For Chick Corea and Claude Nobs ….

On September 23rd a new Chick Corea live compilation album will be released. All tracks have been recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival and are a wonderful collection of amazing musicianship. As I knew both Chick Corea and the founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival, Claude Nobs, well and worked with them for many years, I was (surprisingly for me) asked, if I could write the liner notes for that album. I gladly agreed to do so and after I listened to the music, selected by Fraser Kennedy, as well a long-time collaborator of the festival and a friend of Claude and myself, I felt honoured to write about the album and a bit about my relationship with Chick. Both men have been a great influence in my professional life and I learned a lot from both of them. Working with them has been a pleasure and privilege for me.

The album ‘The Montreal Years’ will be released as a 2 LP package and a single CD, and of course digitally and is a worthy addition to the Corea catalogue.

Following are my liner notes for the record, which were added to what John McLaughlin wrote about his friendship with Chick:

Armando Anthony ‘Chick’ Corea played in Montreux for the first time in 1972 as part of the Stan Getz Quartet, followed in 1979 by a duo concert with Herbie Hancock. He then was invited by festival founder Claude Nobs many more times to perform with his various groups and guests. It would have been easy to compile, out of the 14 recorded concerts Chick Corea played in Montreux during the Claude Nobs era, an album simply with all his ‘hits’. But that wouldn’t have given credit to the artist, nor to the festival and his founder, as both of them were about openness and variety and didn’t know borders or genres when it came to music. Chick Corea was a musician without limits. He moved from straight ahead jazz to the Avantgarde, to Latin Jazz and Fusion and always had a foot in Classical music. Genres didn’t matter, it was all music, nothing else. ‘The Montreux Years’ reflects this broad musical world of the composer and pianist, as well as paying tribute to the influential improviser.

Chick’s music was a big part of the soundtrack of my life ever since I discovered ‘Return To Forever’ in 1973. In 1992 Chick started Stretch Records for his releases. That’s when I met him for the first time and started to work on his albums. Chick invited me to the opening of the Blue Note in Milano in 2003 and we discussed the publication of a project he had done with Philips Electronics – the surround sound recording of a series of shows at the Blue Note in New York. ‘Rendezvous In New York’, features the ‘crème de la crème’ of improvised music! Whenever possible I saw Chick on tour, we had dinners or lunches together or just chatted a bit.  Once he gave me as a present a new iPod, the so-called ‘Chickpod’ with a little video message on it … and when I got married in July 2007, he sent me a little song, ‘Wulf’s Wedding Song’, from wherever he was at the time on tour … something my wife and I still value a lot.

Chick Corea was a very generous man, in general, as well as when making music, leaving space for his side men to shine and add something to his outstanding compositions. On the opener on this album, ‘Fingerprints’, recorded with his New Trio featuring Avishai Cohen on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums, Chick gets into the song with a lot of energy and swinging power, then steps back a bit and lets Jeff Ballard shine. On the following ‘Bud Powell’ Chick’s intro into the song is beautiful and touching, displaying his musical affinity with and respect for Powell. The Freedom Band goes into the swing easily and especially Christian McBride, who stands out beside the leader. This composition was performed and recorded a lot by Corea, my personal favourites, next to what can be heard here, are the versions he did with Gary Burton and the one with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra.

The original recording of ‘Three Quartet, No. 2’ was released in 1981 and featured Michael Brecker, Eddie Gomez and Steve Gadd. The same line up recorded the track as well live for the 2003 ‘Rendezvous In New York’ album. Here the version is just a trio and puts more focus on Corea, who showcases everything that made him such a legendary figure in jazz: melodic and rhythmic sensibility, incredible technique, improvisations of the highest level and all this bundled with lots of emotions. On ‘Interlude’ by his Elektric Band, Chick is playing with the audience, before having the band come in and take the groove away. That was another important thing for Chick – having fun while playing, with his musicians and the audience. And these tapes from Montreux are further proof of this.

