Lucky …

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


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


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


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


Juice … live

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


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


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


Melodic Improvisations

Young sax player James Brandon Lewis just stopped by in Madrid while on his first European tour with his trio, featuring Max Johnson on bass and Dominic Fragman on drums. The club Clamores was the venue and as James is truly a new artist, I didn’t expect too many people there … but in the end about 200 enthusiastic fans showed up and had a great night!

James and the guys started with Divine, one of the key tracks on his OKeh Records debut album, Divine Travels … and with it set the tone for the night: free flowing improvisations on little melodies, deep spiritual expressions on all instruments, led by an immaculate James, whose ideas never seemed to run out or showed repetition, who was dismantling melodies and putting them together again upside down and it all made sense and sounded great! A song he wrote as a tribute to Charlie Haden had the trio at its best in performing an improvised ballad with a hauntingly beautiful theme that they knitted into the song in a communication of respect for the late bass player. More music from the great album Divine Travels, including the amazing Wading Child in the Motherless Water rounded up the night. This is accessible deep improvised music, free jazz with melodies if you want, but made by a bunch of great guys who love to express their fun in life that way. Without a doubt so far my gig of the year. A jazz star in the making!


From October 30th to November 6th the first Montreux Academy happened in Montreux, Switzerland: an educational week for young jazz musicians from all over the world, who in the past two years had participated in one of the Montreux competitions – guitar, piano or vocal. They were on guitar: Andres Corredor (Columbia), Yoav Eshed (Israel), Alexander Goodman (Canada) and Leandro Pellegrino (Brazil). On Piano: Lorenz Kellhuber (Germany), Mathis Pecard (France) and Jerry Leonide (Mauritius). And on vocals: Myriam Bouk Mouin (France), Alita Moses (USA), Patrick Rouiller (Switzerland), Woiciech Myrczek (Poland) and Paula Grande (Spain). Mentor of these musicians through the music sessions of the week was the great Lee Ritenour, as well as some guests, some of the being part of the concert at the last evening of the Academy. I had the pleasure doing a session with these young musicians on the music business, especially how agencies, managers and local promoters as well as labels can work together to help the artists to develop their careers – an interesting 2 hours of presentation, discussions and Q&A, which showed the desire of the group to know and understand, to learn. The evening before our session I went with the musicians to dinner and afterwards a relaxed and playful session, just for me to see some of them in action – even so the jams never show the true art of a musician, it can show a lot of other things especially in terms of improvising … Leandro has a really beautiful sound of the guitar and played some great music there;


Paula and Andres did 2 songs together which showed a very interesting singer and a guitar player who knows how to support and step up when asked for and finally Jerry Leonide, whom I had met before when he played with Somi last June, and Wojciech did a few songs, showcasing both talented musicians and especially the remarkable voice of the Polish singer.


A great event from what is could see over the two days there and I hope it will last, as these events and the education of the young musicians are extremely important

I wanted to give a quick update on what’s up on OKeh Records as well – so here we go: the fall releases are out, the artist touring Europe and it all seems to be fine. Bill Frisell’s tribute to the 60’s Guitar in the Space Age is getting great reviews and so are his shows … these songs feel so relaxed and bring me back to my youth – the Byrds, Beach Boys, the Kinks etc. performed in what is typical Frisell – with respect for the original, but own ideas and sounds and feel. JUICE, the new recording by Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood is a relaxed groove album that makes you move your legs and dance. These guys get together every once in a few years to record and this time it is just a killer album with great playing, some surprising versions of covers and some incredible new music. What else do you want from a record? And last, but not least, the new Branford Marsalis record In My Solitude – Live At Grace Cathedral, a beautiful and deeply emotional solo saxophone recording in which Branford shows the variety of musical styles he is at home in and makes it all work together – standards, classical pieces, own compositions and improvisations. A great addition to the already impressive catalogue of one of the best saxophone players of our days.