August Celebrations

August Celebrations – Wayne Shorter’s 87th birthday, celebrated with a wonderful tribute album (see review below); Branford Marsalis turning 60 and finishing the soundtrack to the Netflix production ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ and 100 years since the birth of Charlie Parker … Three iconic musicians with timeless compositions and recordings. Sure, a good reason to celebrate as the ongoing battle against the COVID19 virus continues as well as the fights for freedom and equality around the globe. Strange times indeed and times that need the magic of music more than ever to help us to go through all this.  Here is a selection of albums which were released and  I listened to lately:

Ian McGimpsey and Harrison Argatoff / Ontario 559 West – a rare guitar / saxophone duo outing made in Canada. Guitarist McGimpsey and Tenorist Harrison Argatoff recorded an album of short and emotional songs, inspired by Nick Drake’s ‘Pink Moon’. Half of the 15 compositions are a collaborative effort, the rest individual contributions from both players. The focus is on simplicity and staying in the song format and expressing the emotions straight through the two instruments. These miniatures, the shortest is 1 minute 34 and the longest 4 minutes 12, are best enjoyed with a glass of wine and a quiet environment. Touching simplicity is difficult to create, on this album it is wonderfully achieved. A pleasure to listen to!


Mehmet Ali Sanlikol / The Rise Up: Stories Of Strife, Struggle And Inspiration – ‘The Rise Up’ was written on request for sax master Dave Liebman and features him as the main soloist. Sanlikol uses his expanded Whatsnext? orchestra to tell his stories and musically combines Turkish classical music, flamenco, Sephardic Jewish musical elements, and middle eastern traditional music into a unique and utterly beautiful and touching art. Says Sanlikol: “As a musician who is devoted to a type of multiculturalism that is not touristic but truly internalised, I was particularly careful to incorporate the Turkish makam, usul (rhythmic cycles), microtones, and inflections without exoticizing them.” The music is a trip through time and cultures and leaves the listener stunned and uplifted, as the stories told are human in their core. Liebman seems to be at home in whatever Sanlikol wrote for him and absorbs the various influences and cultures to add his own and distinctive voice to the music. A large ensemble album that will have a good run at a Grammy in that category and should find a global audience for its quality and masterful writing and performance. Stunning!!!!!


Nubya Garcia / Source – I have mentioned tenor sax player Garcia a few times in my blog already, met her and have seen her perform and now have the chance to write about her full album debut ‘Source’, which was just released. To make a long story short: it was worth the wait!! Power- and soulful compositions, energetic performances and a modern approach rooted in the tradition, make this album standing out. Recorded with Daniel Casimir on bass, Joe Armon-Jones on piano, keyboards, Sam Jones on drums and guests Ms Maurice* on trumpet and flügelhorn, and vocalists Akenya, Cassie Kinoshi, Richie Seivwright and Sheila Maurice-Grey, this album is a wonderful modern jazz record, multicultural and rooted in its time, without losing its focus. The 12-minute title track is simply amazing, and the Latin influenced ’La cumbia me esta llamando’ a cool and groovy affair. With every listen I discover more and more nuances and little delights in this music!  Incredible – one of the best releases this year so far!!

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Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah / Axiom – I do admit being a fan of this outstanding trumpet player and composer and have therefore seen many of his shows in Europe over the years  – from club performances to festivals one thing is always guaranteed: you’ll get your money’s worth of powerful and emotional music!!! This live recording from March 2020 at NYC Blue Note is no exception – Chief Adjuah is in blistering form and his horn wails, calls, and whispers when necessary. His fantastic band, featuring Elena Pinderhughes on flute, Alex Han on alto sax, Weedie Braimah on djembe, congas and bata, Corey Fonville on drums and SPDSX, Lawrence Fields on piano, Rhodes, Korg and Kris Funn on bass, is cooking as well as their boss and stretching the compositions to wonderful improvised expressions of humanity. Says Christian, who composed all music on the recording except for the David Crosby song ‘Guinnevere’: “There’s a difference between hearing and listening. The intention to understand is present in listening. When you listen to our band, what you are hearing is the sound of listening”. Not only that, you can hear the past as well the present and future of improvised music, performed by musicians who are listening to each other, reacting, and creating on the spot and so creating beauty in sound. A must in times when concerts are rare, and you seek that ‘live’ feeling and a top record in any case. Incredible!!!


