too much choice …

While the world is still in the grip of the pandemic, music is released more or less as usual – a few hundred jazz records are put out every month – impossible to check out all of them or even only a small part …. Some of them are released only in the country of origin and even while they would be worth to be enjoyed by a greater audience, they stay local; others stay regional and a few travel the world. I try to listen to as many new releases as I can, preferably from new artists for me, but there is simply too much choice … not a bad thing, as sometimes you will have to miss a record, but a friend will tell you about it and then you go and check it out … and as friends usually know what to recommend, I’ll enjoy the new discovery. And I can’t write about them all, so in my blog I give a reflection of my taste and which records ‘got me’ in the last few weeks … following here is a selection with music from the US, Canada, Brazil, Europe and beyond … Enjoy!

Rymden / Space Sailors – Rymden are Bugge Wesseltoft, Dan Berglund and Magnus Öström and Space Sailors is their second album after their critical acclaimed debut ‘Reflections and Odysseys’, which as well made it into my list of the 10 best records of 2019. After touring constantly throughout last year, their music developed and their mix of electronic and acoustic jazz with prog and psychodelia and shots of rock got tighter, more intense, and powerful. The music of RYMDEN is based on three elements: melancholic & atmospheric compositions, powerful rhythms, and improvisations of the highest level. All three musicians contributed equally to the 12 tracks, 3 each and 3 are listed as trio works, but in the end, all sounds like Rymden … and that actually means ‘space’, which is what their music is all about. Throughout a captivating, surprising and intense album of wonderful soundscapes and outstanding trio and individual performances. Not to be missed!!!!

Harpreet Bansal / Movements – On her new recording violinist Bansal is in company of her working band, featuring Javid Afsari-Rad on santur, Adrian Fiskum Myhr on double bass, Andreas Bratlie on tablas and Vojtech Prochazka on harmonium plus special guest cellist Svante Henryson to continue her musical journey. Bansal is a wonderful composer and the pieces, even so rooted in the Indian raga tradition, display many different influences, ranging from European classical music, to Persia, Eastern European and even Americana. Her playing is always within what the compositions needs, no showcasing or overplaying, but melodic and touching, enhancing the songs. Her band is outstanding in delivering her musical vision with dynamics and fervour. The opener of the album, ‘Cirrus’, a 12-minute musical excursion into dreamland, sets the tone for the album:  groovy but still contemplative, traditional yet modern, constructed but still open. Another highlight is the three part ‘Walk In, Walk Out’, bringing together all the influences in her music to create a suite of true world music. Bansal is making incredible and very individual music. Someone to watch out for!!!  Outstanding!!

Badi Assad / Around The World – a new solo album by singer and guitar virtuoso Badi Assad is always something to look forward to. And ‘Around The World’ is no exception: performing her own material and some wonderful arranged covers, Badi is at her best – creating intimate atmospheres and touching moments of simply musical beauty. The opener ‘Zoar’ is a song she already recorded on her 2006 album ‘Wonderland’, but this new version sets the tone of the record: sublime vocal skills and wonderful guitar performances. ‘Around The World’ is connected to Badi’s first book, released in 2018 and titled ‘Around The World In 80 Artists’, as the covers on the record come from artist from all corners of this world – New Zealand’s Lorde, UK indie rockers alt-J, Irish singer Hozier and Islandic icon Bjork, whose ‘Bachelorette’ is getting the Badi Assad treatment with stunning results. A through and through enjoyable album finishes with one of Badi’s best compositions ‘Ondas’, recorded as well as ‘Waves’ on her 1998 release ‘Chameleon’, and here re-created in a wonderful, simple and captivating way. This album confirms once more, that Badi Assad is one of the most original artists of our time. Sensational!!!

Tim Garland / ReFocus – UK saxist Tim Garland, known for his work in Chick Corea’s Origin group as well as Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, recorded with ‘ReFocus’ an ambitious and challenging project: to take the feel of the music and time of Stan Getz’s and Eddie Sauter’s recording ‘Focus’ into our time. Of the 8 compositions of the album only the first one is from the original a record, the rest written by Garland. The album was recorded with Asaf Sirkis on drums, Yuri Goloubev on bass, Thomas Gould, Ben Hancox, Magdalena Filipczak, Rakhi Singh, Simran Singh on violins, Robin Ashwell, Juan-Miguel Hernandez on violas, Cecilia Bignall on cello, Lauren Scott on harp and guests John Turville on piano, Ant Law on guitar and Adam Kovacs on percussion.  Says Garland on his approach to this music: “My themes are taken, sometimes quite loosely, from fragments that Stan improvised, and I was particularly interested in the lines he played on that album that seemed outside of his central cool-bop language, directly stimulated by his more rarefied environment with a minimum of ‘muscle-memory’ playing.“ The music gives a lot to discover, Garland’s playing is outstanding throughout and touching, guiding the listener deeper into his compositions. The strings are supportive and not dominant, giving colour and body to the music. Garland makes them swing or groove or simply add ambience … ‘ReFocus’ is highly recommended!!!

