jazz A&R today .. and more new music

A short observation on A&R in Jazz today: A&R (Artists and Repertoire) used to be the core of any jazz label – being the direct work with the artists to discuss projects, song selection, side men, recording studios and special guests, producers and engineers – but that has changed over the last few years. Today any artist can easily produce the record they want to do and then, after the recording is done, look for a label or service provider that puts the record out physically and/or digitally. The label function therefore is less A&R oriented and more focused on distribution, marketing and promotion. At new labels like Edition Records or Ropeadope, to name just two of many, artists make license deals for their recordings and work together with the label on marketing and PR by using all social networks and traditional marketing means. These labels act more like collectors, putting together a selection of releases based on what they want on their labels … some more narrow in their musical selection process, others more open. A&R is probably more done at the major labels once they signed an artist, as they must fulfil the overall company’s objective as well as their own and must make sure the released music fits these parameters. In this climate the process of A&R in jazz seems to fall more to the team around the artist, like managers, agents and producers (in case the artist isn’t self-producing), as they are in more direct contact with the musician than most labels are today. This doesn’t mean that jazz labels today don’t need A&R people, they do, as the discussion on future projects once an artist is licensing his/her music to a label is obviously happening, but A&R people need to know more than in the past – they have to have a knowledge on modern communication and marketing concepts, to make sure the music they get on the label gets heard. There is now obviously as well the possibility of a form of ‘indie A&R’, as many artists, who recorded their music do not know to which label to go with it, or how to approach a label when not having the right contacts. Such an A&R person would not only need to know the musicians, but as well most major and indie label personnel and have contacts there to provide them with new recordings that are needing a home.  If one understands the philosophy and musical direction of any label and is able to place recordings that fit within these parameters, it is a win-win situation for the label and the artist and as well for the indie A&R person. I am sure we will see more indie A&R, for the lack of a better description, in the future.


On Tuesday February 24th a new trio formed by pianist Daniel Garcia Diego, bassist Pablo Martin Caminero and drummer Shayan Fathi had their first ever concert at Madrid’s Café Central. The trio, billed by the venue as Trio Flamenco, sees itself as a jazz group that has its base in Flamenco and performs a complex mix of the two styles. Repertoire includes compositions by Daniel as well as Pablo and Paco de Lucia, Chick Corea and others. The way the group mixed the complex rhythms of Flamenco with jazz improvisation left the audience in awe of their musicianship. The trio mainly worked as a unit, supporting as well when one of them played a solo and therefore constantly changing colours and creating an intense atmosphere. Paco de Lucia’s ‘Zyryab’ was a firework of rhythms and explosive interaction … but the compositions by Daniel and Pablo as well caught the ear of the listener for their beauty and power … and when the group got into Lyle Mays ‘Travels’ as an encore and tribute to the late musician, respect and emotion were flowing through the performance and captivated the attentive audience. As debuts go, this was a top one and I can’t wait to hear what these guys are going to record in a few months’ time. Something special happening here ….

Five Days later I had the pleasure to hear one of the longest performing small groups in European jazz – the Marcin Wasilewski Trio, which is working and recording together for 26 years now. Their communication and understanding are incredible and gives them space to constantly exchange ideas when improvising. The sold out concert in the Sala Camara of Madrid’s Auditorio Nacional featured mainly Wasilewski’s compositions, some known from previous recordings, as the wonderful ’Night Train with You’ and ‘Austin’, as well as three new ones, ‘Glimmer Of Hope’, ‘Amour Fou’ and ‘Passing Sorrow’, which confirmed once again what a great composer Wasilewski is. These three songs will be on a new, already recorded, album and based on these songs alone it is going to be another great record by the trio. Slawomir Kurkiewicz on bass and drummer Michal Miskiewicz were outstanding as well and made the piano trio really sound like a group, not just three musicians playing together. They can swing, lay back in ballads and groove, as they did in the last song of the concert, Herbie Hancock’s ‘Actual Proof’, before coming back for a touching rendition of Krzysztof Komeda’s ‘Lullaby’ from the soundtrack to Rosemary’s Baby. Catch them if they come to play in a place near you … this is wonderful melodic jazz performed on the highest level!

