Live ! Live ! Live !

May 15th, The Bad Plus are in Madrid to perform 2 shows at the Café Berlin … a sold out 9 pm concert and a second one at 11 pm. David King, the trio’s drummer, had invited me to the first show and I went there with a friend who had purchased a ticket. Dave, Bassist Reid Anderson and new pianist Orrin Evans started the first show on time with mostly music from their first record together NEVER STOP II. I had heard the album and really love it, but live this is something beyond …. even so they knew each other from before and had performed together, now they are very tight, as the constant touring is paying off … Evans is incredible with his powerful, sometimes orchestral way of playing, then moving into beautiful and touching little melodies, always perfectly supported by Anderson and King. These two wonderful musicians are responsible (as in the past) for most of the compositions of the trio, which keeps the expected edgy quirkiness to their music. We loved every minute of this set and in the break went to say HI and then made our way to the exit as the club was emptied to make way for the new audience .. but the manager of the club, having seen us backstage with the guys, invited us for the second set, which wasn’t fully sold out and we were happy to stay – as the second set, without any repetition in repertoire, was even better than the first. Beside the amazing interplay between the three musicians, each of them delivered some outstanding solo work, with Anderson at one point calling up memories of Charlie Haden in the sheer beauty of his solo and by playing not one unnecessary note. Evans and King as well performed at the top of their game … a contender for gig of the year!!!

Saxophonist Eli Degibri started his 4-night residency at the Café Central in Madrid on May 23rd with his trusted sidemen Tom Oren on piano, Tamir Shmerling on bass and Evitar Slivnik on drums and a full house. The expressive sax player went through his own compositions from earlier records, with an especially wonderful rendition of ‘The Unknown Neighbor’ from the album ‘Cliff Hangin’’, plus a few new compositions, which will be on a forthcoming album. Not new in a sense is the standard ‘Like someone in love’, which Eli recorded already on his second album, but his new version is really different, as the group imagined how J. S. Bach might have played that song … to wondrous results: beautiful and melodic with an astonishing piano solo by Oren, that had Bach and Ella in it combined in a unique and breath-taking new way. ‘Bach’, still the working title of another new song, is a composition by Degibri, as well inspired by Bach and similar powerful and captivating. This was an absolutely impressive concert and I can’t wait to hear the recordings of the new material. Check Eli out if you get the chance … I am sure you’ll hear a lot from and of him in the near future.

May 28th brought Marcus Miller to Madrid to perform at the Teatro Nuevo Apolo with his incredible band featuring Marquis Hill on trumpet, Alex Han on sax, Brett Williams on keys and Alex Bailey on drums, plus the master himself on various electric basses and bass clarinet. They mostly performed the music from his latest album ‘Laid Black’, with the outstanding tracks here ‘Sublimity’ and ‘Trip Trap’, which had Miller performing a solo of unreal quality and funk power! Another highlight of the evening was ‘Hylife’ from the ‘Afrodeezia’ album and of course his nods to Miles Davis, this time with a wonderful and authentic version of ‘Bitches Brew’, as well as with his own compositions for the late trumpet legend, ‘Amandla’ and ‘Tutu’. Han and especially Hill did extremely well in these numbers, with incredible solo performances and ensemble play. A great band seemingly having fun on stage and enjoying the enthusiastic response from an audience that started dancing and singing at the end of the show to the performance of the Beatles song ‘Come Together’! Fantastic, groovy and smiles all around!!!

R.I.P. Cees Schrama … music man

Cees Schrama (Den Haag, 18 December 1936 – Baarn, 22 May 2019)