‘Who’s Inside The Piano?’ is, despite being part of a quartet concert, a powerful and touching solo piano performance and giving a clear answer to that question: what is the spirit and soul of Chick Corea? ‘Dignity’ stems from the same concert as ‘Fingerprints’, and is a beautiful and captivating composition by Chick, dedicated to his mother. The New Trio is in fine form and makes the song sound almost ‘classical’. Which leads perfectly into the one classical composition by Corea on the album: ‘America’, part of ‘Continents’, a concerto for jazz quintet and chamber orchestra. This fascinating mix of Jazz, Latin and Classical opens up new sounds for Corea and got enthusiastic reviews when recorded and released in 2012.

Corea’s intro to ‘The New Waltz’ is mesmerizing in its soulfulness and sets the tone for the rest of the band, especially sax player Bob Berg following the master’s lead in melodic improvisations. The album ends with a track from Chick Corea’s third Montreux performance in 1981, featuring an all-star band. Chick had performed with drummer Roy Haynes and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson before, but never with both of them together and the addition of bass player Gary Peacock rounds up an outstanding line up. Their version of Thelonious Monk’s ‘Trinkle Tinkle’ (vinyl format only) is not only a wonderful tribute to the great composer and pianist, Monk, but as well a powerful statement of four musicians about how exciting jazz can be: tight ensemble-play and outstanding individual contributions by all four artists, make this one of the highlights on the record. Joe Henderson simply sounds amazing, Peacock and Haynes giving heartbeat and a solid base for Chick and Joe to improvise on and they inspire each other to incredible results.

Chick Corea: ‘The Montreux Years’ manages to portrait not only the featured artist, but as well the festival, which allowed him to perform in all these different groupings. It is tribute to one of the most important artists of our time, as well as to his friend Claude Nobs, the soul of the Montreux Jazz Festival. This is going to be an album I will listen to many times in the future, remembering the moments I spent with Chick Corea and the concerts I was lucky enough to hear. The soundtrack of my life is expanding with this new live compilation.

Wulf Müller

March 2022

A photo I took backstage at the Montreux Jazz Festival 2001:
left to right: Tomatito, his manager, Michel Camilo and Chick Corea

World Embrace

I have been really lazy when it came to write something in my blog this summer. Not only because of the prolonged heat wave that baked most of Europe, or because of a few trips I and we made to see family and friends, but simply because I felt lazy and didn’t listen to much new music for a change and sitting somewhere on a terrace with a cold beer seemed always the better option than being in a hot office writing. But now it is time to catch up a bit and here I am starting to listen to music some of my friends have recorded and released over the last few weeks. All recordings I can recommend for their musical quality and deepfelt expressions.

Let’s start with one of my closest friends for almost 40 years: Wolfgang Puschnig, saxophonist extraordinaire and musician who embraces the various cultures and grooves of the world. Therefore, the title of his new 4 CD box set World Embrace makes complete sense. The four discs were recorded over 4 nights live in Vienna and are titled Sources I to IV with different sub-titles, in case of CD 1 it is The Philly Connection and features long-time collaborators Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass and guitarist Rick Iannacone, plus Tim Hutson on drums and Asha Puthli on vocals. Groovy music in the spirit of Ornette Coleman, but all Puschnig in sound and expression on his alto or flutes. Puthli guests on Coleman’s ‘What Reason Could I Give’ and revives her stunning performance from the 1972 original. On Songlines, Puschnig combines jazz instrumentalists (himself and Jon Sass on tuba, Christian Bakanic on accordion and Mamadou Diabate on kora and balafon) with 2 vocal ensembles – one European (schnittpunktvokal), the other African (Isingizi) and creates so true ‘world music’ by merging the various sounds into unique songs of emotions and humanity. Homegrown is the self-explanatory title of CD three and showcases a great band featuring Paul Urbanek on piano, Raphael Preuschl on bass and Lukas König on drums. They reflect together on Puschnig’s roots and Austrian heritage, in an open jazzy way with some wonderful performances, especially by the leader and pianist Urbanek. The final CD is Korean Spirit and features the Korean percussion ensemble SamulNori, with whom Puschnig has worked since the late 1980’s. Beside the trio Red Sun (Puschnig, Tacuma and pianist Karen Asatrian) the drummers are as well performing with another of Wolfgang’s many formations, the saxophone quartet Saxofour, to create a special final for the four nights. This show was recorded on the day of the musicians 60th birthday and he couldn’t have given himself a better present: music without borders … in terms of culture, genre or expression. The box set, beside displaying an immaculate sound, shows what Wolfgang Puschnig is all about as a musician – embracing the grooves and melodies of the globe, guiding others into musical worlds they didn’t know existed and, leading by example, making them feel at home. A wonderful collection of live recordings by a European jazz legend.

