Sonny @ Vitoria-Gasteiz

For one night only, Sonny Rollins stopped in Spain to perform at the Vitoria-Gasteiz Jazz Festival on July 21st.

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Right from the start the band sounded great and completely focused and together (Sonny told me afterwards that at the rehearsal he had to be a bit tough with them to get them to the point where he wanted them to be .. musically). Steve Bernstein, git,; Clifton Anderson, tb; Bob Cranshaw,b; Kobie Watkins, dr; and Sammy Figueroa, perc. performed as a group and gave Sonny space and support to solo extendedly. There were moments when Sonny took off completely, leaving the bad behind him and going to places which were based on what the group played, but solitaire, as only he did venture there to discover unique musical expressions and sounds. With almost 82 years of age, he still is doing gigs of over 2 hours (here he had a 20 minutes break between sets – unfortunately, as the second half was not as outstanding as the first, with the exception of one unaccompanied solo by Sonny of at least 10 minutes … pure genius). He was truly working hard on stage .. and off stage as well, as he did come after the show to meet his fans and sign records – which took around 1 1/2 hours … starting at half past midnight!

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Before Sonny’s show I went to see trumpeter and composer Ibrahim Maalouf, who performed in the the Teatro Principal Antzokia as part of the Cycle Jazz Del Siglio XXI (among others in the cycle performing were Tigran Hamasyan, Phronesis and Ambrose Akinmusire). Very impressive and powerful music. Jazz with a bit of rock and north African influences – haunting and full of energy at the same time. I bought his latest CD Diagnostic and will check it out in the coming days.

And after Sonny I catched a bit of the Jonathan Batiste Trio, which played for a week a set around midnight at the hotel and then was the group leading the late night jam sessions. Jonathan is not only a great and versatile pianist and composer, but as well a intelligent and funny entertainer. Someone to watch for the future.

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A touch of summer

you’ll always find in the music of Sergio Mendes, whom we saw in London on July 14th performing at the Indigo2 – a Brazilian summer party with everyone up and dancing and singing along and having a great time. On some of the songs Sergio changed the arrangements, so that playing them again and again on tour doesn’t make it a routine, so he keeps the music fresh and his band challenged. Just love to hear this man play the electric piano, beautiful and sensitive the few notes float around and give the whole music this unique touch.

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Yesterday we saw Melody Gardot at the Teatro Circo Price in  Madrid – performing the repertoire of her new album The Absence, a more Portuguese influenced affair, with a bunch a really beautiful songs – Amalia, So Long, Impossible Love and Iemanja. Her slightly expanded band (dr, perc, sax, guit, cello and 2 additional vocalists) is absolutely amazing and she uses them in various formations to create that intimacy, that always has been her trademark in concerts. New and old repertoire fits very well, as did a medley of standards – all adding to the human touch of the performance. Not even a sound problem could stop her for long – she simply explained to the audience that there was an elephant below the stage, who tripped over a cable … and while talking the sound came back and with it the show and the feeling that she is singing ‘just for me’. A great night out !

Just a few CD’s to listen to – SLEEPER, a concert recording from 1979 by Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Palle Danielson and Jon Christenson, as well known as Keith Jarrett’s European Quartet (as at the same time the had as well his American Quartet with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian). I was lucky enough to see this amazing group perform in the late seventies – and this document just confirms my memories – long and incredible soli by the musicians, lead by Jarrett and Garbarek in top form. 8 tracks on 2 CD’s – enough time for each song to develop and get to the essence – and that’s what they do! If you like Belonging, My Song and Nude Ants – this is for you, if you don’t know these recordings by that group, this is a great starting point.

For all who read ‘To Music’ by Ketil Bjornstad, ECM just released the CD companion to the Trilogy of books about the Life of young pianist Aksel Vinding (To Music is the first part) featuring the music referred to in the books and a solo piano disc of improvisations and compositions inspired by the moods and characters, performed by Ketil himself on the first disc of the 2 CD set. The solo music is darker, almost orchestral in comparison to his solo efforts on Rainbow Sessions, a selection of 3 discs worth of solo piano jewels. The second CD of Vinding’s Music contains pieces for piano by Mozart, Debussy, Rachmaninov, Chopin, Ravel, Beethoven and Barber, performed by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra under Christian Eggen and various pianists. Listen while reading! With a good glass of wine.

Good News from Rotterdam:

Jazz is alive and kickin’!

The three days of the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam didn’t just prove that – they showed as well that there is a lot of young talent that is ready to take the music to new frontiers and beyond.

