After checking out Charles Tolliver and then Nubya Garcia (see my previous blog post), the next gig for me was one of top Fusion: guitarist Mike Stern with keyboarder Jeff Lorber, Jimmy Haslip on bass and top drummer Dennis Chambers, with special guest guitarist Leni Stern rounding up the impressive line-up. Most of the repertoire came from their current album ‘Eleven’ and were compositions by Stern and Lorber – powerful rock and funk influenced melodic pieces, which gave lots of space for Mike and Jeff to improvise and both musicians delivered some extraordinaire soli on their respective instruments. Stern, whom I first saw with Miles Davis in 1982, still has the same clear sound on his guitar and is surely one of the best nowadays. His rock, jazz and blues informed playing is delivered with passion and fire … his wife Leni added some wonderful playing herself and touched everyone with a heartfelt vocal performance in the opening song. Lorber as well showed why he is one of the leading keyboard players of our time and a master of the genre. Haslip and Chambers drove the two main guys to amazing heights … simply incredible!!

The concert of American singer Stacey Kent and her excellent band, featuring Jim Tomlinson on saxes and flutes, Graham Harvey on piano and fender rhodes, Jeremy Brown on bass and Joah Morrison on bass was next for me and one I was looking forward to, as I like the lush and relaxed way this amazing singer is performing. Her mix of repertoire ranged from originals (written by Tomlinson, her husband and musical director) via standards to some classy Brazilian repertoire and a French song. Whether she sang in English or French or Portuguese, she made the songs work and the audience gladly went with her on this rewarding musical journey. Kent’s vocal control is outstanding and her delivery full of emotions. Tomlinson kept the band tight behind her and added some top improvisations to the mix. Harvey is an attentive and impressively supporting pianist, whose soli were as well serving the songs and were delicate and beautiful. Excellent!

On November 19th it was trumpet star Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, who performed with his stellar band in Madrid’s Teatro Fernán Gómez. At only 36 years of age, Scott is already a veteran leading his own bands, having started around 2005, with this year’s band probably one of the best so far. His sidemen for this tour in Europe were alto sax player Logan Richardson, pianist Lawrence Fields, bass player Max Mucha, drummer Corey Fonville and percussionist Weedie Braiham and they made Scott’s compositions groove and swing and .. whatever the song needed! Scott can’t hide that he is from New Orleans as the rhythms gave it away … but then his music, a mix of jazz in the past, present and future needs that groove. He bowed to Miles Davis with a powerful rendition of ‘Guinnevere’ in which Richardson and Scott performed impressively, played music from his own recordings as well as a stunningly beautiful new composition entitled ‘Songs she has never heard’. Beside the outstanding improvisations by Scott, especially Richardson and Fields impressed with their abilities and imagination. Polish bass player Mucha and Braiham and Fonville were exceptional in keeping the guys going. One of the shows of the year!!

Three days later it was time to go and hear John Scofield in a duo setting with singer and pianist Jon Cleary, with whom John recorded his 2009 album ‘Piety Street’ together with the cream of New Orleans’ musicians; an album I released at the time on EmArCy Records. Scofield and New Orleans resident Cleary performed repertoire that had its roots in the Crescent City and was a mix of well-known songs as well as compositions of lesser know musicians. Cleary is a wonderful pianist in the New Orleans tradition and an emotional singer, who brings life into these songs. Scofield in this set up is not only an outstanding soloist but supports Cleary perfectly and brings out the essence of the songs. His solo in ‘Fever’ was out of this world, disjointed to a degree, but making total musical sense. Same has to be said for Cleary’s piano solo in ‘My Baby Is In Love With Another Man’: powerful and captivating. Their performance of ‘Stardust’ was another highlight of the gig, as well as a beautiful rendition of ‘Talk To Me’, another gem unearthed by Cleary. One could feel the fun the guys had playing as a duo and performing this repertoire – Scofield was his usual magnificent self and Cleary right up there with him. An outstanding concert in many ways, that got the packed house going right from the start. Uplifting and fun, rough and touching … a wonderful show by two great artists!!!!


In the next blog I will review my last few concerts within the Madrid Jazz Festival 2019 plus a few new and exciting releases.

more from a jazz life …

Before going into the music and other events of the immediate past, I have to make a correction to my blog post from October: the wonderful album ONKALO by Julie Campiche will only be released in February … getting my advance copy I got carried away a bit and reviewed it already … I will at the time of release re-post that review and a link to an updated video, so everyone who wants can follow up and listen to the full record then.

