The Lady sings … and Marcus swings…


Festival International de Jazz in Alicante Friday, July 24th and a full Auditorio is expecting to hear and see Dee Dee Bridgewater, Irvin Mayfield, Jr. and the New Orleans 7 to perform music from their recent release Dee Dee’s Feathers. And like the record they are opening the show with Harry Connick Jr’s One Fine Thing and all musicians are on top form from the first note: Dee is just such an amazing singer, she can do anything, is the best when it comes to scat and extremely sensitive to ballads, as she shows in Come Sunday and the Irvin Mayfield Jr. original C’Est Ici Que Je T’Aime, but can go deep into the blues as she does in St. James Infirmary and groove as needed in Big Chief. Perfectly supported by the band with leader, arranger and trumpeter Irvin Mayfield Jr a class on his own: emotional in What A Wonderful World, powerful in the groovy material and full of surprising ideas with musical depth, firmly rooted in the New Orleans tradition. And the rest: all great players within the ensemble and remarkable when ask to step forward and take the lead …a great duet by trombonist Michael Watson with Dee being one of the many highlights of the show; others come from pianist Viktor Atkins and sax player Ricardo Pascal, all set on the tremendous rhythm work by Jason Weaver on bass and Adonis Rose on drums. A great project with the big band, a great show with the smaller version – they all got new Orleans within themselves and brought a piece of the city to Alicante … and the audience simply loved it, dancing at the end and asking for more … all standing! Great music by the first lady of jazz and the amazing NOJO of Irvin Mayfield, great entertainment as well and fun. What else can we ask for?



The following day it was up to Marcus Miller to close the festival, that over the course of a week had as well Avery Sunshine, Kenny Garrett, The Bad Plus Joshua Redman and Snarky Puppy performing in the Auditorio. Miller came with a great band of players: Adam Agati on guitar, Alex Han on saxes, Brett Williams on piano, Lee Hogans on trumpet, Louis Cato on drums and Mino Cinelu on percussion. Afrodeezia, Millers latest album provided the core of the material for the show … and it was truly great: amazing bass work by Miller – alone the solo in Papa Was A Rolling Stone would have made any other bass player jealous – incredible work especially by Cato and Cinelu, which laid the grooves and the rest simply walked on them confident and using the space given to them to express themselves by their leader. And the audience danced along with them, getting the requested encore, Blast from his album Free, and left with happy smiles for a late drink or two …. As we did.


Something totally different: a recommendation of the documentary AMY, about the incredible singer Amy Winehouse. Surely worth to spend two hours on. Sad and tragic and therefore important to see.

Romance and music in Vitoria-Gasteiz

For the 39th time this year the festival in Vitoria-Gasteiz was held and for me it was probably the 20th time to be there, as I do like the atmosphere in the place and of course I met my wife there 13 years ago … so again, this year we went for romantic and musical reasons and to meet friends and musicians.

As we went only for the last two nights of music there, we started with clarinettist Anat Cohen, who I had never seen live before and therefore was looking forward to add this experience to the list of concerts I had the pleasure listening to: and I did enjoy her show, especially her extended version of La Vie En Rose, in which her soloing was incredible. She was supported by a great band, featuring young pianist Gadi Lehavi, bass player Reinier Elizade Ruano and Jeff Ballard on drums, who on the night before performed at the same stage with Brad Mehldau. Great players who all contributed to make the show a success.


The main act on that night were Estrella Morente & Nino Josele – performing the music of their album Amar En Paz, which is basically a collection of Brazilian songs performed in Spanish language with a shot of Flamenco added to the mix … great! Estrella for me is one of the leading singers in Spain and sounded immaculate as always and Nino Josele is just incredible and his solo performance in the middle of the set will be remembered for a while … sometimes it sounded like 2 or 3 guitars at the same time …magic. Outstanding Jobim’s Dindi and Dolores Duran’s Soledad and an encore featuring Anat Cohen.


Saturday July 18th was the day of the European premiere of the James Brandon Lewis Trio performing the music of his new OKeh album Days of FreeMan and about 500 people made it to the Teatro Principal in the early evening. The Trio, with Luke Stewart on bass and Warren ‘Trae’ Crudup on drums, went straight into the grooves of the new record and turned the heat up! James was fully in command of the directions the music went, leading from the front and directing his companions with short movements by his hand … almost with a hard rock feel into Lament for JLew, then into the beautiful ballad that is Don Cherry’s Bamako Love and last but not least into the straighter hip-hop grooves of Boom Bap Bop, at one point slightly going into some Latin rhythms within that song, only to hit the audience even harder when getting back into the original groove. The 90 minutes of the show passed by much too fast… a good sign when you leave wanting for more …. And a great start to the new project by James, who is surely one of the most promising young jazz acts today.