Jazz icon, promotor of jazz music in the Netherlands and beyond, music producer, keyboard player, record industry executive and a wonderful person. To me a mentor and friend of many years, from the beginnings when I started in the music industry and we both worked at PolyGram in mid/late eighties and then with him being part of the North Sea Jazz Festival, which I visited and took every chance to see and chat with him. As a successful jazz pianist he always had stories to tell, running a radio show for jazz in the Netherlands for over 30 years added to the pool of stories about music or musicians and the albums he produced with artists like Toots Thielemans, Rosenberg Trio, Monty Alexander (Live in Holland), Tony Scott, Flairck and many other local Dutch acts, plus many re-issues from the PolyGram vaults, are proof of his tireless work in and for music, jazz above all other genres. Not many people know that he played as well on one of the biggest international hits coming out of Holland: Shocking Blue’s Venus. His passion for music is described perfectly in his 2007 autobiography It Don’t Mean A Thing: Leven Met Jazz and some of the anecdotes are told there as well …. He helped me to set up a jazz structure within PolyGram International in the early Nineties, having global meetings and co-ordinated release schedules … still working as a producer and radio and festival presenter on the side. His knowledge about jazz was second to none and I surely learned a lot from him in every aspect. He will be sorely missed, not only in the Netherlands. Jazz lost one of its biggest and friendliest advocates. R.I.P.



Australia .. global music and Antonio

When thinking of Australia, jazz isn’t what comes to mind immediately – but that might change! Australia is working on a variety of activities to get more (deserved) recognition as a source of incredible and unique talent within improvised music. At jazzahead the various institutions of the country looking after jazz, like Sounds Australia, the Australian Music Centre, the Australia Council for the Arts, jazz festivals and labels, presented some of their most interesting artists and made a push for more recognition. Historically jazz is being played in Australia since 1918, when Billy Romaine appeared with his band in Sydney, featuring singer Belle Sylvia. Traditional jazz and jazz dance bands followed and copied, as everywhere else, what happened in the US. That all changed after the war with a bunch of jazz clubs opening and so bringing the new music to a wider audience. Charlie Munro in the late 1960’s probably being the first Australian jazz musician exploring influences from other cultures, something common in the expression of improvising musicians from down under today. Jazzrock had its expression via local groups like Crossfire and Pyramid, who played the Montreux Jazz festival in 1983. These first steps into the international limelight opened some doors and through these talents like Paul Grabowsky, Mike Nock, Dale Barlow and The Necks, Wanderlust, to just name a few, walked over the years into international recognition. And here came as well the first co-operations with the musical history of the continent, as well as with the many cultures brought to Australia by its immigrants. Talking about Australia today, the names of educator and pianist Paul Grabowsky, bass player Linda May Han Oh, singer and pianist Sara McKenzie and trumpet player and trombonist James Morrison pop up immediately … or of young sax player Troy Roberts. The presentation within jazzahead of Australian Jazz included many more very intriguing and beautiful recordings and some of the artists were around for a chat, like pianist Zela Margossian, percussionist Daniel Susnjar and singer, broadcaster and festival producer Chelsea Wilson. I will review some records from Australia below and hope to hear more in the near future. Jazz from Australia will get its recognition … as it is not a question of quality, but of exposure. Jazzahead was an important first step and there will be more to come … meanwhile why not listen to some great recordings from Australia here:


Zela Margossian / Transition – “What a bright new force is pianist Zela Margossian. Her debut album, Transition, announced her range and fascination as a composer, splashing her Armenian heritage across the broad canvas of jazz.” – John Shand from The Sydney Morning Herald wrote this review of ‘Transition’, the debut album of the Zela Margossian Quintet, featuring Stuart Vandegraff on soprano sax and clarinet, Adem Yilmaz on percussion, Elsen Price on bass and Alexander Inman-Hislop on drums and special guest on 2 tracks Metin Yilmaz on plul / kaval. This album is all about multicultural influences and identity and Margossian’s compositions are wonderful little folk melodies with jazz grooves and space for improvisations, which especially she uses to great effect and touching results. Great energy and amazing skills of all musicians make this a captivating listen. If you like Tigran or Dhafer Youssef, this one is for you as well. An album that grows on you with every listen.

Daniel Susnjar Afro-Peruvian Jazz Group / spark – This is the third album by drummer Daniel Susnjar and his Afro-Peruvian Jazz Group. Australian Susnjar, who studied and performed in the US and then Peru, is basing his compositions on Afro-Peruvian jazz grooves. ‘spark’ is full of danceable tunes and great Latin influenced jazz, performed on the highest level by Ricki Mallet on trumpet, Harry Mitchell on piano, Luke Minness on tenor sax, Zac Grafton on bass and Iain Robbie on cajon and other percussion, with all members as well playing various percussion instruments, so giving the music extra dynamics and power. A fun record to listen and party to!!