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Day 1:

The first show I went to was the one from young Dutch guitarist Bram Stadhouders, not only an excellent player, but a very accomplished composer – here showing his talents with music written for guitar, keyboards, drums and small choir. Beautiful and often haunting vocal parts, over which Bram played some amazing guitar sounds and created a contemporary piece of lasting quality. Then off to see Dhafer Youssef and his new band, featuring special guests Husnu Senlendirici (clarinet) and Aytac Dagon (qanun) as well as his new piano player Kristjan Randalu, Chris Jennings (b) and Mark Giuliana (dr). Amazing how powerful his performance always is, how natural he expresses emotions through his chanting and in this case helped by his Turkish guests – world music without boundaries! After 20 minutes off the see a bit of the Metropol Orkest under Vince Mendoza with a bunch of special guests – the one I wanted to hear was John Scofield, performing his composition Carlos, which he recorded with the MO and Vince. Powerful stuff! Great orchestrations, great performance. After this short guest appearance John had to rush to the next stage to perform with his new group project, the Hollowbody Band, featuring Kurt Rosenwinkel on second guitar, Ben Street and Bill Stewart. Guitar fireworks at the highest level – slow and full of emotion, fast and full of power and everything in-between. Scofield never lets you down and the combination with Rosenwinkel is just pure music!!! Checked a bit of the James Carter Organ Trio, as good as ever. Here performing music from the album ‘at the crossroads’, a more bluesy jazz affair, but not less gripping – with special guest Gregory Porter – a real treat! Catched the last 25 minutes of the Melody Gardot show – she is really special, a true performer who gives everyone the feeling to sing just for him or her – with a great new band – looking forward to see her in Madrid in a few days. And finished off the night with a bit of Terri Lynn Carrington’s Mosaic Project – seeing Dianne Reeves going at it, was really amazing – what a great singer and entertainer she is and with TLC on the drums, nothing can go wrong.

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Day 2:

Getting started (with heavy legs, too much running around yesterday) and the first show is the Pat Metheny Unity BandPat, Chris Potter, Ben Williams and Antonio Sanchez – great jazz and great performances on a group that reminded me a lot of 80/81, the ECM record Pat did many years ago. And while thinking that, they played a composition from that album! Then moving to the next stage to what turned out to be (at least for me) one of the highlights of this years festival (judged on what I had heard – which was about 10% of the offered shows): PRISMDave Holland, Craig Taborn, Kevin Eubanks and Eric Harland. They swing, they groove, they rock and they perform the most amazing ballads – individually all masters, as a group a sensation!! I stayed and listened to the whole show, something I hardly ever can do at North Sea, as there is so much to check out – but here I thought I would regret if I wouldn’t stay until the end – sublime! Then checked a bit of Christian Scott, whose performances are amazing and powerful and the new tunes are very strong indeed. Then off to see Kurt Elling, who just performed with Charlie Hunter and Derrek Philips (dr). The combination of Hunters bluesy guitar and Ellings voice was great and the guys had a lot of fun on stage, performing songs by Hank Williams and The Steve Miller Band (The Joker) to name just two … Kurt is without a doubt the best singer around at the moment.

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Day 3:

Despite being tired, I was ready for more – especially if the quality would be as good as yesterday – and it was – right from the word GO! The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman – what a combination – playing the music of the Plus and Redman adding even more colour and energy to the usual Plus show. A match made in heaven!

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Then off to see the TAKE FIVE Europe concert – see a previous blog about the Take Five workshop – they were all there except for Celine Bonacina and performed their compositions from the workshop – and sounded great! A huge selection of talent and they proved that they can deliver when they have to – great to see them again and that they, as a group and with their individual projects, have more gigs coming. After short beer break, off to see the Brad Mehldau Trio featuring Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard – most likely the best jazz piano trio around at this time – innovative, fresh and full of ideas with a constant change of repertoire to keep the freshness alive. Interaction on the highest level and some outstanding solo improvisations. One of the highlights. I stayed at the stage where I heard Brad and listened to the groovy Hiromi, doing her stuff with Antony Jackson and Simon Philips – a great and powerful trio which brought the audience to their feet. After her show we had a chat together with Michel Camilo and her, as you can see from the photo, take backstage while Chano Dominguez was on stage.

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I then checked a bit of the show by Bernhoft, a Norwegian singer, composer, song writer who performed solo and really got the crowd going! The wonder of loops – well used to create support for his singing. Amazing!

Michel Camilo’s ‘Mano A Mano’ Trio ended the night (and the festival) for me with their subtle Latin rhythms and powerful trio play – Giovanni Hidalgo’s percussion is second to none and Lincoln Goines supported without fault and played a beautiful bass solo with his bow … Michel as dynamic as ever – a great end to a great festival.

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Next stop: London for Sergio Mendes and then Vitoria-Gasteiz in Northern Spain for Sonny Rollins. Not a bad summer!