The festival was closed by a duo performance by Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock … and if you know the two duo live records they released 1978 and 1979, then expectations were probably high. But the two piano and keyboard giants didn’t go out and simply repeated what they did in the late 7o’s – they added some keyboards to the mix and actually integrated these in some of the numbers – reflections on careers which had more to offer than great piano playing …. And even so some of the keyboard improvisations were a bit too ambient for me, they pulled it off somehow and especially when they simply played the two acoustic pianos … then standards like I’ll Remember April or Milestones became interesting and at times surprising. Of course there were some of the hits as well … Maiden Voyage, La Fiesta (the only tracks they performed as well in the late 70’s) and Cantaloupe Island and they brought the audience to a standing ovation. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but mine for sure.


See you again next year, when Vitoria-Gasteiz jazz will celebrate its 40th anniversary!

North Sea Jazz 2015

North Sea Jazz 2015

Looking back, the 40th anniversary of the North Sea Jazz Festival was a truly great one – big names, new faces and first of all: lots of great music. As always I tried to arrange my program in a way that I could see my acts (OKeh recording artists, of which 9 were performing this year) and then some others I personally know or wanted to discover. The Friday already gave me a dilemma: at the same time Sergio Mendes performed as well as a tribute to Paco de Lucia – so I went to say Hi to Sergio and listened a bit to the great show with his new band… as always a summer party on the highest musical level!


Then rushed over to the other stage to see a bit of the guys doing the Paco de Lucia tribute … members of the various incarnations of his band, lead and kept together by Jorge Pardo, who as well told many touching stories of the great man, supported by short video snippets and of course the music- fantastic!


Then I wanted to see a bit of Chick Corea & Herbie Hancock, but had to run to catch Jose James – Chick and Herbie I will see this weekend in Vitoria anyway – and Jose was simply amazing: his Billie Holiday tribute is not only by far the best of all the ones I have heard, live it is touching, engaging and powerful. Jose can do anything – but his jazz singing is becoming something truly special.


After that I walked to the next stage and sat down to enjoy the trio of Bugge Wesseltoft, Dan Berglund and Henrik Schwarz. Wow these guys were great! What on the album is more of an ambient affair, turned live into a groovy and still at times contemplative performance. Given that it was after midnight, probably the right move. Impressive!


On the first day I not only missed Herbie and Chick, but as well singers Jarrod Lawson and Ntjam Rosie, which I both wanted to see live, as well as Jef Neve solo, Indra, Lizz Wright or Cassandra Wilson …. There is just not enough time….

The second day of the festival started for me at 2 pm in the Sint-Laurenskerk with a fantastic solo performance by Branford Marsalis – using the room almost as a second instrument, this performance was even better than the first I heard live in Hamburg last year – beautiful melodies, perfectly played on his various saxes and the pick of the repertoire as usual spot on … from the pieces I hadn’t heard him doing The Peacocks by Jimmy Rowles stood out – melodic birdlike calling, sound travelling through the huge church, hugging everyone … sublime! There is a version of this song recorded with Herbie Hancock and Buster Williams on Branford’s album Renaissance.


Back to the Ahoy right after this experience and off to see David Sanborn performing with his new and young band the music of his latest album Time and The River – groovy with top level sax artistics by David Sanborn .. a huge crowd simply loved it.


Right in the middle of that show another change of venue to see Dee Dee Bridgewater for the first time with Irvin Mayfield and his New Orleans Jazz Orchestra …. And did they got everyone up and dancing!!!! Power on all levels and a gorgeous Come Sunday on top. Dee Dee is the best!


A quick chat with Jamie Cullum before going to see Somi performing at the North Sea Jazz Café within the festival and the place was packed and she was great as always … with Nir Felder in the band! Somi is a great talent and it was good to see her in a festival, but she should be on a bigger stage – she can hold her own and has an amazing stage presence and her vocals are immaculate. African jazz soul groove at its best.


Then Theo Croker, who got the bigger room and made the best out of it with his band DVRKFUNK – groovy and swinging modern jazz, with respect to the history of the music and a desire to move forward – the young musicians are all on top of their game and Theo the star and born leader! One for the future!


And I finished the second night with heavy legs and The Bad Plus Joshua Redman – the reason that there is no & between the group name and Joshua’s is that they are a unit and not the Plus + and whoever wasn’t clear about this at the beginning, was surely convinced quickly – these guys played so tight and communicated so well, performing music from each member of the group and got an audience screaming and giving a long standing ovation. Deserved!