Other music I brought from jazzahead:

Aga Zaryan / High & Low – Born Agnieszka Skrzypek, Aga came to my attention first with her 2013 Blue Note album ‘Remembering Abbey & Nina’, a wonderful tribute to these iconic singers. Her new album is a different matter altogether, but nevertheless a really great album. Her own songs and lyrics, compositions from Marcin Wasilewski or her piano player Michal Tokaj, to which she wrote lyrics or covers of songs by Paul Simon (Spirit Voices), Carla Bley (Boo To You Too) and Stevie Wonder (Evil), as well as a beautiful wordless chant as a tribute to Geri Allen (Geri) make this record diverse and exciting and a showcase for the talented singer and composer. Excellent!

New Orleans Jazz Orchestra / Songs: the music of Allen Toussaint – New artistic director of the NOJO, drummer Adonis Rose breathes with this album new life into the Orchestra and they gladly go on a typical New Orleans musical adventure with him. Some of Allen Toussaint’s most famous songs have been given to different arrangers connected to the orchestra and they all did a wonderful job in keeping the spirit of the originals, but as well add the NOJO sound and power to the compositions. Special guest Dee Dee Bridgewater appears on a fabulous ‘It’s Raining’ and on ‘With you in mind’, where she shares vocal duties with the amazing Philip Manuel. The rest is like a day or better night out in the Crescent City – full of swing and fun, full of diversity and most of all, full of great ensemble play and individual contributions. A record that will put a smile on your face!!!

Ron Minis / Pale Blue Dot – Minis describes himself as ‘musician/composer based in Tel Aviv. A multi-instrumentalist playing piano, guitars, drums and bass. Participating in numerous projects ranging from avantgarde, modern jazz and classical music to punk, heavy metal and noise rock. Always looking for interesting collaborations!’ His album kind of proves his point: surprising changes, compositions that are without genre, captivating and sometimes musically challenging. The trio with Minis on keyboards, Avri Borochov on bass and either Yogev Gabay or Daniel Dor on drums is powerful, dynamic, but as well almost dreamy and light and will hopefully record many more albums like this. A tour de force!! And yes, we met because we both are painting our beards blue … instant understanding, as one can see below ….


Jan Bang, Erik Honoré, Eivind Aarset, Samuel Rohrer / Dark Star Safari – A surprising little recording … Bang for the first time, as I can recall, on vocals beside his usual electronics and piano, Honoré on synths and electronics and voice and as writer of lyrics, Aarset on guitar, electronics and bass and Samuel Rohrer on percussion, electronic percussion, and synths are brewing up a genre-less mixture of sounds, beats and vocals that work in a kind of traditional song structure. ‘Resilient Star’ is great example of this and a beauty of a song, whereas ‘Child of Folly’ has a darker touch to it and the rest is simply cool. Different, exciting, drawing the listener into the album and rewarding him/her with some gems of songs. Surprising, but in a very good way!!

RGG / Memento (Polish Jazz, Vol. 81) – this Trio of Maciej Garbowski on bass, pianist Lukasz Ojdana and drummer Krysztof Gradziuk is very much based in the Polish music tradition: from classical to modern jazz. I always liked their lyricism and wonderful improvisations on compositions by classical composers from Poland, this time around coming from Gorecki, besides a piece from Ornette Coleman and Jacek Galuszka each and the rest coming from the members of the trio. ‘Tenderness’ is opening the album with just that …. The trios take of Coleman’s ‘Chronology’ is creative and touching and the rest keeps the listeners attention. The two Gorecki pieces ‘Szeroka woda’ and ‘Three Pieces in Old Style I’ are a perfect fit with the rest of the album and are beautifully performed. A European piano trio with its own distinctive sound and repertoire. Outstanding!