Adonis Rose / Piece Of Mind – For this new recording, his first ever live, drummer Adonis Rose put together a dream band, for recording and touring projects. The group features beside Rose alto sax player Tia Fuller, Maurice Brown on trumpet, Sasha Masakowski on vocals, Miki Hayama on piano and Jasen Weaver on bass. They are playing repertoire Rose always wanted to record, starting the album with Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Keep Your Soul Together’, a groovy straight jazz track, leading into Bob James’ ‘Piece Of Mind’, with both tracks giving the musicians a chance to shine as an ensemble and individually. Fuller performs outstanding in Ellis Marsalis’ ‘Nostalgic Impressions’ and Brown in his own composition ‘Lovely’ and in ‘Maurice’s Rap’. ‘Sunny Side Of The Street’ is arranged beautifully and Masakowski’s vocals are on the spot. The album ends with a group jam entitled ‘Blue Llama Jam’, which brought the audience on its feet … a powerful group, master performances from all musicians and emotions and fun passed from the stage to the audience … what more can one ask for? Highly recommended to lift your spirits in these strange times.

Champian Fulton / Birdsong – Birdsong, the new album by singer/pianist Fulton is a celebration of Charlie Parker’s centennial and features saxophonist Scott Hamilton along with her long-standing quartet made up of bassist Hide Tanaka, drummer Fukushi Tainaka and her father, Stephen Fulton on flugelhorn. “I wanted to focus not only on his originals, but on his recordings that I consider to be some of the most beautiful songs ever recorded in the world,” said Champian, adding, “…these songs are classic Bird, with rangy and dramatic melodies, romantic lyrics and adventurous chord changes.” Fulton is a swinging and accomplished pianist and wonderful and emotional singer, who gives these songs a new life and a fresh paint. Tanaka and Tainaka set the groove, swing, and heartbeat of the music for Hamilton and Stephen Fulton to add colours to Champian’s outstanding arrangements. A heartfelt and personal tribute to one of the masters of the music called jazz. Highly recommended!!

Lionel Loueke / HH – guitarist Loueke, having been a musician in Herbie Hancock’s band over the last few years, pays a solo tribute to his mentor on his new release. Of the 14 songs 12 are compositions by Hancock and two (‘Voyage Maiden’ and ‘Homage To HH’) are bows by the guitarist to Hancock and are perfectly fitting in with Herbie’s standards. Recording Hancock’s most famous compositions (including ‘Cantaloupe Island’ and ‘Rock It’) and some lesser known songs (including ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Actual Proof’) solo, means to go into the essence of the songs and make them personal. Says Loueke: “I have been playing with Master Herbie Hancock for more than 15 years, and still it wasn’t easy to work on his music because the originals are already so beautiful and he keeps developing them every time we play on stage. The challenge was to put my own imprints on these masterpieces. To rethink them with my touch on it. He is my mentor and I feel very lucky to be part of his musical journey. It’s a gift to learn that much from him – humanly, spiritually and musically speaking.” Loueke re-invents these compositions in a way only he could do but keeps their beauty and familiarity. Simply breath-taking!!!!!

William Chernoff / Aim To Stay – This debut album by Canadian bass player Chernoff pays homage to the people, places and experiences that made him the musician he is today. The album was recorded with long time friends and collaborators Thad Bailey-Mai on trumpet, Jonny Tobin on piano and alternating drummers Bobby Wiens and Carson Tworow. The Title track, which opens the album, is a beautiful and melodic modern jazz piece that is a pleasure to listen to. Several compositions are inspired by guitarist Bill Frisell, about whom Chernoff says that he “had a persona that was so different from other jazz musicians … He crossed over a lot into country or folk music. He was doing all that within his own take on jazz and was still part of the jazz tradition. He was kind of perfect in that way.” Chernoff and his friends have created a recording of beautiful, melodic and captivating tunes, performed on a very high level of musicianship, with outstanding contributions by Bailey-Mai and Tobin. A very promising debut!!

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