Paco de Lucia, R.I.P.

A sad day for music – as it was announced that today the master guitarist Paco de Lucia passed away at the age of 66. He suffered a fatal heart attack while on holiday with his family in Mexico.

I was introduced to his music via the Friday Night in San Francisco album, which he played on with John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola and then started listening to his own music as well. Luckily I met him for the first time in Vienna in the 80’s, shortly after having started working for Polygram and had the pleasure to work with his music and meet him occasionally for over 20 years after that initial meeting. His concerts over the years were always something special – his technical ability just beyond and his music touching and full of emotions and every time performed with the best musicians the Spanish scene had to offer.

I was the involved in the 1996 re-union of the Guitar Trio and the album and tour – many stories to be told about this … – and then again with his consequent releases for Universal up to his last studio album Cositas Buenas and then to the Vitoria Suite, on which he performed with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra. Always searching,  trying still to improve, even so he was considered the best guitar player of his generation by many. Paco recorded all his albums for one company – first Philips, then PolyGram and finally Universal, so the complete catalogue is in one house and his heritage secure.

A great human being and a fantastic artist, who left a major legacy to music, not only to flamenco. I saw him last year at the Vitoria-Gasteiz festival playing with his group and then with Chick Corea – masterful as ever. Unforgettable!

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Photo courtesy of the Vitoria-Gasteiz Jazz Festival

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Jazz Marathon New York

OK, I am a bit late, but travels and work kept me from informing you about the events of January, especially the Winterjazz Festival in New York.

The day before the Winterjazz Festival started in the venues around Bleeker, I went to see Kurt Rosenwinkel, who performed with his quartet. He is truly a great composer and improviser and on the night was supported by pianist Aaron Parks with brilliant finesse and imagination.

Then the real thing: at the first night I saw bits and pieces of various acts, starting in the afternoon with an invitation to hear Camila Meza and then Gretchen Parlato, which both are great and amazing. Unique singers – there is something almost mystic around Gretchen Parlato when she sings … simply beautiful. After that that Ryan Truesdell with the Gil Evans Project – I just love the arrangements by Gil and Truesdell is doing them with his group in a very fresh and powerful way. Even his arrangements for Claude Thornhill sound modern … Catched then a bit of Meklit Hadero at Joe’s Pub, which I enjoyed, but the place was so packed …. so I went to see Roy Hargrove at the Poisson Rouge and he was cooking as usual. Great compositions and a powerful performance from his usual quintet, with Roy in the middle blowing as if there is no tomorrow!

On January 11th the showcase of the new OKeh signings at Groove in New York, as part of the Winter Jazz Fest, was a tremendous success in terms of reviews and reactions from agents and festival promoters. All 6 acts enjoyed a full house and at time the queues in the rain ran around the block.
James Brandon Lewis opened the night with a powerful set of improvisations: ‘What I did hear in that time slot was a calmly smouldering performance by James Brandon Lewis, a tenor saxophonist originally from Buffalo, just barely in his 30s. Working with a pair of experienced partners, the bassist William Parker and the drummer Gerald Cleaver, Mr. Lewis dug in hard, accessing the sacramental side of 1960s free jazz. ‘Wading Child in the Motherless Water,’ his imploring hybrid of two foundational spirituals, was especially captivating business. I chose to see Mr. Lewis because I knew so little about him, and that small risk brought its bigger reward.’, writes the New York Times.
He was followed by trumpeter Theo Croker, whose energetic set brought the temperature in the room up and when Dee Dee Bridgwater joined him on stage for a song, the crowd went wild. Theo therefore was the second surprise, as he is as well a newcomer just starting to built his reputation. He will be out with Dee Dee in Europe next month – check him out.
The Jeff Ballard Trio followed this set with a master class in improvisation. Tim Wilkins on a blog supreme: ‘My ‘peak musical moment’ was the Jeff Ballard Trio with Lionel Loueke and Miguel Zenon, on a tiny stage at Groove. Three superb improvisers at the height of their powers, having so much fun!’ Three great musicians listening and reacting and seemingly creating great music from that. Jeff then was hanging around until late in the night and had a good chat with his new label mates.
Guitarist Nir Felder entertained his audience with his unique blend of jazz and rock and built his set to a fantastic climax, showing his incredible skills as composer and player in the same way. His band went through the repertoire of his just released debut album Golden Age. Some of the European Jazz Festival promoters picked his set as their favourite one from the night – a surprise for them.
Somi is such a rare singer and storyteller and her songs are deep and musically extremely interesting and here she showed that live as well she is a force to reckon with – a great band that played her material with passion and dedication, allowing her to let her vocals flow over the music and touch everyone in the room. She is a singer and composer in the spirit of Nina Simone, but taking the music into the future with her special blend of African influences, jazz and R&B.
The evening was finished off in style by Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith – a New Orleans take on the music of Jimmy Smith and how powerful it is! The crowd started dancing after the first few bars and didn’t stop until the end and was rewarded with some extraordinary sax soli by Mr. Handy and some hard grooves by his fellow musicians. After a short intermission Craig and his group re-joined and opened a 40 minute jam session, to which Theo Croker and Nir Felder and more guests joined the band and had a lot of fun… and so had the audience!

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Back to Europe the days after that amazing show – but not before checking out a short showcase by German trumpet player Till Brönner, which was part of the Jazz Connect conference within APAP. I know Till for many years, but hadn’t heard him live for a while – he got such a beautiful tone and plays so incredibly amazing – here some tunes by himself and his group, some Freddie Hubbard and even a piece by J.S. Bach – and it all fit perfectly well and made sense musically. In Germany he is already a star since many years with sales that would fit a pop artist and now it is time for him to conquer the world. Quality is definitely not a problem here!

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Next was the OKeh promo tour in Europe – five new artists to OKeh did interviews in Berlin and Paris, two days in each city with journalists from Italy and Switzerland participating as well. Jo-Yu Chen, Nir Felder, Somi, James Brandon Lewis and Theo Croker made the trip from the US to answer questions on their music in Europe and set the ball rolling for their respective releases, which are going to happen from now to end of April. The resonance to this unusual package of artists was very positive and reviews will hopefully follow soon. All artists will be out touring in Europe in the spring, the summer festivals and then again in the fall.

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Finally back home in Madrid and time to get things done and listen to some new music – the forthcoming release of Magos Herrera and Javier Limon, which sounds incredible and is such a beautiful and touching album by only vocals and acoustic guitar. More news on that one very soon. Javier I ran into as well at the concert of La Shica at the Teatro Espanol in Madrid.

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She is one of the best entertainers I have ever seen – full of energy and stories, making you think, laugh and then sings a sad ballad that moves you to tears …adding some visuals and little technical wonders to the show, but first of all is the focus on her amazing voice. She moves between story telling, singing, rapping and dancing with such an ease and perfection, so it feels as if the show is one flowing performance … Pure magic.