And it got two advance CD’s with music not yet released, but looking for a home: Vuma Levin / Antique Spoons – guitarist Levin’s new release is a powerful South African statement of social and human content. A step up from his previous releases, this has international potential.

Carita Boronska / Hypnotic Soul – Swedish singer Boronska recorded an album of her own tunes, that are jazz/pop/soul influenced and great to listen to. Singing mostly in English, but as well in Swedish and Spanish, this is an album with a wide appeal, based on wonderful songs and a great vocal delivery. Once these albums will have a proper release, I will gladly review them in more detail.


A quick concert review: We saw early March the quartet of pianist Juan Sebastian with bass player Javier Colina, drummer Naima Acuña and the wonderful harmonica player Antonio Serrano. They performed Juan’s compositions as well as Fred Hersch, Tom Harrell and ‘Fragile’ by Sting with special guest singer Cecilia Krull, who did a wonderful job. Juan Sebastian is a really great player and full of ideas when improvising, Colina a master of the upright bass and Naima a drummer who fills the spaces and keeps the music going with free-flowing beats, but the star of the night for me was Antonio Serrano, the man with the most amazing sound on his instrument. And he can improvise … the solo he did in ‘Fragile’ was simply stunning and touching. I really hope they record in that format and with that repertoire … it surely would be a great album!

jazzahead 2019

Jazzahead 2019 was bigger and better than the ones before for various reasons: first of all, it has become a true international event for the jazz business, with plenty of music. Secondly this year’s partner country Norway was a more active partner than many others, with concerts, showcases and events, well prepared information on the market and its artists and by sending writer and poet Lars Saabye Christensen to do the opening speech, talking about jazz as only a poet could: “Jazz is something that does not yet exist, that hasn’t happened, that still hasn’t been played. Jazz is movement, as indeed all music is. …. Jazz is always putting something behind us, without forgetting it, mark you, without forgetting it. In jazz, memory is the theme that creeps up on you or to which you return. In jazz, memory is forward looking ….”. Overall the mood at the fair/conference was very positive despite the jazz record market going through a rough time as audiences are not changing to streaming services as fast as they would need to with rapidly declining CD sales. Nevertheless, the indie sector (and that’s what you will find in Bremen and what is driving our business today) is picking up what the major labels are not able or willing to do anymore and most of them are thriving. All change, all challenge, but no panic!! As Lars Saabye Christensen did say: ”We know where we are going, but not how to get there. That’s jazz.”

In terms of showcases I did see 4 of the Norwegian ones and a few others, all of which I will describe in short words as follows: the first short concert was a duo by European jazz legends Karin Krog and John Surman. Krog has been the first Norwegian jazz musician who found in the mid 1960’s success internationally and opened many doors for the generations after her. Her delicate duo with Surman is full of beautiful moments in their communication, so creating jazz as well as using Norwegian folk music as inspiration. A wonderful bow by the partner country to its own history and at the same time a reminder that jazz is ageless.

Then off to Thomas Strønen’s Time Is A Blind Guide, a quintet performing chamber music-like compositions based on influences ranging from folk songs to contemporary works. The musicians Hakon Aase on violin, Ole Morten Vågan on bass, Ayumi Tanaka on piano, Leo Svensson Sander on cello and Strønen on drums, played a wonderful and melodic set with a very unique ensemble sound. Musically open and sometimes adventurous, this is beautiful music that needs the listeners attention to fully enjoy the deepness and variety of their performance.

There is a reason why Acoustic Unity, the trio led by drummer Gard Nilssen, featuring Andre Roligheten on saxes and Ole Morten Vågan on bass, is considered on of the most exciting jazz bands in Europe today: first of all these are some of the best improvisers of the Norwegian scene and secondly they work extremely well as a group – listening, reacting, driving the compositions through tons of space to a delightful conclusion. This is as energetic a group as you might find – the power is incredible and the trio delivers on each of their songs with a smile on their faces. Fascinating, challenging, but extremely rewarding for the listener. Gig of the jazzahead for me, no doubt!!!