What I missed on Saturday: Wayne Shorter band, even so I catched up for a chat with the guys in the band later backstage, Thomas Encho and sax player Guillaume Perret. Pity.

Sunday and proceedings started for me with Kurt Elling, who performed his Passion World album with Richard Galliano as a special guest. Kurt is always great, a singer of the highest quality and got his audience here as well.


Bill Frisell played in a packed smaller venue his outstanding Guitar in the Space Age program… songs from the 60s, The Byrds, Beach Boys, The Kinks … to a knowing audience, which enjoyed every single tone. A unique figure on his instrument and in improvised music.


The Branford Marsalis Quartet started right at the end of the Frisell set, so off I was and couldn’t get into the venue … people queuing … so I tried from back stage – no chance to get into the venue … listening from the side of the stage (with a cold beer) wasn’t too bad, but the noise in the room told me that they had the power and intensity of this improvisational performance full force ….not many better bands around in jazz than this one. Then a quick stop at the jazz club to see a few minutes of Theo Croker performing there … and off to Melody Gardot, another of the great jazz singers performing at this festival and as usual she created a tight and intimate atmosphere, drawing people into her songs and make them feel she is singing for them alone …. Currency of Man, her current album, is great song writing and she had a great band to do the songs justice. I loved every minute of it.


And I closed the evening and the festival with Roy Hargrove and his band… one of the favourites of the North Sea Jazz crowd and he gave them what they wanted: hot jazz with great soli and good grooves. Thanks.


What I missed on Sunday: clarinettist Oran Etkin, Tigran and singer Ester Rada.

Summer = Festivals = Music

Yes, the summer starts well here in Madrid … not only because of temperatures around 38 degrees, but because of 2 festivals and a bunch of good gigs in clubs and theatres ….

This year’s MADgarden Festival opened with Imelda May – a powerful singer of rockabilly, with a voice that rocks and does ballads in a very touching way. She is simply the best in that area and the audience in the almost full garden of the University was with her from the first note to the last! A great band to give her back bone to rock on surely helps and her guys are just that: a great band, having fun and giving her the groove needed to rock the house. From her many hits to Sonny Bono’s Bang Bang, she kept the good times rolling! A fun night out with great music!


Off to Clamores to see Avishai Cohen, the trumpeter that is. His trio TRIVENI performed a great set of improvised music that showcased the great talents of himself, his bass player and drummer Nasheet Waits, who are a very tight unit and communicated extremely well, reacting to each other and giving Avishai space to explore his own melodic inventions. His compositions are complex, yet always accessible and full of twists and surprises. On top of that the played a wonderful version of Mingus’ Goodbye Pork Pie Hat … what else can one ask for?


Maybe to see Madeleine Peyroux again … with the same small group setting I had seen her early last year in London, Barak Mori on bass but with a new Brazilian guitar player instead of Jon Herington. Not much of a difference (Guillermo Montero maybe being a bit softer in his playing) – the simplicity of the group helps to focus on Madeleine’s unique voice and her constantly improving singing and obviously her very individual phrasing. Going through all her famous songs extremely relaxed and letting the music flow, created a special intimate atmosphere in the open air arena and her version of Randy Newman’s Guilty was really special. I can’t help it, I just love that girl!


Then something completely new: Ganavya Doraiswamy! A young Indian singer, born in the US, but raised in South India, who studied at Berkelee and so met my friend Pablo Martin, with whom and Moises Sanchez on piano and Michael Olivera Garcia, she performed at the club Bogui on July 8th – wow! A truly unique singer with her own identity and idea about what to do: mixing her Indian tradition and jazz .. and this works in both ways .. so is the intro into Summertime sung in her native language and then switched to English and it is still all the same song …. And when she does traditional Indian songs which are hundreds of years old in a new jazzy way … all sounds fresh and captivating. This great band surely did help to make this night special – Moises is a great piano player with tons of ideas and lots of feeling and he made her smile in wonder a few times by his inventiveness…. and Pablo Martin Caminero is the anchor of all this, guiding and encouraging while Garcia fills the spaces and keeps the beat going. But it is the voice and control of Ganavya that is remarkable and her stage presence, mature, but shy. Special guest on two songs was the singer Angela Cervantes … wow, what a treat! Ganavya is surely someone to watch out for – the girl got it!


Just quickly a few CDs by singers I want to recommend: Melody Gardot – Currency Of Men – probably her best album so far – simple and deep and all about her great song writing and her voice. Sublime! Jose James – Yesterday I had the Blues – of all the Billie Holiday tribute recordings I have heard, this is by far the best one. Jose is truly a great jazz singer, but we knew that, didn’t we? Kurt Elling – Passion World – this man can’t do anything wrong. Beautiful travels around the world via love songs. The master!