So, 2021 it is …. And the first weeks aren’t too promising!!! COVID-19 is still a massive problem around the world with over 2 million victims so far and vaccinating is not up to speed yet, so we’ll have a few more months with restrictions and being careful and responsible. Political horror in the US was making the news and shocked the world, even so it was not that much surprising that Trump had something up his sleeve …. And maybe there is even more to come …. but for now, there is hope with the new president sworn in and active … Global warming let Spain drown in snow and shiver from arctic frost while Scandinavia had relative mild temperatures … I still hope that 2021 will be better, but it will take some more time until we will be able to go out the way we did a year ago or see concerts and festivals …. Or travel to see friends and family … Patience and Responsibility are the words of our times …
The beginning of the year unfortunately as well saw the passing of many great jazz musicians, some of them I had the pleasure to hear live or even meet, or their music was part of my life at some point:
Howard Johnson, the adventurous tuba player and baritone saxophonist, who gave the tuba a renewed place in jazz and whom I met when he recorded and toured with his band Gravity for Verve in 1996/1997, the German office of it to be precise, led at the time by Christian Kellersmann, who as well acted as Executive Producer on the two albums. Outstanding records both of them, with the second album featuring Taj Mahal. The third and last of the Gravity recordings was released in 2017 and in January that year I met Howard again at the Jazz Conference in New York, where below picture was taken.
Pianist Bobby Few was probably more known in Europe than in the US, having lived in Paris since 1969 and toured the region frequently with his own projects, Archie Shepp or Steve Lacy, with whom I had the pleasure hearing Few perform in the early 1980’s. As an exemplary improviser and attentive sideman, he was the perfect companion for adventurous jazz musicians like Shepp or Lacy.
I heard of cellist David Darling first through the amazing 1984 ECM album EOS, recorded with guitarist Terje Rypdal, followed by Darling’s wonderful 1992 solo album Cello and then the outstanding duo and quartet recordings he did with pianist and composer Ketil Bjornstad between 1995 and 2000. The duo albums THE RIVER and EPIGRAPHS are extremely touching and The Sea Quartet recordings powerful and captivating. His final recording, Homage To Kindness from 2019, is a neo classical album featuring some wonderful compositions.
All three musicians will be sorely missed.
And the year started with some great music as well … or better 2019 ended with some great music, as in the reviews below there are as well some late releases from last year – enjoy!
Kjetil Jerve / The Soundtrack Of My Home – The idea behind this solo piano record by young Norwegian Jerve was to give everyone in his current and previous home a song – starting with himself, adding his wife and three kids as well as his parents and two brothers and his cat Sussi, each has a song dedicated to them, expressing “a mood he feels for them”. The compositions are minimalistic throughout, touchingly melodic and perfectly performed. Sometimes sounds from within the house that happened while the recording took place can be heard, they add atmosphere and life to the sounds of the piano. Listening to this music is like looking at a photo album of the family and recalling moments of love and happiness. Highly recommended!
Jonathan Parker /The Remainder – Recorded at Blue House Studio in Maryland, the album features Brooklyn-based saxophonist and composer Parker’s long-standing quintet from his days living in Washington D.C. – Chris Barrick on vibraphone, Max Light on guitar, Eliot Seppa on bass and Abinnet Berhanu on drums. The music is modern, swinging and grooving jazz with space for improvisations, which all members of the group use impressively. Parker has a beautiful sound and is in full command of his instrument. The ensemble play is tight and with respect to Parker’s compositions, which are at the same time accessible and deep. A pleasure to listen to!
MicroCorgi / MicroCosmos – MicroCorgi are pianist Andrew McGowan, guitarist Yuto Kanazawa and drummer Ilya Dynov, and their musical influences range from Japanese Rock, European Jazz, Afro-Beat and New Orleans Brass and it is this mixture that makes their first album unique. The first track ‘Cosmophere’ already lets the listener dive into a soundscape that features a lot of above influences, therefore clarifying that this is a borderless album when it comes to musical genres. Focus tracks for me are: ‘Avocados Every Day’, ‘Alayashiki’ and ‘Utopia’, which are highlighting the perfect group interplay and some wonderful improvising. Would love to see these guys live at one point.
