the masked listener

End of May and slowly the restrictions imposed are eased here in Madrid, but there is still a long way to go … I only leave house with a mask and when really needed. We have times when we could go out for a walk, but then everyone is and most people didn’t care so far to wear a mask (which is now mandatory) or think about the necessary distances … some images of overcrowded plazas or beaches are simply shocking … not only in Spain, but the US, Italy, the UK and so on …. for me hard to understand, I refer to ‘better safe than sorry’.

The last two months there have been tons of albums released … I did listen to a lot of them and selected 12, which I am presenting below. Enjoy

Silvia Perez Cruz, Marco Mezquida / MA Live in Tokyo – after two years of touring and performing as a duo, singer and guitarist Silvia Perez Cruz and pianist Marco Mezquida recorded this album in October 2019 in Tokyo. Silvia is one of the most versatile and amazing singers of today’s Spain and Marco a talented and lyrical pianist, who together create an intimate show for the audience. The musical communication between the two is stunning, the way Mezquida supports her sensitive and touching and Perez Cru’z voice floats over the spare notes and emotionally captivates the audience. Outstanding their version of Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’, one of 4 songs in English on the album, next to a powerful take on  ‘The Sound Of Silence’ and ‘Lonely Woman’ plus ‘My Funny Valentine, the last two being part of an incredibly performed Medley that as well includes ‘Christus Factus Est’. This is the art of song, the art of accompaniment on the highest level. There is not a track on the album that does not reach top standard – a record that should be heard and appreciated around the world – Music for our times!!

Silje Nergaard / Silje Nergaard – This wonderful 2 CD album by Norwegian singer Nergaard is a celebration of 30 years as a recording artist. I met Silje first in 1999, when I helped her to get signed to Universal Norway and we worked together or have been in touch ever since. On disc 1 she is revisiting some of her older successes, but this time just as a duo with the excellent pianist Espen Berg. These recordings showcase again what a great songwriter and what an outstanding singer she is. Faultless vocal performances throughout this acoustic set make it an intimate and emotional listening experience. Between some of her best songs we can find here Peter Gabriel’s ‘Mercy Street’ and Freddie Mercury’s ‘ Love Of My Life’, which she both makes completely her own and as bonus tracks there is her version of ‘What A Wonderful World’ as well as a Norwegian language take on ‘Gracias al la vida’. Outstanding! Disc 2 holds all new music – a concept album entitled ‘Hamar Railway Station’, inspired by Silje’s youth in the town of Hamar and the dreams of seeing the world, travelling, finding adventures, returning. The songs are mature compositions and are perfectly performed by some of Norway’s best musicians: Audun Erlien on bass, Wetle Holte on drums, Andreas Ulvo on keys, Mike Hartung and Sidsel Walstad on harp, Nils Einar Vinjor on guitar and Karla Nergaard Totland on backing vocals. Another interesting fact of disc 2 is that the Hamar album is on it twice – first the English version and then the same songs again, but in Norwegian … Double the music, double the pleasure!!! Happy anniversary Silje — keep going!!!!

Ute Lemper / Rendezvous With Marlene – For me Ute Lemper is one of the best singers we have today – limitless in her repertoire or genre, always powerful and emotional and immaculate in performing. Her most recent show is based on a 3-hour phone call and exchange between her and Marlene Dietrich in 1988 in Paris. What an experience to be able to talk with Marlene about her life, her work, her love for the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, as well as her complicated relationship with Germany. The songs on this disc, from all periods of Dietrich’s life, are in the show connected by Ute speaking about the contents of that call …. here we have ‘just’ the music …. a selection of known songs from ‘Lili Marleen’ to ‘Blowing In The Wind’, ‘Falling In Love Again’ via many others to a touching rendition of ‘Where have all the flowers gone’. 20 Songs, all performed excellently by Lemper and her band, sung in English, German and French, sometimes two languages within a song. The musicians on her side on this recording are Vana Gierig on piano and keyboards, Matthew Parish on bass, Cyril Garac on violin, Todd Turkisher on drums, Gary Schreiner on accordion, Tim Ouimette on trumpet and fluegelhorn and Aaron Heick on saxophones plus all strings arranged and orchestrated by Martin Gellner and Werner Stranka and conducted by Martin Gellner. They create the perfect musical bedding for Lemper’s voice to shine and support the essence of the songs. A disc and a show not to be missed!!! The musical story of two lives who have somehow much in common. Wonderful!!!

Lauren Henderson / The Songbook Session – This album by singer Henderson is her sixth collaboration with outstanding pianist Sullivan Fortner and is featuring Eric Wheeler as well on bass and Allan Menard on drums. Henderson’s Panamanian, Montserratian, and Caribbean roots are mixed with her North American upbringing and giving her the perfect cultural background for these songs … from a swinging ‘Day By Day’ via a ‘Besame Mucho’ that opens as a wonderful drum / vocal duo, to her version of ‘Tenderly’, entitled ‘Tiernamente’. Notes Henderson: “I selected ‘Tenderly’ because I grew up listening to Billie Holiday’s rendition with my father.  I have always tried to incorporate my cultures into my music. I was inspired to write my own lyrics in Spanish to tie it together.” Her band is stunning in the way they support her, play behind her and lead when allowed. Especially Fortner is incredible and seems to anticipate every breath she takes – just check out the piano / vocal version of ‘Day By Day’ that closes the album … wow!! Recommended!!!