Ketil Bjørnstad / New Morning – a new solo recording by Norwegian composer and pianist Bjørnstad for me is always an event, as I simply love his little melodies, the deepfelt emotions expressed and the wonderful improvisations he comes up with. This album, released in a CD/DVD set and recorded Live at the club Sentralen in Oslo in April 2020, is no exception. Maybe it is different to the studio solo albums, as it was recorded live as part of a digital festival, without audience – a concept by Christer Falck, who produced the various shows. Says Ketil: “I prepared for a concert which I thought was to be quite introverted, without any consequences, like an echo from a time we experienced, so often alone only with our thoughts”. In the end the music wasn’t as introverted as he had expected and showed powerful pieces next to dreamy ballads, always maintaining and radiating strength and hope. The compositions are from throughout Ketil’s recording career and are including an incredible version of his ‘Ray Of Light’, originally recorded in the trio format. Another beauty in sound is ‘Floating’, with just over 7 minutes the longest of these miniatures and an example of touching improvisation. ‘New Morning’ adds another highlight to the canon of amazing (solo) recordings by this wonderful human being and musician.

Badi Assad / Ilha – After her outstanding 2020 solo recording ‘Around The World’, Brazilian composer, singer and guitarist Badi Assad is back with a new album, this time with a small group and a few guests. The record opens with the touching beautiful ‘Ilha Das Flores’, with her voice floating immaculate and melodically over the music. Her compositions display a deep melodic sense and Brazilian rhythms and in combination with her voice and guitar become little jewels in sound. ‘Fruto’ is a great example for this, here with additional instruments to give more colour and depths to the song. ‘Palavra’ is another highlight of a very strong album, and so are ‘Traga’ and ‘Eterno’, the closing number of this 8-song record. Badi Assad once more proves that she is a timeless and genre-defying artist of the highest order.

Café Drechsler / Let It Touch You – The Austrian Trio, featuring my friend and drummer Alex Deutsch, bass player Oliver Steger and saxophonist Ulrich Drechsler, released their first album in 2002 and with the new record are celebrating 22 years of recording and performing together. For this celebration they invited a few guests to join them in the recording session and to create their usual and engaging mix of soul, jazz, rap and hip hop. The trio track ‘Fast House’ is a groovy number with fun rhythms, a great bass line and some wonderful sax improvisations on top – danceable, but still very cool and deep music! ‘International Connections’ features guest vocalist and keyboarder King Batson (formerly of Arrested Development) over some heavy beats, while the outstanding ‘On Your Mind’, a soulful rap song, features Origami Punani, a really great neo-soul/hip-hop quartet from Vienna. Singer Martin Klein joins the trio on ‘Sense Of Coming’ a beautiful ballad. 14 great tracks, a lot of music to dance to, others to listen and discover or take a breather from moving your legs … Café Drechsler are still fresh and full of power. Their ‘Let It Touch You’ did exactly that!!

Rudi Berger / Longings – This new quartet recording by violinist Berger features Mauro Rodrigues on flute, Peter Madsen on piano, Rosario Bonaccorso on bass and vocals and Lukas Böck on drums – a truly international line up! And this global aspect is reflected in the music of this album, as all musicians (except Böck) contributed compositions for the recording. The album starts with Madsen’s ‘Alice In Wonderland’, a beautiful piece that gives Berger a chance to shine and show his amazing skills, swinging through the song with ease. Madsen’s piano solo is worth checking out too and so is Rodrigues’ contribution on flute. Other highlights of the album are Berger’s ‘Traumfluss’, with some amazing soloing by the violinist and his ‘Longings’, the beautiful title track. Berger’s sound is round and warm and his playing getting better and better.

