I hadn’t seen Patricia Barber in a long while and therefore was curious about her concert in Madrid on November 23rd, as well because I hadn’t heard her new album ‘Higher’, from which most of the repertoire of the performance came. Barber is a singer of art songs, her own compositions and lyrics in most cases and therefore brings emotional content directly into the pieces. She is as well an accomplished pianist, in Madrid supported by Larry Kohut on bass and Jon Deitemyer on drums. Barber is a wonderful singer with unusual phrasing that makes her music unique and individual. Beside her own compositions she performed a captivating version of ‘The In Crowd’, as well as an encore ‘You are my sunshine’, which left the audience asking for more. Her sidemen are solid and incredible in reacting to all nuances and changes of her piano playing and together form a special trio, instrumental or when Patricia is singing. It is a kind gesture to have your sidemen perform soli within the show … but whether it is necessary to have a bass and/or drum solo in every song in my opinion is debatable. It, in most cases, stretches the song unnecessary and by that losing intensity and the essence of the composition. Nevertheless, a performance of top quality and musicianship.
The Bad Plus were next in town on November 26th, performing at the packed to capacity Clamores Club. They opened the concert with two compositions by bass player Reid Anderson from their 2nd album, 2003’s ‘These are the vistas’, ‘Everywhere you turn’ and ‘Big Eater, before running through some of their back catalogue, focusing on the first and second album of the new Plus, ‘Never Stop II’ and the recently released ‘Activate Infinity’. What makes the Bad Plus so special is their quirkiness, their rhythmic power and openness to explore the essence of any song they perform. They can fall from a swinging moment easily into a free exploration of a theme, only to go back to a simple and stunning melody. Pianist Orrin Evans fits like a glove into the concept and the music mainly composed by Anderson and drummer Dave King, even so two of Evans’ contributions to the evening as a composer, ‘Commitment’ and ‘The Red Door’ were amazing and touching. All three musicians had their incredible moments in the spotlight, but their tightness as a trio was simply astonishing and at times got the audience into shouts of wonder and encouragement. I have been working with the group(s) for almost 15 years and never heard/seen a show that didn’t get me. Top of the world!!!
Unknowingly we kept the best for last: Norwegian singer and occasional pianist Rebekka Bakken and band performed a powerful and emotional show, bending genres and delivered a concert of pure class at the Teatro Fernan Gomes. Rebekka is an amazing singer, with a fantastic range and total control of her voice – she can be the rock singer one moment, a delicate and emotional singer of ballads next and all seems natural and easy. Her band, consisting of Kjetil Bjerkestrand on organ and piano, Johan Lindstroem on guitars, Tor Egil Kreken on bass and drummers Rune Arnesen and Pal Hausken, is for me the best she ever had and was following responsively each of her musical steps, pushing her, holding back when needed and, together with her, was forming a compact unit, having fun playing together. There was not a dull moment throughout the 90-minute concert, which mainly was made up from repertoire of her 2018 album ‘Things You Leave Behind’. Outstanding her compositions and the way this band treated them – her vocal delivery on songs like ‘True North’, ‘Closer’ and on her cover of ‘Hotel St, Pauli’ was outstanding and full of emotions and brought a few tears to the eyes of the audience. Other highlights from earlier albums included her compositions ‘Mina’s Dream’, a wonderful ‘Powder Room Collapse’ and the covers ‘Little drop of poison’ from her Tom Waits album with the same title and ‘Ghost in this house’, which was absolutely beautiful and touching. Her take of the Norwegian church song ‘Korset vil jeg aldri svike’ went from a captivating acapella song into a piece of psychedelic and spaced out music, before returning to the simplicity of the beginnings. Bakken is at the top of her game, tells stories that matter in her songs and performs them with a band that fully understands who she is as a musician and singer. Perfect!!! Gig of the festival for me!
Finally, a few new records I can recommend:
Ted Quinlan / Absolutely Dreaming – Canadian jazz guitar player Quinlan delivers with ‘Absolutely Dreaming’ another fine record – having his long-time collaborators pianist Brian Dickinson, bass player Kieran Overs and drummer Ted Warren at his side, he sounds relaxed and full of ideas. The nine original compositions are classy jazz songs, inspired by Quinlan’s love to travel. Assured playing by all musicians and some outstanding soloing make this a wonderful jazz album to listen to. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcX5_dQ5kuw
Aaron Dolman / Nostalgia and Other Fantasies – The debut album of drummer Dolman is an interesting and captivating mix of jazz and world/folk music, inspired by looking at old family photos. The album was recorded with Caitlin Smith on viola, Marcus Savard-Lowry on guitar (Left Channel), Zacharie Bachand on guitar (Right Channel) and Mathieu McConnell on bass and takes the listener to different worlds. The compositions are melodic and beautiful, the performance by all players perfect. A surprising gem and definitely worth checking out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUs_5mhC3vI
Ketil Bjornstad / The World I Used To Know – Norwegian pianist Bjornstad is not only a wonderful human being, but a prolific writer, composer and performer. This solo piano album, recorded at Abbey Road Studios in late 2018, is based on his autobiography – a monumental undertaking as each of the books cover a decade of his life, starting in the 60’s and going up to today. This companion album therefore covers his story in music, performed by himself and includes music from Bach, Schubert, Debussy to his own compositions and songs by Joni Mitchell, Ole Paus, George Harrison and Burt Bacharach as well as a wonderful rendition of Keith Jarrett’s ‘In Your Quiet Place’. There are too many highlights on this impressive album to mention them all and Bjornstad makes them fit together, no matter what the source material is. A record for Sunday mornings, a quiet evening with a glass of wine or any other time when beauty is needed in your life! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDZI-TjxjIU
The next blog post, at the end of December, will feature my personal best of 2019 … albums and concerts …