For Frode Haltli the name of his band is the program as well: Avant Folk. The outstanding accordion players 10-piece band, featuring instruments from the traditional fiddle of Norwegian folk music to electric guitar, performed his compositions with verve and perfection. The often cinematic sounds of the pieces led them into free spaces and back into delicate melodies, touching and making one smile. Simply a wonderful concert by Erlend Apneseth on Hardanger fiddle, Hans P. Kjorstad on violin, Rolf-Erik Nystrøm on sax, Hildegunn Øiseth on trumpet, vocals and goat horn, Sigbjørn Apeland on keyboards, guitarists Stein Urheim and Oddrun Lilja Jonsdottir, Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson on bass, as well as drummer Siv Øyunn Kjenstad and of course Haltli, who sounded incredible.

I finished the Norwegian showcase night with Kristin Asbjørnsen, the wonderful singer I used to work with in the past. Here she presented her new music, simply performed with Olav Torget on electric guitar and Suntou Susso on kora and additional vocals. This was an incredible mix of gospels, African influences and vocal improvisations. With the additional vocals and some loops they sounded sometimes like a full ensemble performing … with the unique voice of Asbjørnsen leading the way. Check out her latest album ‘Traces Of You’ for more of this intoxicating mix and her wonderful vocal skills.

On the second day of jazzahead I went to see 4 show cases between or after the good meetings I had, starting with AKSHAM, a project featuring Elina Duni on vocals, Marc Perrenoud on piano, David Enhco on trumpet, Florent Nisse on bass and Fred Pasqua on drums. Duni provided all the lyrics for the compositions of her band members and performs these songs with feel and quality – musically Perrenoud and Enhco are the perfect lyrical partners for Elina and Nisse and Pasqua laying the carpet everyone is walking on rhythmically. Beautiful music!

The Lisbon Underground Ensemble was next on my list, as I had heard about them and was curious what composer and pianist Marco Barroso would perform with his 15-piece band. In the mid 80’s Frank Zappa asked ‘Does humour belong in music? And Barraso gave a clear answer with his band: YES! Incredible changes from free parts to swing elements, wonderful soli and some hilarious snippets from prepared tapes, gave this powerful performance some funny twists, without minimising the musicality and individual contributions. Impressive from start to finish!

Elliot Galvin was next with a freely improvised solo piano show. Galvin is one of the new musicians in the UK that is creating a buzz – a unique piano player and composer with a feel for little melodies and flowing improvisations. Immaculate technique and inventiveness made the solo show a captivating experience, especially when he prepared the piano to get different sounds and therefore extended his possibilities to create new colours. Someone to watch out for!

Last but not least that evening I listened to MDCIII, a project led by Belgian sax player and loop master Mattias De Craene with drummers Lennart Jacobs and Simon Segers, who as well is using electronics. This music is all about sounds and grooves, samples and powerful sax lines. Spacy and ambient and then building a rhythm one could dance to. Modern and exciting music played in a cloud of colourful smoke … perfect for a late-night gig!!

Day three brought even more meetings with labels, agents, managers and artists – all really interesting and good, but I had to take a break in the afternoon to go and hear singer Simin Tander and cellist Jörg Brinkmann performing as a duo. This show was absolutely amazing, it’s simplicity and beauty beyond words and the careful use of electronics only to enhance the songs, was very impressive. Tander is a wonderful singer with amazing control and expression and Brinkmann a sensitive companion to her. The mix of repertoire from early music songs to today is eclectic and extremely well done. Need to check their album, if there is one. Touching.

Last for me was Matthew Whitacker, the 18-year-old Hammond B3 player and pianist with his band, featuring Marcos Robinson on guitar, Karim Hutton on bass and Isaiah Johnson on drums. The perfect end of a busy day … organ grooves and piano fire works! Nothing really new, but extremely well done, down to his version of the Michel Camilo composition ‘Caribe’. The tired-out audience loved it and danced along to his funky grooves. Surely a young artist to look out for .. there is more to come from him!!!

That concludes my report from a wonderful three days in Bremen with old and new friends and the confirmation that jazz is alive and well. For all who want to check out the gigs from Bremen I mentioned above, and more, they are all on YouTube .. check this link: