America after the election (even so there are still some states re-counting, which is a bit surprising after more than two weeks) looks like it has been given a chance – to bring back respect and direct communication in politics, to bridge the internal divisions and differences, to fight racism and to finally get rid of an old and complicated voting system. A chance to lead the fight for climate change, to mend relations internationally, and to improve an image that has taken a nose dive in the last four years. What the world needs now is a willingness for compromise over confrontation, for discussion instead of defamation and for unity instead of selfishness. There is only one world, which we all need to protect together.
In November 1920 singer Mamie Smith released her second recording, a song entitled ‘Crazy Blues’. OKeh Records took the chance to record the first Afro-American female blues singer and landed a million-selling single with ‘Crazy Blues’, opening doors for other Afro-American artists. It is a true pity that Sony Music, now owners of the OKeh catalogue, is not celebrating this historic event – as they didn’t celebrate in any form the 100th anniversary of the label in 2018. A label that released some of the best recorded jazz of all time with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven tracks. A chance missed to learn from history.
The American JazzTimes magazine, celebrating its 50th anniversary, asked their audience to vote for the 10 best records of each of these 5 decades and the result doesn’t really wield any surprises, except that there are only two albums that are not led by an American artist, which are the 1981 album ‘Friday Night In San Francisco’ by Paco De Lucia, John McLaughlin & Al De Meola and the Dave Holland Quintet release from the year 2000 ‘Prime Directive’. The other 48 are all North American artists and are deservedly in a list which is compiled from a mainly US based audience, even so a great number of these recordings originated in Europe on labels like ECM, EmArCy or Verve France. A trend that continues as well in their lists from the jazz critics – one for each decade from the 1970’s to the 2010’s and only in the first decade 3 European artists made into the critics best list – John McLaughlin with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Dave Holland and Joe Zawinul with Weather Report and then Dave Holland again in 2010 with ‘Aziza’, his group with Chris Potter, Lionel Loueke and Eric Harland. It seems that there still is a long way to go until essential albums by artists like Nils Petter Molvaer, Till Bronner, Dhafer Youssef, E.S.T., John Surman and many many others, will get the same recognition they have over here. In the critics list I found as well a few recordings I worked for on the global marketing campaigns and 3 in which I was involved more directly in some form: Michael Brecker’s last statement ‘Pilgrimage’, the Roy Hargrove master piece ‘Earfood’, both released on EmArCy and last year’s outstanding ‘The Secret Between The Shadow and The Soul’ by the Branford Marsalis Quartet on Okeh Records.
Each new album by any given artist as well is a new chance for the artist in question: to create awareness for one’s work, to get reviews and built a bigger fan base, to get concerts to let people hear the new music live and, last but not least, to make money, as bills need to be paid. Following is a selection of new recordings that I consider a chance well taken – records I can recommend to listen to, to purchase and to add to your music library. Take a chance ….
Finity / Jazz Pa Engelsk, Finity’s Destiny – Finity are a group from Norway, featuring Heida K. Johannesdottir on tuba, Anja Lauvdal on piano/synthesizer, Hanna Paulsberg on saxophone, Torstein Lavik Larsen on trumpet, Andreas Wildhagen on drums and Kyrre Laastad on electronics. On their new album they are bringing the music of pop group Destiny’s Child into the jazz universe by “exploration, transformation and celebration”. The arrangements of the songs by Heida Karine Johannesdottir and Anja Lauvdal are adventurous and not at all gimmicky – they are open and melodic, groovy when asked for and always deeply musical. The performed tracks are ‘Bootylicious’, ‘Independent Women’, ‘Say My Name’, ’Jumpin Jumpin’, ‘Survivor’ and ‘Stand Up For Love’. Each musician is performing well, the ensemble-play is outstanding and overall, this is a welcome surprise of an album. A treat!
Dan Fortin / The Latest Tech – For about ten years Fortin has played in various formations in the Toronto jazz circuit and beyond, with ‘The Latest Tech’ he now presents his first album for solo acoustic bass. The nine pieces, mostly through-composed, show a variety of influences: from J.S. Bach to Jimi Hendrix, from Joseph Beuys to Susan Sontag, and most of the leading bass players in the history of improvised music. Fortin is a wonderful story teller, who can be caressing and loving, but as well angry and aggressive … a show of emotions and technical skills make this a very personal album, but a worthwhile listening experience. Fortin manages to keep the listener engaged over the full album, not easy when playing solo and another pointer on the quality of the compositions and performances. Recommended!
Piotr Budniak Essential Group / Heart, Mind & Spirit – 29 years old drummer Budniak is one of the busiest young jazz drummers in Poland. He has recorded and performed among others Janusz Muniak and Tomasz Stańko and is part of the wonderful Kasia Pietrzko Trio. He started his Essential Group in 2014 and their new album features David Doružka on guitar, Wojciech Lichtański on alto & soprano sax, flute, Kajetan Borowski on piano, keys, Piotr Narajowski on double bass and guest appearances by Szymon Mika on acoustic guitar, Łukasz Belcyr on banjo, guitar and Jakub Łępa on bass clarinet. Says Budniak: “The title of the album loosely refers to the concept of a human being as the sum of the spirit, soul and body professed in early Christianity and derived from Hebrew philosophy. The assumption of the quintet is an attempt to capture the essence of human integrity with the whole palette of his feelings, thoughts, beliefs, experiences and struggles”. This is modern jazz, leaning toward jazz fusion, with influences from Eastern Europe and their classical traditions. Melodic and groovy and very well performed. Worth checking out!!!
Guillermo Bazola / Lost & Found – Argentinian guitarist Bazola recorded his new album in 2018 after a concert in Buenos Aires with Rodrigo Domínguez on soprano and alto saxophones, Natalio Sued on tenor saxophone, Jerónimo Carmona on acoustic bass and Hernán Mandelman on drums. All compositions are by the guitar master and the album is dedicated to Kenny Wheeler, a musical inspiration for Bazola, who says: “Kenny Wheeler’s music is an endless source of knowledge that left a profound mark on me along the years. This work is not intended to be anything other than an act of love for his music.” The band executes the music in a perfect way, all getting space to shine in improvisations, but all serving the song first of all. Bazola has a great and full sound on his instrument and is an accomplished soloist himself. ‘A smile For Kenny’, one of the many amazingly beautiful tracks on the album, would truly have made Wheeler smile – love and respect packed into sound. Highly recommended!
Mike Casey / Law Of Attraction – this is saxophonist Mike Casey’s first studio album and it is for sure worth checking out: powerful performances over groovy and swinging compositions. The music is mainly presented in a trio format with Matt Dwonszyk on bass and Corey Garcia on drums, plus pianist Benito Gonzalez, who guests on three songs, including the smashing opener and closing title of the album ‘No Church In The Wild’. Casey is a very expressive player, full of passion and emotions, all expressed melodically and powerful. He is a modern story teller and in Dwonszyk and Garcia he found partners who can enhance his stories. Says Casey: ““Improvising, or as I like to think of it, spontaneous composing, is not about displaying skill for ego’s sake. I aim to deliver each musical statement with power, honesty, and passion to connect with audiences.” Mission accomplished!!!
James Brandon Lewis / Molecular – saxophonist Lewis has become one of the most important and adventurous jazz musicians of today – his new album, recorded with Aruan Ortiz on piano, Brad Jones on bass and Chad Taylor on drums, is just confirming that status again. Molecular refers to James’s “idea that within a single melodic line emerges a counter line of varied rhythms, pitches and harmony”. The music on the new album reflects these deeper thoughts of the composer, but in general the concept is not in the way of the music or expression of emotions. The band improvises impressively on Lewis’ themes and the interplay and reactions to what is happening are sublime. Lewis does it all, the powerful phrasing, the high and angry screams on the horn, the touching ballads, expressed with tenderness and love. An album every fan of improvised music should have heard … or even better own. Masterly!!!!
Kristiana Roemer / House Of Mirrors – Born to an American mother and a German father, Roemer, a very unique singer, is utilizing both languages for her art. The album was recorded with pianist Addison Frei, bass player Alex Claffy and drummer Adam Arruda, plus special guest appearances from guitarists Gilad Hekselman and Ben Monder, percussionist Rogerio Boccato and sax player Dayna Stephens. Her story telling is touching and direct, her compositions beautiful and very well executed by her band. The two German language songs are based on poems by Felice Schragenheim and Herman Hesse and are among the highlights on the album, like her own ‘Beauty Is A Wound’, ‘Lullaby For N’ and her version of Stanley Turrentine’s ‘Sugar’. A welcome addition to the art of song. Captivating!
Julian Argüelles – Mário Laginha – Helge Andreas Norbakken / Atlântico – the European trio of British sax player Argüelles, Portuguese pianist Laginha and Norwegian percussionist Norbakken is releasing a joyful and melodic second album, melting European tradition and American jazz into a unique and flowing soundscape. Each of them a master in their own right, their interplay is outstanding, their communication perfect. Explains Argüelles: “This trio is so much more than a project band. We have all known each other for many, many years and it’s that respect, friendship and companionship that informs the music. We all share similar influences, history and interests in Art and culture. As a result, the music flows with little effort”. Uplifting music that leaves a smile on your face – beautiful and touching! Highly recommended!!!
A big THANKS to all artists and pr agents, managers and friends who have sent me music throughout the year. Unfortunately, I simply couldn’t review all recordings I got, even if some were truly wonderful and unique. I’ll do my best to keep up in 2021.
The next two blogs, before the year comes to an end, will be about some old and new Christmas albums and of course my personal ‘best of the year’ lists.