Black Art Jazz Collective / Ascension – The Black Art Jazz Collective was founded in 2012 by saxophonist Wayne Escoffery and trumpet player Jeremy Pelt to pay homage to their mentors and musical influences as well as to preserve the tradition, while moving forward. ‘Ascension’ was recorded with James Burton III on trombone, Victor Gould on piano, Rashaan Carter on bass and Mark Whitfield Jr. on drums and features compositions by band members Escoffery, Pelt, Gould and Burton, as well as Jackie McLean’s ‘Twin Towers’. The musical nods of appreciation include Larry Willis, Harold Mabern, Wayne Shorter, Woody Shaw and of course Jackie McLean. The band is tight, swings incredibly and opens up spaces in the songs for wonderful improvisations. Going forward means you have to know where you come from …. Respect!!


Jesse Fischer / Resilience – Pianist, producer and composer Fischer brought with him into the studio the following  group of top musicians: trumpeter Billy Buss, saxophonist Godwin Louis, drummer Obed Calvaire, electric bassist David Cutler, guitarist Jordan Peters and percussionist Keita Ogawa, plus a number of special guests including trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, vocalists Becca Stevens and Sarah Elizabeth Charles, harmonica master Gregoire Marét, as well as Morgan Guerin, appearing on tenor sax, EWI, and drums, plus percussionist Mino Cinélu. His compositions are modern jazz with some African and Jewish cultural influences, groovy or contemplative, melodic and touching. Fischer as well was the lyricist for the two vocal tracks on the record, which are both remarkable, as different as they are. Powerful the title track featuring the wonderful trumpet by Christian Scott. Another highlight is the track ‘Chorale’, a classical influenced composition, about which Fischer says: “I tried to imagine Glenn Gould, playing a bar mitzvah, at an A.M.E. church deep in Brooklyn… what would that sound like?” An album definitely worth checking out.!!!


Kasia Pietrzko / Ephemeral Pleasures – Pianist Kasia Pietrzko is for me one of the most interesting young artists to emerge in Europe and the critical success of her first album ‘Forthright Stories’ and more dates outside of Poland are testimony of this. Her new self-released album was recorded with Andrzej Święs on double bass and Piotr Budniak on drums and features 10 tracks – four composed by Pietrzko, one by Święs and 5 improvisations called Episodes. Kasia writes with her Polish and European classical background in mind but gives within songs composition and improvisation equal importance. ‘Dearest John’, a more contemplative composition, is one of the highlights of the album with Kasia displaying her melodic and storytelling skills. ‘For T. S.’, a dedication to Tomasz Stanko, is another beauty of a song, a bit more upbeat, with wonderful performances by all three musicians. The five Episode tracks give the Trio a chance to improvise either as a collective or individually and they offer the listener a different side of the group. On ‘Episode V’ Pietrzko makes the piano sound like falling rain on a summer’s day … a perfect way to close an overall impressive recording. It is time that a good label picks her up to make her music globally available – she deserves it for sure. Outstanding!!!