New releases:

Weird Turn Pro / Maul and Mezcal – this is the group’s third album and as they say an ‘excursion into the cracks in the lining between structure and unpredictability’. Pianist Mike Effenberger, Rob Gerry on bass, Mike Walsh on drums, Matt Langley on reeds, Chris Gagne on trombone and Chris Klaxton on trumpet deliver their best work so far – a meditation on life, presented via collective improvisations and masterly individual performances. This is partly ambient and beautiful, partly powerful and free flowing. WTP is an ensemble that surprises and captivates – through beauty in music and constant quality.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AK9WXqU4V9o&list=PL0e5JozUoqRkj-uMZcMQoBdMEo8r7-Qrt

SHRI / The Letter – bass player Shri (born Shrikanth Sriram) came to fame with the UK group Badmarsh and Shri but has released a string of wonderful albums as well under his own name since 1997. ‘The Letter’ is a tribute to German bass player Eberhard Weber, who wrote Shri an encouraging letter after listening to a demo Shri had made. The two opening tracks of the album ‘Drum The Bass’ and The Letter’ are wonderful solo bass excursions, before a spacey trio track featuring the late drummer Paolo Vinaccia and keyboarder Bugge Wesseltoft takes the listener into a world of sounds, grooves and improvisations. The beautiful ‘New Day’ features the sax of Tore Brunborg in dialogue with Shri on bass and percussion. Other guests on the album include Ben Castle on bass clarinet and Arild Anderson on double bass on 2 bass duo tracks, the eclectic ‘Bow’ and ‘Night’, which ends the album on a quiet and contemplative note. Ten tracks full of surprises, from solo to group performances, showcasing a unique talent. Outstanding!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFvm84WOD1w

Trilok Gurtu / God Is A Drummer – this is already the 20th album by master percussionist Gurtu … and one of his best!!! He has always been at the crossroads of many musical styles and loved to create mixtures of all these genres without losing musical quality or individuality. ‘God Is A Drummer’ works the same way, but as well is a tribute to some of the musicians that have influenced Gurtu along  his musical path like keyboardist and Weather Report co-founder Joe Zawinul, Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos, jazz drumming great Tony Williams, and his mother, the Indian classical singing star Shobha Gurtu. He recorded this album with German trumpeter Frederik Köster, trombonist Christophe Schweizer, Turkish-born keyboardist Sabri Tulug Tirpan and electric bassist Jonathan Cuniado, the perfect partners for this journey around the world in 11 tunes. Wonderful!!!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-DaP0BBUHU

Kat Edmonson / Dreamers Do – On her 5th album, Edmonson takes dreams as a concept and recorded Disney related songs and originals to help us through sleepless nights. The band consists of drummer Aaron Thurston, who co-produced the album with her and arranged most of the songs, bassist Bob Hart, guitarist Matt Munisteri, pianist Matt Ray and Rob Schwimmer on various keyboards. Edmonson is immediately recognizable because of her unique voice and phrasing and as always, her new records is retro, but modern at the same time. Guest appearances by vocal trio Duchess on the wonderful ‘In A World Of My Own’ and Bill Frisell on an equalling beautiful ‘The Age Of Not Believing’ make the album even more outstanding. Beside these tracks just check out the Edmonson composition ‘Too Late To Dream’ as well as her renditions of ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ and ‘What A Wonderful World’ – Sublime!!!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vTdynsh0Po

Kadri Voorand / in duo with Mihkel Mälgand – singer, pianist and composer Voorand is a star in her native Estonia and Mihkle a famous bass player there as well. Together they have performed for a few years already and now released their first international album. The record is an exciting mix of own music and covers and the adding of some electronic make this an interesting and captivating listening experience. Kadri’s voice is powerful and clear, her composition the perfect vehicle for it. Outstanding tracks on the album are her original ‘I’m Not In Love’, Michael Jacksons ‘They Don’t Really Care About Us’ and ‘Kättemaks’, written by Eeva Talsi with Estonian lyrics by Jan Tätte.  A multifaceted recording by an upcoming powerful artist. Highly recommended! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqJowzyQLt4