Florian Arbenz / Conversations # 6 &7 – Swiss drummer and composerArbenz continues his epic Conversations series with a double album, featuring first duos with legendary pianist Kirk Lightsey and then adding bass player Tibor Elekes and saxophonist Domenic Landolf to the group. Arbenz is a delicate partner for Lightsey, supporting the pianists’ ideas and improvisations with complex drum work, while at the same time giving an anchor to the music. The duos are touching musical dialogs and reveal as well the art of listening, as both musicians react to the others’ ideas with respect and deepfelt musicality. ‘Dancing With Kirk’ is a good example for this art of communicating and so is ‘Freedom Jazz Dance’, a song that Arbenz has recorded meanwhile five times within the series, but each version is captivating and innovative and amazing in its own right. About the Quartet session Arbenz says: “Most of the tunes of the session are originals, but I also re-arranged Pinocchio (Wayne Shorter), a tune which I played often with Lightsey and Ah-Leu-Cha (Ch. Parker), with the hope that our versions show a little different perspective on those tunes….”. They do indeed and give as well all four excellent musicians space and time to shine on this wonderful experimental, but straight jazz double album.

Sachal Vasandani & Romain Collin / Still Life – The second album of singer Sachal and pianist Collin is as intimate and beautiful as the first recording is. The first track, ‘No More Tears’, a Vasandani original, first recorded on his underrated 2015 album ‘Slow Motion Miracles’, sets the tone and raises the bar, but they manage to keep the amazing quality of their music making throughout the 12 tracks they recorded. From originals to jazz standards and pop covers, they make all the selected songs their own by performing them with emotion and respect for the source material. Sachal’s phrasing is immaculate and in support of each song and Romain’s subtle accompaniment and soloing is enhancing each performance. While their take of ‘The Sound Of Silence’ is delicate and touching, ‘Freight Train’ swings lightly and made me smile … and so it goes on: not a single dull moment on this outstanding record, that finishes with their excellent version of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Washing Of The Water’. The art of the vocal/piano duo executed perfectly. Highly recommended and uplifting!!

Bugge Wesseltoft / Be Am – Norwegian composer, pianist, keyboarder and producer Wesseltoft decided after many various projects to once again record a solo album. But without limits in terms of his playing or improvising or use of additional instruments – even going so far as to invite for two tracks exceptional saxophonist Hakon Kornstad to give company to the soloist. I fully agree to the pr text, when it states that “The music of “Be Am” carries ghosts of uncertainty, whispers of resignation, and faint echoes of frustration. But throughout there are rays of hope, a warm clear light of peace and tranquillity, and growing flames of an unquenchable fire of determination. It is music of, and for, the human soul”. Bugge’s little piano melodies are like rays of light on a cloudy afternoon and Hakon’s saxophone adds colour and soul, beauty in sound. It is great that Bugge sometimes moves out of his groove projects and let’s us be part of his vulnerability, his softer side in music making. And with ‘Be Am’ the artist simply says ‘this is me as well and I want you to know this side of me’ and gladly we go all the way with him. A deep, personal and hauntingly beautiful record.

That’s it for this time … I have a bunch of albums to listen to and to review and will do so very soon … and are looking forward to hear the new Claudia Acuna, a really amazing albums of duos, which will be out soon, plus the new Dhafer Youssef, which is sensational in musical terms and when it comes to the line-up, … and of course there will be the new Julian Lage album, with special guest Bill Frisell … the fall of 2022 won’t be boring at all!!!!

Iñaki Añúa, 1943 – 2022

Iñaki Añúa, whom the Spanish newspaper ‘El Correo’ so correctly named ‘the soul of the Vitoria-Gasteiz Jazz Festival’, passed away from Covid 19 just shortly after his 79th birthday. For 40 years he run the festival in the north of Spain with passion and vision, making it one of the most important annual jazz festivals in Europe.