Leon Lee Dorsey / Thank You, Mr. Mabern! – Bass player and producer Dorsey brought legendary soul jazz pianist Harold Mabern to the studio in July 2019 to record a trio album that as well featured Mike Clark, the former Headhunters drummer. Sadly, shortly after this session Mabern passed away, but this album is a welcome reminder of his powerful playing. The opener ‘Rakin’ And Scrapin’’ sets the tone to an outstanding recording of groovy jazz tunes, including ‘Watermelon Man’ and Fats Domino’s ‘I’m Walkin’’. Dorsey and Clarke are a great rhythm section, supporting and pushing Mabern to a wonderful performance. Says Dorsey: “I really just wanted Harold to come in, have a good time and not have to think about anything. We just hit, and it was just a tremendous experience. And I feel like I got the best from him and Mike Clark on this session.” Not to be missed!!
Amanda Tosoff / Earth Voices – On her sixth album, pianist and composer Tosoff uses the voices of seven vocalists to perform poetry by Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Rumi, Pablo Neruda and more over Tosoff’s arrangements of songs by Joni Mitchell, Mike Ross (Soulpepper Theatre), and Yo-Yo Ma’s Goat Rodeo Session project. Her compositions and arrangements are full and rich and are immaculately performed by Kelly Jefferson – Soprano Sax, Allison Au – Alto Sax, Aline Homzy – Violin, Beth Silver – Cello, Jeremy Potts – Viola, Laurence Schaufele – Viola, Alex Goodman – Guitar, Jon Maharaj – Bass and Morgan Childs – Drums, as well as singers Emilie-Claire Barlow, Laila Biali, Michelle Willis, Lydia Persaud, Robin Dann, Felicity Williams, and Alex Samaras. Tosoff’s lyrical piano flows over the strings and horns to sublime effect. To get a feel about this outstanding recording, just listen to the wonderful ‘Oh, Life’! Poetry in sound!!
Composer and saxophonist Matty Stecks (Matthew Steckler) had a busy few month recording and releasing two new projects: in December Matty Stecks & Dead Cat Bounce’ new album ‘Lucky & Live In STL’ and then in January Matty Stecks & Persiflage’s new opus ‘Night Cravings’. Dead Cat Bounce are, beside Stecks, Jared Sims, Felipe Salles, Charlie Kohlhase on saxes, Gary Wicks on bass and Bill Carbone on drums and their music, even so rooted in tradition, is powerful and modern. The brass can surely groove and swing and the compositions are engaging and captivating. Wonderful ensemble play and individual contributions make this an album that is fun to listen to. Check out the tracks ‘Pendulum Sketch’, ‘Elegy’, ‘Hot Peas & Butter’ as well as their wonderful take of ‘Goodbye Porkpie Hat’.
Persiflage, another outlet for Stecks compositions, features Curtis Hasselbring on trombone, Todd Neufeld on guitar, Dave Ambrosio on bass and Satoshi Takeishi on drums & percussion. Their new album ‘Night Cravings’ is a powerful modern jazz record with great tunes, wonderful improvisations by all members (with Stecks’ sax leading the way), tight and gripping ensemble play and space to explore the depths of the compositions together. Check out ‘Bastard Rag’, ‘Night Cravings’, ‘Ant Colony’ and basically all the rest – a record that will play on my stereo for some time to come. Excellent music, both albums!!!!
Marty Elkins & Mike Richmond / ‘Tis Autumn – This, the fifth album by singer Elkins, is a lesson in jazz history in many ways: the repertoire comes from 1926 to 1947, singer Elkins performs these tunes in a traditional, but yet fresh way. Bass player and cellist Richmond is the perfect partner for her, coming from a background that includes stints with Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Roland Kirk, Kenny Wheeler, Michael Brecker and many more, so himself being part of that history and he brings all this experience into a wonderful recording. Simplicity is difficult to achieve, but the two are so perfectly in synch, that one never thinks of the album as just voice and bass – it feels so much fuller. Elkins voice is clear and immaculate, while Richmond gives texture and heartbeat. Touching as well his cello, especially in ‘My Mother’s Eyes’. A record for the quiet times of the day, best consumed with a glass of wine. Stunning!!!
Watched and loved the movie ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ for various reasons – the well told story, the outstanding performances by all, but especially Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman and the music. Branford Marsalis really captured the sound and feel of the time and for all who enjoyed the movie and music as well I can only recommend to listen to the full soundtrack Marsalis recorded for the film. An acoustic feast!!!