2017

As every year, I have a look back on the last 12 months and see a very varied picture: a scary movement to the political right across the globe and a rise of right populism that makes me feel uneasy …. Race and gender discrimination increasing and ‘fake news’ dominating the headlines, as it is not the true story that counts, but how many eyeballs and sales one gets …. The I in the centre and the We in the background …. but thankfully in all of this madness there is still music to give moments of joy and intense emotions. I have been extremely lucky to be able to see over 50 shows in the last 12 months and listen to tons of records as well and what I perceived as the Best of the Best I will list below –

The best gigs of 2017

1 Julian Lage – both shows I attended of him this year – jazzahead and Clamores in Madrid – were simply stunning in terms of musicality, improvisations and emotional content.

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2 Chris Potter – at the Madrid Jazz Festival – a powerful trio performance with the tasteful use of electronics. One of the leading saxophonist of today in truly amazing form.

3 Tigran Hamasyan – a solo piano concert of incredible deepness and beauty.

4 Pepe Habichuela – Pepe @ 60 with the amazing guests Miguel Poveda and Silvia Perez Cruz. A master celebrating his life and music. Simply beyond!

5 Dee Dee Bridgewater – Dee Dee brought her Soul to Madrid and got the audience going!

6 Fred Hersch Trio – sublime piano expressions.

7 Dave Holland Trio – a group performance of the highest level, giving a lesson on the history of improvised music.

8 Michael Leonhart Orchestra – powerful and captivating arrangements and compositions at New York’s Winter Jazz Fest.

9 Michel Camilo & Tomatito – the art of the duo, perfectly set in the Teatro Real in Madrid.

10 John Scofield’s Uberjam – one of the guitar masters of our time – groovy, funky and full of ideas.

Not to forget Lee Ritenour, Bill Frisell and strings, Camilla Meza, Christian Scott, Jose James, Madeleine Peyroux, Becca Stevens, Cristina Branco, Ganavya ……..

 

My favourite records of 2017           (excluding OKeh)

1 Hudson / Hudson – a record that got it all: great compositions and amazing playing that captures the listeners imagination and heart.

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2 various artists / Celebrate Ornette – a wonderful box set celebrating the genius of Ornette Coleman. A must have!

3 Ellen Andrea Wang / Blank Out – a truly special album with new compositions by bass player and singer Wang. Modern and cool!

4 Ron Miles / I am a man – essential and powerful. Miles’ strongest statement so far!

5 Fred Hersch / Open Book – solo piano excursions of the highest level.

6 Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan / Small Town – the beauty of the duo performed to perfection!

7 Café Drechsler / and now …. boogie! – the more than welcome return of the power trio – amazing interplay and improvisations!

8 Silvia Perez Cruz / Vestida de nit – another little master piece by Spain’s best kept secret … Stunning!

9 Rohey / a million things – what a voice, what songs!! One for the future. Check them out!

10 Jef Neve / Spirit Control – Belgium’s piano master with strings and electronics … captivating.

And of course, there have been the OKeh releases I had the pleasure to be involved with – some incredible and globally celebrated music from Dee Dee Bridgewater, Somi, Silje Nergaard, Stacey Kent, Regina Carter and Markus Stockhausen.

Look out for more great recordings from OKeh in 2018!

 

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Jazzfest Madrid, part 3 +

Outside the jazz festival there are as well a few interesting gigs in town and Cristina Branco in the Auditorio Nacional was one of them. Cristina is blessed with a voice and a control that is very unique and her place as one of the most impressive Fado singers is undisputed. The repertoire for this incredible show came mainly from her latest album ‘Menina’ and the rest from her extensive catalogue. The simplicity in the instrumentation, just piano, bass and Portuguese guitar, gives her voice focus and musical support, without drowning her in sound. A great artist, with style and taste, in the tradition of the Fado, but as well bringing the music into our times. Marvellous!!

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On the 28th of November then was the show of the Dave Holland Trio, which should have played the Teatro Fernan Gomez and not the Clamores … but sometimes with all the shows going on during the festival, the better room is unfortunately not available… Nevertheless, the Trio, featuring beside Dave guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Obed Calvaire, delivered a show that must count as one of the best of the year: powerful jazz, blues and rock elements mixed to a unique brew that only musicians of this calibre can create! Despite some memorable soloing by Eubanks, this is first of all a group effort and without the different individuals it wouldn’t work the way it does. They include the whole history of jazz somehow, from blues to Miles (especially Tribute to Jack Johnson) plus a bit of the Band of Gypsies … with incredible group interplay and improvisations. Can’t wait until these guys are going to release their album next year!!! Sensational!!!

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Just a day later another highlight of the festival, the solo piano concert of Tigran Hamasyan. I know Tigran and his music since many years and met his first when he was playing in the group of Dhafer Youssef. He has developed a unique voice on the piano and it shows best when working solo – from ‘a fable’, his first solo piano album from 2010 to the new solo recording ‘An Ancient Observer’, he has made various steps into becoming one of the most celebrated composers and performers today and the show in Madrid, in front of a very young audience, just showed that his music doesn’t know borders and attracts an audience that is not necessarily jazz, classical or world music oriented – they come to simply hear great music – and that’s what they got in abundance!

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Another artist who wasn’t part of the festival, but surely worth checking out was China Moses, who performed on Friday, December 1st with her band in the smaller room of the Auditorio Nacional. China’s captivating soul, jazz and R&B mix didn’t really fit into the venue, which is more for acoustic music and therefore the sound wasn’t too good – unfortunately the drums drowned a lot of what else was going on … this only improved a bit after 3 songs … the really good band (featuring Luigi Grasso on sax and keyboards; Joe Armon-Jones on piano and keyboards; Neil Charles on bass and Marijus Aleksa on drums) did their best and China worked hard to get her audience going, which in the end happened and they did sing along and got up and danced … The music of the concert came from China’s latest album ‘Nightintales’, which, as the live show, I can only highly recommend.

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