Various / Palladium 2020 – this 22-track tribute to the music of Wayne Shorter is the brainchild of jazz social media promoter Jesse Markowitz and his first work as a producer. Jesse invited some of his favourite artists to record a tune either written or made famous by Wayne Shorter and the result is stunning: each of the performances just enhances the awe one had already for Wayne Shorter as a composer and musical visionary. The list of participating artists is ranging from jazz masters as Dave Liebman via established artists like Mark Whitfield, Eric Reed, Melissa Aldana to young and partly not widely known acts like pianist Sean Mason. Beside these there are contributions by Sasha Berliner, Nicole Glover, Daniel Duke, Nic Cacioppo, Shai Maestro, Emmet Cohen, Russell Hall, Kyle Poole, Willy Rodriguez, Chien Chien Lu, Benny Green, Pablo Held, Dan Tepfer, Luther S. Allison, Kevin Hays, Nite Bjuti (Candice Hoyes, MiMi Jones & Val Jeanty), Gabe Schnider, Jason Marsalis, Mariel Bildsten, Veronica Swift, Dan Chmielinski, Michael Eckert, Julius Rodriguez, Morgan Guerin and words from Wayne & Carolina Shorter. Sasha Berliner’s opener ‘Meridianne – A Wood Sylph’ sets the tone for the album – adventurous, delicate, and looking forward, perfectly reflecting what Wayne Shorter’s music is all about, without losing the always imminent human touch in his music.  It is difficult to pick favourites from this amazing record, as each performer made the material, they worked with, respectfully their own. The Aldana / Maestro duo recording of ‘Infant Eyes’ is one highlight for me and so is ‘Footprints’ by Liebman with drummer Willy Rodriguez or Kevin Hays’ ‘ESP’, or Mark Whitfield’s solo guitar rendition of ‘Midnight In Carlotta’s Hair’, or trombonist Mariel Bildsten’s brass arrangement for ‘Sleeping Dance, Sleep On’ or the closing track of the album ‘Orbits’, performed by young keyboarder Julius Rodriguez and soprano sax player Morgan Guerin. A feast for my ears!! Markowitz captured the spirit and open mind of Shorter with the right song selection and the right artists to perform them … a tribute album that sits comfortably next to some of Hal Wilner’s productions. Out of this world!!!!

Palladium 2020

not enough time …

There are so many new releases in jazz every week, that it is hard to follow what’s coming out in the various markets around the world. Despite having more time at my hands while being more at home and doing some research and listening, it is still impossible to hear them all or even a small percentage. And of course, in most cases I avoid writing about the ‘big’ releases, as they get enough publicity anyway, but try to find some great unknown acts or upcoming musicians to introduce to a slightly wider audience. And maybe one or the other of the readers follows up and does enjoy a certain record … than my job would be done and all can be happy.

With the pandemic still troubling this world in many ways, I still recommend to buy music, not stream it, as artists now depend on that income much more than ever and ordering a CD from your local music shop or online service helps them as well. Time to built your COVID music library … and here are a few recommendations of recently released albums:

Sharqant / Sharqant – founded by guitarist Manar Alhashemi, the groups self-titled debut album features band members Hassan Albadri on oud, Mouhammad Fadel Kuj on percussion and Mouhammad Almajzoub as the vocalist plus the Norwegians Håkon Kornstad on saxophone / vocals and Knut Reiersrud on guitar and bass. Together, based on mainly Egyptian, Iranian, and Syrian texts, they create stunning and unique music – a melange of Arabic and Nordic influences with lots of space for improvisations. A floating sound scape of melodic beauty and deep interaction. Atmospheric at times, groovy at others, this is an album that draws the listener into the music, revealing individually imagined stories and being touched by the emotions in sound. Top performance marks all around make this record standing out. One of the recordings that really prove that music is a global language. Highly recommended!

Simone Kopmejer / My Wonderland – Austrian singer Kopmejer is building a reputation as a traditional jazz singer to watch in Europe and some Asian markets … and her new album will surely help her to make some steps forward – classy tunes, from some great originals (‘My Wonderland’ and ‘A Trembling Moon’, based on Debussy’s Claire de Lune) to Ellington, Bacharach, Jobim, Santana and others, perfectly sung and played by her outstanding band, featuring Terry Myers on tenor sax and clarinets, Paul Urbanek on piano, Martin Spitzer on guitar, Karl Sayer on bass and Reinhard Winkler on drums. Simone intonates perfectly, is at home in ballads and up-tempo songs and radiates the joy of singing in all tracks. Delightful!!!!

Kari Van Der Kloot / The Architects – ‘The Architects’ is the second album by New York based Canadian singer and song writer van der Kloot and features fellow Canadians Jamie Reynolds and Lisanne Tremblay on piano and violin respectively, as well as bassist Gary Wang and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell. The songs are wonderful stories put to music and are set in the tradition of the great Canadian song writers like Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, but with a modern touch. The themes of the songs tell us about growing, trying to break out of our routines and create the world in a way we would like to live in. Kari’s voice is strong and fragile at the same time, her band supporting perfectly and so transporting the emotional content of the music to the listener. A true discovery!!!

