Reflections on Closeness

Madrid is in the grip of a second wave of the Covid19 pandemic – certain neighbourhoods are closed off (including where we live) and new restrictions are in place – too little, too late, if you ask me, but better than nothing. Most of the year so far we had to stay at home or in the ‘barrio’ and therefore had limited chances of a social life … and it doesn’t seem to get better. Thanks to modern communication technology one can be in touch with family and friends, but not in touching distance! We miss going out with friends and going to gigs, but for the sake of everyone’s health, we must go through this, so we can build something better for the future. Let us try still to be positive and make the best out of this challenge and chance we got. As always music helps and here are some great new releases I listened to lately, for you to check out:

Florian Arbenz & Greg Osby / Reflections – the drummer of VEIN and Greg Osby got together last December to record a duo album of ‘Reflections Of The Eternal Line’. As well in the studio was Stephan Spicher, who painted while the music was recorded, and this painting was then used as the album cover … art directly inspired by a different genre of art! Five of the seven compositions on the album are by Arbenz, two by Osby. The opener ‘Wooden Lines’ is a groovy and powerful composition by the drummer and shows off the amazing communication between the two musicians. ‘Chant’, another Arbenz piece, is exactly that – a contemplative and emotional chant of sax and percussion. Between the outstanding interactions of the two musicians they leave each other space for individual expressions, only to get back to musically ‘discuss’ what just happened … truly amazing! ‘Passage Of Light’ and Osby’s ‘Please Stand By Me’ are very good examples for that. Another wonderful addition to the library of sax/drum duos. Highly recommended!!

Ellen Andrea Wang / Closeness – For her third album Norwegian bass player and singer Wang recruited young British guitar player Rob Luft and Swedish drummer Jon Fält to form a trio extraordinaire! She as well wrote all the music on the album, except  for the Traditionals ‘Nobody Knows’ and ‘Wayfaring Stranger’, as well as ‘Lonely Woman’ by Ornette Coleman and ‘This Is Not America’ by Metheny, Bowie and Mays. The opener ‘Erasmus’ is the perfect showcase for Wang’s writing skills and the musicality of each member of the trio – the closeness between the three musicians is evident right from the start: Fält setting the pace, Wang adding the beat and steadiness and Luft is flying over their infectious groove and delivering an outstanding  solo. Their reading of the Spiritual ‘Nobody Knows’ is delicate, laid back and in perfect support of Wang’s vocals. They play with immense respect for each other and the material they are performing, and one can hear that. The communication between them is immaculate and therefore they sound like a group that played together for a long while. ‘Strange Flower’ and all other Wang compositions give the musicians the chance to shine and they do – individually and as a unit. ‘Lonely Woman’ opens with a beautiful bass intro, before Wang’s voice enters, and bass and vocals continue together until guitar and drums carefully enter to enhance the touching atmosphere and take the song further out. A stunning version!!! And so is ‘This Is Not America’ with Fält setting the groove, Wang’s voice comes in …. and Luft lets fly into a wonderful guitar solo again. The album closes with two quiet numbers – Wang’s ‘Silence’ and ‘Wayfaring Stranger’, both with incredible vocals by Wang. Her bass sound is deep and full, and she grooves, swings, and sets the heartbeat for all songs with ease. From the song selection and even through her own songs one can hear that this record is as well a wonderful tribute to bass master Charlie Haden. For me one of the best releases of 2020 so far. Outstanding!

Alex Moxon Quartet – the young Canadian’s debut album features, beside the leader on guitar, Steve Boudreau on piano, John Geggie on bass, and Michel Delage on drums. One can hear that the quartet has played many times together as they communicate perfectly and sound like a unit in performing Moxon’s compositions. The album opens powerful with Woody Shaw’s ‘In A Capricornian Way’, one of two compositions not from the leader, the other one being a stunning 12-minute solo guitar version of Chris Cornell’s ‘Black Hole Sun’. Other highlights include ‘Mining For Gold’, another example of impressive finger-work and ‘Romantique’, a well performed and uplifting ballad. The step from sideman to leader is never an easy one, Moxon has delivered a wonderful first record and shown that his time is now! Recommended!!

Mino Cinelu & Nils Petter Molvaer / SulaMadiana – These two artists I know individually for about 20 years each and have over that time worked on various projects of and with them … when they told me that they would record an album together I was truly excited, as I could clearly imagine what they could do together – and they exceeded these expectations by far!! Percussionist, guitar player and singer Mino Cinelu and trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer created (with the help of some electronics) a wonderful and captivating musical landscape. ‘New York Stroll’, a groovy instrumental with Molvaer laying New York impressions over the beat, is a great example of how the difference backgrounds of these musicians can create a wonderful blend of sounds and expressions. ‘SulaMadiana’ incorporates Cinelu’s grooves, guitar and vocals to construct a captivating and touching song, dedicated by the musicians to Many Dibango. Sula is the Norwegian island where Molvaer grew up and Madiana is a synonym for Martinique, where Cinelu’s father comes from. “SulaMadiana” combines therefore both artists history and present, culturally, and musically, but with an eye on the tomorrow. ‘Kanno Mwen’ is another beauty of musical expression, crossing genre borders with ease. ‘Rose Of Jericho’ is a powerful and dynamic piece and next to the title track one of my favourites on the album. This is simply great music by two master musicians. Sublime!!!!

Dan Pitt / Monochrome – This is Pitt’s second album, after the critically acclaimed trio recording ‘Fundamentally Flawed’ and it is a solo guitar recording. Using various guitars and effects to create the desired sounds and atmospheres, Pitt makes music without genre borders, inclusive of elements of jazz, folk, electronica, and rock. The opener ‘Ghosts’ is a contemplative piece, followed by a more rock influenced ‘Attraction’ and that sets the pace for the album – beauty and rouges sit next to each other and make sense through the fingers of the guitarist. ‘Long Lake’ is a beautiful composition and touchingly performed. Very cool as well ’Lester Sleeps In’, which ends the album on a high. Expect the unexpected and check this out – another Canadian guitarist to have an eye on!!!


May they rest in peace:

Gary Peacock (1935 – 2020) – bass player extraordinaire with the Keith Jarrett Trio, which I had the pleasure to hear and see many times over the years, either performing standards or improvising freely. I totally love his recording with Ralph Towner, ‘Oracle’ and ‘Muthspiel, Peacock, Muthspiel, Motian’, a 1993 release by the brothers Wolfgang and Christian Muthspiel, for which I was executive producer.

Toni Belenguer (1978 – 2020) – as a trombone player Belenguer had a massive impact in the Spanish jazz scene and I saw him perform a few times with the Pablo Martin Caminero group (see photo below from one of the shows at the now closed BOGUI club in Madrid) and witnessed his outstanding talent. Beside this group and his own formation, he performed among others with the Michael Brecker Quindectet, Perico Sambeat and Albert Sanz. He will be sorely missed.


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