Jazz in July

Madrid in July is a city full of music – various festivals and events are held, and incredible music heard. One of these series of concerts are the Noches Del Botanico, which had on the night of July 22nd José James and Melody Gardot on the program. José went out first, at 9 pm and at 35 degrees Celsius and he still managed to make everyone move. His unique mix of soul, R&B, jazz with a shot of funk and rock made us forget the heat. The band, consisting of James on vocal and guitar, Marcus Machado on guitar, Aneesa Almusawwir on electric bass and vocals and Aaron Steele on drums is much more funk and rock oriented than previous groups which played his wonderful tribute to Bill Withers, Leon On Me, but sounded fabulous to me. Machado with an incredible solo in typical Hendrix-style, including playing the guitar with his teeth, and the driving bass and hard-hitting drums made this heavier than the previous shows I have seen, but musically extremely interesting. Jose’s singing was immaculate and powerful as ever and he seemed to have a lot of fun, including running into the audience and singing from between his fans. Great show!

Melody Gardot is one of my favourite singers of today and that night she showed again why: a group that included a string quartet supported her performing songs from her catalogue and a few new compositions. Gone is the heavy jazz band with powerful brass – this was soft, wonderful arranged music to listen to and to fall into. “More feminine” as she said to me after the concert. Her band was extremely well picked and got the best of their leader. Melody on vocals, piano and guitar was performing with Mitchell Long on guitar, Sam Minai on bass, Charles Staab on drums, Artyom Manukyan on cello, Astghik Gazhoyan, Astghik Vartanyan and Gohar Papayan on violin and they created some wonderful and magic moments with songs like ‘Who Will Comfort Me?’, ‘Our Love Is Easy’ and especially ‘Morning Sun’, which turned into a 10-minute prayer-like beauty of a song – touching and full of emotions! The new songs felt right at place within her compositions and sounded very promising, as well as her English rendition, partly spoken, partly sung, of the poem ‘Caminante No Hay Camino’ by Antonio Machado. The show ended long past midnight and then she came out to sign CD’s and LPs … The audience loved her for both! Sublime!

Lyon, France, July 27th – Les Nuits de Fourviere: double bill of Richard Bona and Dhafer Yussef. Dhafer, being a long-time friend, invited me to come and have a chat and see the show, which I gladly did. Bona opened the evening with a captivating show with Spanish Flamenco musicians (of which I didn’t see and hear much but had seen a few years back in Madrid) and then Dhafer got to the stage. His latest release ‘Sounds of Mirrors’ gave the repertoire for this show, performed with Youssef on the oud and vocals, Eivind Aarseth on guitar, Raffaele Casarano on sax, Nicolas Viccaro on drums and Adriano Dd on percussion. During the second song heavy rain began to fall, after an initial drizzle, but the almost full arena saw not many people leaving, so much were they under the spell of his voice and music. His compositions are a mix of Arabic tradition with jazz and the band went through the songs with lots of energy and emotions. The ballads are extremely touching, and the melodies keep coming back in your mind. Eivind Aarseth is playing with Dhafer for many years now and his ideas, sounds and overall play is perfect together with Youssef’s voice and oud – Casarano as well fits wonderfully into the musical mix, soaring over the beats and joining the voice as if they were one – drums and percussion are driving the music with power and finesse and Dhafer’s voice is pure and magic in many ways – in Lyon he made the audience smile and forget the rain. I am truly happy to have been there to hear his show. Masterful.


Berlin, July 31st, as part of the A L’Arme Festival I went to see Gurls, the Norwegian Trio of Hannah Paulsberg on sax and vocals, Rohey Taalah on vocals and Ellen Andrea Wang on bass and vocals as well. I had seen the trio before performing music from their debut album ‘Run Boy, Run’ and the 45 minute set in Berlin too drew from that record. The power of the group lies in the extremely different personalities, their impressive understanding and their musicality.  Paulsberg is a controlled and powerful sax player, Rohey an incredible singer with astonishing technique and a cool sense of humour when performing and Wang is a delicate and wonderful bass player, with a deep sense for melody and a great singer to add a different voice to the songs. The combination is captivating and full of surprises and fun. Songs about boys, presented with a smile and amazing musicianship. A trio to watch out for!!

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