Brenda Earle Stokes / Solo Sessions, Volume 1 – composer, pianist and singer Stokes’ delivers as her second album a solo recording for piano and voice. The album is an eclectic mix of originals, standards and covers of songs by k.d. land, Huey Lewis and Michael McDonald, as arranged by Stokes and performed by her in top quality. She is a wonderful pianist with delicate touches on the ballads and power when needed – her singing is immaculate and touching. Key tracks are McDonalds ‘I can let go now’, her own ‘The Waltz’ and the Swallow/Winstone tune ‘Ladies in Mercedes’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xwBx8sPmwE

Bria Skonberg / Nothing Ever Happens – this new album by singer and trumpet player Skonberg is pointing in a new direction – more edgy, modern and more fun. The album showcases Skonberg’s working band of recent years – pianist Mathis Picard, bassist Devin Starks and drummer Darrian Douglas – along with guest appearances by saxophonist Patrick Bartley, Hammond B3 master Jon Cowherd, and guitar great Doug Wamble. Her own compositions mix well with the well chosen covers by The Beatles, Sonny Bono and Queen and make for an interesting listen. Touches of Soul, New Orleans and Pop run through her jazz arrangements and make them personal and her performances on trumpet and vocals are always in service of the song. For me her best album so far!   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDHpq_24Zp4

Jerome Jennings / Solidarity – drummer Jennings’ second release is a hard swinging affair featuring trumpeter Josh Evans, tenor and soprano saxophonist Stacy  Dillard, trombonist Andrae Murchison, pianist Zaccai Curtis, and Jennings’s friend and mentor, bassist Christian McBride plus special guests saxophonist-flutist Tia Fuller, tenor saxophonist-vocalist Camille Thurman, bassist Endea Owens, and percussionist Carlos Maldonado. A truly great jazz album, with very good originals and standards; with variety and surprises in many forms, but always swinging and played on the highest level. Recommended!    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dhuJ95Zml0

Van Morrison / Three Chords & The Truth – since ‘Astral Weeks’ I have been a Van Morrison fan and followed what he did over the years and this new album is again a proof of his amazing song writing skills and his unique singing style. The album features contributions from legendary guitarist Jay Berliner and a duet with The Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley (‘Fame Will Eat the Soul’). Songs like ‘March Winds in February’, ‘Read Between The Lines’ or ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ are typical Morrison and are excellent in delivery and composition, as is most of the album. Highly recommended!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIiUJFPp2qs

Naughty Professor / Everyday Shredder EP – New Orleans funk jazz outfit Naughty Professor released their digital EP earlier this month to critical acclaim. No surprise as the funk running through the 5 tracks is immaculate and powerful. Great brass lines with heavy grooves make this one to dance to. Check out ‘3 Wise Men’ or ‘Pleiades’ and get up and move your body.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12B8-FwvjYA

November – as in the last few years, is the time for the International Jazz Festival in Madrid, which this year started on October 28th and will run until November 30th … and the first show I attended was Charles Tolliver presenting Paper Man @ 50. That album featured besides the leader and trumpeter Tolliver, Herbie Hancock, Gary Bartz, Ron Carter and Joe Chambers and was recorded at Town Sound Studios, Englewood, New Jersey on 2nd July 1968. The modern versions of these compositions were performed by Tolliver and Jesse Davis on alto sax, Keith Brown on piano, Buster Williams on bass and Lennie White on drums. Tolliver’s music sounded modern and fresh and his and everyone else’s playing was impressive and captivating. Brown and Davis were wonderful soloists next to Tolliver and his amazing rhythm section. Left me and the audience asking for more …

The second gig I attended was that of young saxophonist Nubya Garcia, whom I had seen before and enjoyed her show. This one was as good as the first I saw, and she and her band were giving the mostly standing Madrid audience in a packed Conde Duque groovy jazz to dance to. Excellent musicians who gave her the support and groove to improvise freely and with verve and lots of ideas. This is modern and adventurous jazz, deeply rooted in a tradition of Coltrane or Sanders. Powerful, groovy and melodic improvised music that reaches a younger audience. Captivating!

In the last few weeks the music world lost many great and important artists, some of them I had the pleasure to see perform or work with – Ginger Baker, the outstanding rock and jazz drummer of his generation I saw at the Cream reunion concerts in London in 2005 and once before many years back with his Airforce band … incredible power and intensity!! Pianist Milcho Leviev I heard first through his 2 duo recordings with Dave Holland, but as well liked his solo or group recordings. One of Europe’s most underrated but best pianists. Producer Gerry Teekens I met a few time at North Sea Jazz and liked his enthusiasm for jazz, which he brought to his wonderful label Criss Cross and all its productions. Jan Erik Kongshaug was not only one of the best sound engineers of all time, but as well a warm and gentle human being. I had the pleasure meeting him and working with him on a few occasions and always enjoyed his company and professionalism. They all will be missed. May they rest in peace.