Pablo Martin Caminero / Bost – the Caminero Quintet’s new album features beside bassist Pablo the usual crew with Ariel Brínguez on sax, Moisés P. Sánchez on piano, Toni Belenguer on trombone and Michael Olivera on drums. Bost (which stands for five in the Basque language) continues Caminero’s flamenco jazz saga with fresh new ideas. All members of this group are amazing musicians in their own right, but here they come together to create a bigger group sound, based on the complex compositions of Martin Caminero. From the title track to ‘El Tema Raro del Disco’, this is fantastic music by a great band. And now, with having a European agent, there is a chance that this band can be seen and heard outside of Spain as well soon – don’t miss out!!!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ds6WflfS8yo

Marek Napiorkowski / Hipokamp – this late 2019 release somehow got lost on my desk and I just got a chance to listen and truly did enjoy the music created by guitarist Napiorkowski, Jan Smoczynski on keyboards, Pawel Dobrowolski on drums, Luis Ribeiro on percussion and special guest Adam Pieronczyk on soprano sax. The album is, except for two tunes by David Bowie (‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Absolute Beginners’) and one by Egberto Gismonti (‘Agua E Vinho’), composed by Marek and shows his incredible writing skills as well as his powerful and emotional guitar play. Outstanding tracks are ‘Brainstorm’, with a screaming sax solo and an incredible guitar performance, the groovy ‘Professor Kuppelweiser’, a beautifully spaced out ‘Space Oddity’ and the rocky ‘Absolute Beginners’! A very cool jazz guitar album indeed!!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggA8L8usgxc

Continuing with my introduction to some Canadian artists and their recent releases for preparation for jazzahead 2020:

Mark Godfrey / Square Peg – the second album by bass player Godfrey features as well Allison Au on alto saxophone, Matt Woroshyl on tenor saxophone, Chris Pruden on piano and Nick Fraser on drums. All compositions are by Godfrey and are for his band of long-time collaborators, except the composition ‘Bucket List’ which ends the album and is written for solo bass. The band uses the space given to improvise in a fantastic manner and groove and swing with passion. Outstanding tracks are ‘No Gig Today’, ‘USS Rent A Car’ and ‘Bucket List’. Recommended!!

Emie R Roussel Trio / Rythme de Passage – the trio of pianist Emie Rioux-Roussel has already played successfully at jazzahead last year, but this new album with Nicolas Bedard on bass and Dominic Cloutier is definitely worth checking out. The music on ‘Rythme de Passage’, their fifth album, is like a conversation: in turn quiet, agitated, and passionate, but always about communicating and performing as a group. Out of the eight songs on the album five are from Roussel, who is not only a great pianist but as well a writer of status and three by Bedard, whose ‘Agent Orange’ is one of the standout tracks on the album, next to Roussel’s ‘Yatse Club’, ‘Rythme de passage’ and ‘Maltagliati’. A piano trio to look out for.

Peter Hum / Ordinary Heroes – Pianist Hum gathered some of Canada’s best musicians around him to record ‘Ordinary Heroes’ – Kenji Omae on tenor saxophone, David Smith on trumpet, Mike Rud on guitar, Alec Walkington, Dave Watts on bass and Ted Warren on drums. Together they create modern mainstream jazz, perfectly performed as an ensemble. Giving meaning and emotions to the social critical and political compositions by Hum. Outstanding tracks are ‘Fake News Blues’, ‘Rabble Rouser’, the touching ‘Tears for the Innocent’ and the title track ‘Ordinary Heroes’. Great performances from all players and a wonderful sound make this album a listening pleasure.

Ernesto Cervini / Tetrahedron – Cervini, one of the countries leading composers and drummers and know from many different projects, has a new band with Tetrahedron, featuring outstanding guitarist Nir Felder, electric bass player Rich Brown and Luis Denz on alto sax. Originally a trio, the addition of Felder took the band into new spheres. The album opens powerful with ‘Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise’ and doesn’t really let go after that: ‘Forward Motion’ and ‘Angelicus’ feature Nir Felder at his best and ‘Stro’ includes some fine work by Denz. Cervini and Brown are holding everything together with masterly rhythm work and finish the record with the powerful ‘The Sneaky Two’. Recommended!


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