Sophia Smith / Elevation – ‘Elevation’ is the debut album by the Sophia Smith Quartet, founded in 2017 and featuring beside Smith on alto saxophone pianist Amir Mehrabi, bass player Sam Fitzpatrick and drummer Agneya Chikte. Smith, who composed all the tracks on the record, is influenced by the music of Chris Potter, Kenny Garrett and Pat Metheny and has a unique blend of modern jazz, with a foot in the tradition and the other going forward, and beautiful little melodies, that, together with her clear sound on the alto makes the music positive and uplifting. The groups improvisations, as an ensemble or individual, are faultless and are enhancing each composition. A very promising debut album from a band to watch out for!!!!

Aaron Parks / Little Big II: Dreams Of A Mechanical Man – “I want to cast a spell,” explains Parks, “to lull you into a trance where you think you know where you’re going, and then take you somewhere unexpected, almost without realizing how you got there.” With the help of his Little Big collaborators (guitarist Greg Tuohey, bassist David “DJ” Ginyard, and drummer Tommy Crane) he manages that perfectly: creative improvised music with influences from electronica, jazz, pop, hop-hop and indie-rock that captivates throughout and surprises constantly. Says Parks: “Today, the band operates as a single organism. The first record was about the tunes and the aesthetic. This album keeps that focus and captures the chemistry we’ve developed on the road, the way this band feels as it makes music in the moment.” Great individual performances and tight ensemble performances of Parks modern compositions make this a truly wonderful album. This will be on many year-end lists, I am sure!!

Bartosz Hadala / Three Short Stories – Polish-Canadian pianist and composer Hadala released with ‘Three Sort Stories’ his second album, featuring fellow musicians Luis Deniz (alto sax), Kelly Jefferson (soprano sax), Eric St Laurent (guitar),  Brad Cheeseman and Michael Manring (bass guitar), Marito Marques (drums, percussion) and João Frade (accordion). Hadala’s composition are complex and modern, but accessible when listening deeper – there is a wonderful flow to the album and the songs swing, have a touch of blues or funk and are all exceptionally well performed. In an overall great record, the outstanding tracks for me are ‘Monks Unfinished Symphony’ a quirky little number, ‘Longing’, plus the title track as well as ‘The Itsy-Bitsy Spider Blues’. Check this out!!!!

AuB / AuB – AuB (pronounced ORB) is the debut album from a London based quartet masterminded by saxophonists Tom Barford and Alex Hitchcock and additionally featuring bass player Fergus Ireland, who together with Hitchcock and Barford performs on synthesizers as well, and drummer James Maddren. With a two-sax frontline the music is modern, powerful, and fierce while remaining open for improvisations. Even so the first track on the album is called ‘Not Jazz’, this is an original, dynamic, uncompromising, and adventurous jazz album, that follows the tradition of the two-tenor set up but taking it into today. Both Barford and Hitchcock are amazing on their saxes and perfectly supported by their rhythm section. Recommended!!!

Matty Stecks & Musical Tramps / Long Time Ago Rumble – saxophonist Matthew Steckler, aka Matty Stecks, is know from various projects he was involved in, most notably Dead Cat Bounce, but with this 2 CD set he showcases his maturity as a composer and leader. For this recording he performed beside the sax on Personnel: flute, vocal, keyboards, electronics and EWI and the rest of the personnel is: Keith Price on guitar, Matt Kozicki  on bass, Eric Platz on drums and percussion, Leanne Zacharias on cello, Catherine Wood on clarinet, Jeff Presslaff on piano & keyboard, Megan Demarest, Hannah Fearn and Lenya Wilks on vocals. The music is a mix of modern jazz, film score, pop songs for grown-ups and avantgarde. Written parts are mixed with free improvisations, all executed amazingly well by the musicians. The use of field recordings within the improvisations is captivating and giving the music and extra edge. As the press text correctly states: “The result is a long-form work both singular concept in process and pluralistic journey in performance.” Stunning!

Harrison Argatoff / Toronto Streets Tour – in 2019 sax player Argatoff performed 30 solo concerts on the streets of Toronto, with locations set in advance and advertised only by postal code, listeners were asked to search for the exact location with open ears … This album is some of the music performed then – 9 originals and two traditional songs, one from Zimbabwe and one from Russia. Argatoff is in complete control of his instrument and plays touching little melodies, so creating emotional and captivating music. Outstanding tracks for me are the almost 12-minute ‘Wait’, ‘Rainfall’, ‘Muroro’ and the beautiful ‘Love Is Love’. A discovery worth making!!!

Periscopes+1 / UP – Periscopes+1 are the two original ‘Periscopers’ Alessandro Sgobbio on piano and Emiliano Vernizzi on tenor sax and electronics plus the 2015 recruit Nick Wright on drums. Their new trio recording is a disc of great compositions, wonderful interplay, and musicianship. This is beautiful, touching, and deep music! Starting out with the captivating ‘Wonderland’ and from there going through various melodic and rhythmic adventures. From the edgy ‘Disco Gagarin’ to the cool groove of ‘Danza Di Kuwa’ and the intense ‘Martyrlied’ to their very own take of Dire Straits ‘Sultans Of Swing’. Unique and highly recommended!!!

Aleph Trio / Promenade – says guitarist Antonio Cece about ‘Promenade’: “During the last ten years I have been travelling in various parts of the world. I visited and lived in different cities, stages, club, rooms. I moved through different cultures, I have stepped in and out trough different musical languages and I have tried hard to reach my inner voice as a human being”. Together with Daniele De Santo on bass and Marco Fazzari on drums, as well as special guest violinist Fernando Marozzi, he put all these memories and emotions into music. His guitar sound is clear and touching, can be laid back and relaxing, or powerful grooving, but always telling us a story … and Fazzari and De Santo back him up and push him when necessary. Surprising and highly recommended debut album.

One response to “the masked listener

  1. Pingback: REVIEW: Lauren Henderson "The Songbook Session" Reviewed on Wulf's Music + Blog - LYDIALIEBMAN.COM

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