for the original, but still being able to add something special to it. The Madrid audience was fully behind her and sang with her creating some extremely beautiful moments. Melody Gardot and her band were in great form last night and delivered what easily could be the concert of the year for me. Sensational!!!