Iñaki Añúa

I met Iñaki for the first time in 1993, when I was introduced to the International Jazz Festival Organisation at their meetings in New York and we immediately started to talk about ideas and plans for the festival. In the following years Iñaki would create in Vitoria some of the Verve Nights I had envisioned in our first meeting and we worked well together presenting the artists I was looking after for Universal Jazz at the time. His programming of the festival was guided by a love for the music, with a slightly more traditional touch, but he was always open to present and book new acts as well, even starting a series of concerts for new talents. It was always fun and easy to work with Iñaki, as he was driven by his enthusiasm for jazz.

I remember in 1995 he had booked singer Linda Sharrock and her band for a concert, but unfortunately the band got stuck somewhere on the transatlantic flight and didn’t make it to the concert in time. Linda and her then husband, saxophonist Wolfgang Puschnig, had made it to Vitoria, but had no band. They didn’t want to cancel the show and therefore asked percussionist Arto Tuncboyaciyan to join them. Which he did, not knowing any of their music, nor having any instruments, as these were onstage for the concert he was to play with Joe Zawinul. But in the end, the show was truly amazing and luckily recorded by local radio station Radio Vitoria – EITB. Iñaki wanted this to be released, as he could as well as I, hear how special that concert was and, after two years, Wolfgang Puschnig prepared the album for release on Emarcy, which was the label I was looking after for Universal in terms of A&R.

from left to right: myself, Giovanni Hidalgo, Michel Camilo, Iñaki Añúa and Kepa Junkera

In 1998 the International Jazz Festival Organisation had their annual meeting in September in Vitoria and I was invited for some of the discussions. Iñaki had organised a trip to the vineyard Marqués de Riscal and we had lunch there and tried some excellent wines and when at the end we left he had a bottle of the Rioja wine for everyone from the year of his/her birth – Unbelievable!

Over the years we had many great shows together with artists we both liked and I saw as well many great concerts in Vitoria by artists that were not recording for Universal at the time, like Enrique Morente, Miguel Poveda, Brad Mehldau and many more. From the numerous acts I worked with, concerts by Sonny Rollins, Chick Corea, Paco de Lucia, Lizz Wright, James Brandon Lewis, Madeleine Peyroux, Branford Marsalis and Dee Dee Bridgewater are the most memorable. Iñaki brought Dee Dee a few times to Vitoria and one of these was in 2009, when she was premiering her new program dedicated to Billie Holiday. This concert was recorded for Spanish TV and featured among others sax player James Carter. The show was great, so I asked Iñaki if we could use the footage as a bonus DVD for the release of the studio recordings of this Billie Holiday tribute and he helped to clear the film with the TV company and in 2010 the album was released and we had a limited edition with the DVD from Vitoria, which sold very well. In the same year, after some negotiations with Wynton Marsalis, the JALCO and the festival we released as well the Jazz At Lincoln Center With Wynton Marsalis album ‘Vitoria Suite’, featuring Paco De Lucía. This wonderful double CD was the result of Wynton’s friendship and respect for Iñaki Añúa, dedicating the music to the festival, it’s director and Paco de Lucia.

at the signing of the contract for the ‘Vitoria Suite’ album

On a personal note, I have as well to mention that in 2002 at the festival I met a fun, intelligent and beautiful woman, who a few years later would become my wife and together we have spent many great evenings at the festival and had dinners with Iñaki, musicians and dear friends there. I have so many more great memories connected to Iñaki and the festival, and they all paint Iñaki Añúa as a kind and generous man, who lived his passion and loved his music.

My deep condolences go to his family, wife Elena and daughter Jasone, and the whole team of the festival. Vitoria-Gasteiz and the Spanish jazz scene have lost one of their most ardent promoters. May He Rest In Peace.