James Brandon Lewis & Chad Taylor / Live in Willisau – last year’s jazz festival in Willisau again put on a sax / drum duo, as they had done successfully in the past with Dewey Redman & Ed Blackwell as well as Max Roach & Archie Shepp. Saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and drummer Chad Taylor in their show payed tribute to these historical concerts, as well gave a nod to Coltrane and Ellington. Past, Presence and Future – their music, full of dynamics, roughness, and beauty, covers it all and is in a category of its own – free as well as structured, melodic, and full of groove. The raw energy of the performance is even on the recording amazing and captivating. The communication between the two musicians works on the highest musical level and the result is an outstanding album of improvised music, fitting our times. James Brandon Lewis once again confirms that he is one of the most accomplished improvisers of his generation and with master drummer Taylor he found the perfect partner. Sublime!!!

Regina Carter Freedom Band / Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground – Violinist extraordinaire Carter called up an all-star band to record this musical and political statement – John Daversa trumpet and flugelhorn, Kabir Sehgal on bass and percussion, Harvey Mason on drums and Jon Batiste on piano, plus Alexis Cuadrado on bass. Says Carter: “voting is a civic duty and an extremely important responsibility, even more so now as we are living in surreal times…we have become a divided country of Red vs. Blue, Us vs. Them or Not Our Kind and that pot is starting to boil over. The Swing States project is a musical contribution that I hope will help galvanize folks to get out, exercise their right to vote and encourage their brothers and sisters to do so as well.” The Song selection reflects music from the ‘Swing States’ and is delivered with verve and an underlying optimism, hopefully encouraging people to take part in the coming democratic process. Regina Carters playing is second to none, emotional and touching, soaring, and leaving us wanting for more. Musically essential, but as a record in our times, even more so – listen, enjoy, and then get out and vote! Timeless!!!

Ant Law / The Sleeper Wakes – On his 4th band album, Law steps out not only as a skilful guitarist, but again as a talented composer, whose songs this time around transmit positivity, warmth, and humour. Supported by Michael Chillingworth on alto saxophone & bass clarinet, Ivo Neame on piano, Tom Farmer on acoustic bass, James Maddren on drums, plus guests Tim Garland on tenor saxophone and Adam Kovacs on percussion, ‘The Sleeper Wakes’ becomes a powerful statement by Ant and will further enhance his already growing reputation. There is a great band feel to the performances and beside Ant especially Neame and Maddren are standing out from this wonderful ensemble. This is modern improvised music, with swing and beautiful little melodies. Made me smile all through the album and made me enjoy the musicality of the group and its leader. Outstanding!

John Finley / Soul Singer – After returning to Canada and a 5 decades lasting career as singer and song writer, John Finley presents his latest recording, mainly featuring his own compositions – only 3 of the 11 songs are not either written or co-written by Finley. Starting off the album is his ‘Let Me Serenade You’, which was a hit for Three Dog Night in 1973 and still sounds like a cool track. ‘Go’ is a little funky gem and very well sung. So is ‘Money Love’ and his take on Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ is touching and soulful.  Finley’s unique singing is supported here by Lou Pomanti as the producer and on piano, organ and keyboards, Marc Rogers on bass, Larnell Lewis and Davide DiRenzo on drums, Danny Weiss, John Findlay and Sam Pomanti on guitar, William Sperandei and Tony Carlucci on trumpet, William Carn on trombone, Allison Young on saxophone and Robin Newman, Gavin Hope, Amoy Levy, Ciceal Levy and Katherine Rose on background vocals. A wonderful vocal album with great tunes and a charismatic and very individual singer. A real surprise!!

Alvaro Rojas / Gran Kasa – about his new project guitarist Rojas says: “If I were to sum up this record in a few words, I might say it sounds a bit like a 70’s prog band, a salsa band and a string quartet going on a road trip together”. Fellow musicians on this trip are Meredith Bates on violin, Peggy Lee on cello, Chris Gestrin on piano and analog synths, James Meger on acoustic and electric bass, Liam MacDonald on percussion and Sam Cartwright on drums. Peruvian icon Susana Baca adds her voice to the outstanding ‘Tu, La Tierra’, the rest are instrumentals by the leader. Strong compositions with a lot of different influences, melodic and with their own sound. A great ensemble makes this record fun and rewarding to listen to. Worth checking out!!!