Time …

Time is the continued sequence of existence and events that occurs in an apparently irreversible succession from the past, through the present, into the future (Wikipedia). Individually time is our life span, our personal sequence of events from the past, through the present into an unknown future. And in our time, we lived through revolutions, natural disasters, pandemics and everything else the world and human beings have to offer, good and bad. In my time I was blessed to have worked with musicians and their creativity, heard them perform and became friends in some cases. The music of our times, especially Jazz, was and still is the music of my life. The musicians have enriched my being and I owe them a lot … therefore I want to pay a short tribute to two musicians that made my life better – both through their music, one with the bonus of being a friend as well.

Wolfgang Reisinger 1955 – 2022

Reisl, as we called him, was one of the best and most in demand drummers of the European jazz scene for over 40 years. From his early years with the ‘Vienna Art Orchestra’ (1979 to 1989), with whom he recorded some ground breaking albums, to his work with Joachim Kühn, Ken Vandermark, Wolfgang Puschnig, David Liebman and many more, as well as for the few albums he released as a leader, his music will last for many years to come. I met Wolfgang first when hearing the VAO in the late 70’s and early 80’s in Vienna’s jazz clubs or while checking out ‘Part Of Art’, the small group he had with other Art Orchestra members – Wolfgang Puschnig, Uli Scherer, Herbert Joos and Juergen Wuchner. With Wolfgang Puschnig he as well was part of the experimental electronic jazz formation ‘Pat Brothers’, featuring Linda Sharrock, Wolfgang Mitterer and Jamaaladeen Tacuma, whose only album ‘No. 1’ from 1986 is still impressive to listen to. ‘Air Mail’ was another on my favourite bands in the mid and late 80’s and he was part of that one too, together with guitar hero Harry Pepl, sax player Wolfgang Puschnig and bassist Mike Richmond. When working with them on their second album, the wonderful ‘Light Blues’, which I released on amadeo in 1988, I got to know Reisl a bit better and we have been in contact ever since. That same year I had the Art Orchestra’s trumpet player Bumi Fian in the studio, recording his debut album for amadeo and Reisl was the drummer in the session. I can’t remember why, but I was unable to attend the recording and when Reisl called and told me that the session was a bit chaotic, I asked him if he could act as a producer for me and he immediately stepped in and made a wonderful album, which unfortunately was to be the only the trumpeter did under his own name. Harry Pepl made an album in 1990 titled ‘Schoenberg Improvations’, a play of words with Improvisation and Variation, which featured a midi piano which was fed by the guitar … a then wild technically adventure and Reisl was the drummer on this and the album featured sax legend David Liebman as well, whom he brought as they had met before. Reisinger was to continue to work with David Liebman over many years, forming a trio with French bass player Jean-Paul Celea and recording three exceptional great recordings between 1997 and 2001. From his albums as a leader, I would always pick the 2006 album ‘Refusion’ as my favourite – featuring beside the leader, David Liebman on soprano, tenor sax and flute, Marc Ducret on guitar, Wolfgang Mitterer on electronics, Jean-Paul Celea on acoustic bass and Matthew Garrison on electric bass. ‘Refusion’ is a powerful, modern jazz album with some of Reisl’s best compositions, some amazing individual and ensemble play, all sitting right on top of the master’s grooves. Which he always laid down with a smile. The world not only lost an amazing musician, but as well a great guy. Ruhe in Frieden, lieber Reisl

Vangelis 1943 – 2022

Born Evangelos Papathanassiou, multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Vangelis, started his career in the mid Sixties in various avant-rock groups and had his first success with the band ‘Aphrodite’s Child’, featuring as well Demis Roussos. Through their magnificent album ‘666’ I heard of him for the first time in the early Seventies and from then on followed his own works from 1979 and the album ‘China’. ‘Antarticta’ was another one I really liked, as well as his Deutsche Grammophon release ‘Invisible Connections’ and of course the wonderful soundtracks to ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Chariots of Fire’. Unforgettable as well the four albums he recorded with singer Jon Anderson, of ‘Yes’ fame, here especially the album ‘The Friends Of Mr. Cairo’ with the outstanding 12 minute epic ‘State Of Independence’. But for me personally his most exceptional work are the two albums he did with singer and actress Irene Papas, were he not only either composed the music or arranged some traditionals, but as well played all instruments and produced the recordings. ‘Odes’, 1979 and ‘Rapsodies’, 1986, are not as well known as his other works, but for sure worth to check out for the amazing music and immaculate singing. As a pioneer of electronic music, modern classical compositions and the combination of his electronics with voices, he will be remembered for many years to come. For me, some of his recordings form a small, but important part of the soundtrack of my life.

And this soundtrack is continuing to grow … here are a few new albums that I like and can recommend:

Harpreet Bansal / Parvat – Composer and violinist Bansal delivers with ‘Parvar’ her first classical album. Classical here in the sense of combining Indian classical music, ragas, with a European symphonic sensibility and sound. Recorded with Vojtech Prochazka on harmonium, Sanskriti Shrestha on tabla and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra under Hannu Koivula, the three-part composition by Bansal is presented with delicate nuances. Bansal herself performs with a wonderful touch on her violin, soaring over the orchestration and the rest of the instruments with ease and clarity. It is astonishing how amazing the two worlds of musical culture mix here to become one, equally contributing to this touching creation. The orchestrations of the three movements, one each by Jan Martin Smørdal, Harpreet Bansal and Jan Øivind Ness, capture Bansal’s compositions perfectly, reflecting the moods, little melodies and grooves of these complex pieces. A truly special recording – highly recommended.

Armen Donelian / Fresh Start – Pianist Donelian recorded his latest album with a new trio, consisting beside him of bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Dennis Mackrel. I had first heard of Donelian as part of the group Night Ark, whose two albums in the 1990’s I released on Emarcy and liked his beautiful touch and melodic sense. Says Donelian about the preparation for this album: “Instead of focusing on what I was playing, I was focusing more on how I was playing, on touch, expression, and storytelling, allowing the sound to happen in its own way.” The album swings, offers contemplation in the slower tunes and even a surprise vocal performance by the veteran pianist. The Richie Beirach tune ‘Gale’ gets a wonderful treatment and is one of the highlights of the album, another one being the playful ‘Janet Left The Planet’, which Donelian dedicates to the memory of vocalist Janet Lawson and bassoonist Janet Grice. An outstanding piano trio album!

Reuben Lewis / The House Is Empty – No, this isn’t a jazz record at all, but it is a wonderful and contemplative collection of 4 meditative compositions by trumpeter and electronic artist Reuben Lewis, who as well performed, recorded, mixed and produced all music. If you allow yourself to be submerged in the sounds, go inside the music, it will in return go inside you and open up emotions and takes you on journeys unimagined. This is a very promising debut by this young Australian for whom musical genres don’t exist – all is sound and movement. Unusual, but utterly rewarding.

Jeremy Rose / Face To Face – Saxophonist Rose recorded his new album with pianist Steve Barry, bassist Noel Mason and drummer Alex Hirlian and confirms that he is ‘one to watch’ in the Australian jazz scene. Rose is an expressive and technically brilliant sax player, with a beautiful and full sound, whose roots are in the tradition of the instrument, but his compositions are modern and groovy. The trio supports him extremely well, with some great piano work by Barry and solid anchoring by the rhythm section. Outstanding tracks for me are ‘Religion’, ‘Queens’, the opener ‘Higher Ground’ and ‘Whispers’. Modern jazz, telling human stories with beautiful little melodies.

Goodbye, my friend

Rainer Rygalyk, award winning jazz photographer, journalist and friend for over 40 years, has passed away on May 1st 2022. I met Rainer for the first time while we were both studying journalism in the late 1970’s and our common passion for jazz immediately created a special bond and friendship. We as well both liked to play football and have a beer afterwards. In 1982 we had the idea, together with drummer Rudi Staeger, to start an Austrian Jazz Magazine and Juli 1983 saw the first issue of ‘Jazz Live’, which was about to last more than 15 years. It was a lot of fun doing the magazine together with Rainer, whose incredible photos we used and whose writing style was amazing. I can’t recall how many shows we went to and how many interviews we did, but remember somehow the jazz talk, long into the various nights. His outstanding eye created some classic photos, award winning and seen in exhibitions around the world. After I started in the music business he did a few covers for me, from a jazz compilation for Austrian Tabaco’s ‘Memphis’ brand to Terry Callier and a few others. When I moved to London and later to Madrid, Rainer was one of the few people that stayed in touch, came to visit and as always, we went out and talked music for hours. He had started making photos using digital tools and was extremely successful with these too. When I was in Vienna last in 2019, we saw each other as well, despite him struggling with health issues, which he dealt with in his typical way: with a unique and fine sense of humour, positive and exemplary. I am proud to have been able to call Rainer my friend for so many years, and I am immensely sad about his passing. His photographs will live on, so will the memory of this generous and wonderful human being. If you come to Vienna, please go to the jazz club ‘Porgy & Bess’ and have a look at the wall of photographs he created there, from the pictures he took of artists performing in the club – a 7-meter-long collage of 1200 musicians. My heart goes out to his family, Andrea and the kids, whose loss is tremendous. For me Rainer will always be part of my life and many records or artists will remind me of my wonderful friend. Rest In Peace!

with Rainer Rygalyk, 1953 – 2022

Willi Resetarits, 1948 – 2022, was not only a natural and amazing singer, but a political activist, lover of human beings and part of the Austrian conscience. His death will be felt far beyond the music world of his home country. Willi could sing everything – political folk songs with the group ‘Schmetterlinge’, rock as ‘Kurti Ostbahn’, Jazz in a band with saxophonist Wolfgang Puschnig, Blues or Wiener Lied – and everything was great, as he did it with a smile and honest and because he simply enjoyed doing different things musically. His big success was performing as ‘Kurt Ostbahn’, a fictitious figure created by journalist Guenther Broedl, a kind of Austrian Springsteen – singing in the local dialect. As a person who couldn’t stand any injustice, he always spoke out and being famous helped him to get his message across. Some of the money he made he invested in the Viennese ‘House Of Integration’, which he had set up with some other activists for immigrants to have an initial home, get help, being teached German and generally tried to integrate them into the Austrian society. Willi had what is called Viennese ‘Schmäh’ – the local sense of humour, layered with fine irony and was often seen sitting with his fans talking about music long into the night. He was a truly open and warm guy, who would never turn anyone down. I met him first while playing football with him and then again in the mid 1980’s when we signed him to PolyGram Austria. A great human being, who influenced many people and who will be sorely missed. R.I.P.

We need to talk about Michael ….

Michael Leonhart that is. The charming composer, arranger, conductor, producer and multi-instrumentalist has been making waves for a while now, but lately his work has become unavoidable for its sheer quality and meaningfulness.

March 3rd saw the release of the Michael Leonhart & JSWISS collaboration ‘Bona Fide’, resulting from working together since 2019, when Michael needed a rapper for a performance of his orchestra at the jazz club Jazz Standard. All instruments on the album are played by Michael Leonhart, with guest appearances by Nick Movshon, Homer Steinweiss (drums); Chris Bullock (alto sax & flute); Keyon Harrold (trumpet); Bill Frisell (guitar) and Elizabeth Pupo Walker (congas). JSWISS handles all lyrical and vocal duties, covering a variety of topics including love, Black excellence and four songs inspired by themes from Paulo Coelho’s book “Manuscript Found In Accra”. The only samples to be heard on the recording are from the forthcoming new Michael Leonhart Orchestra album ‘The Normyn Suites’. The recording starts with the powerful ‘The Chase’, which sets the tone for the album: hard grooves, powerful rap vocals, spare but effective big band samples plus some jazzy soli and background sounds. JSWISS is a great storyteller, with a sense for groove and melody that makes his performance extremely musical. Trumpeter Keyon Harrold is simply amazing on that first track. On ‘Blackout’ JSWISS delivers great lyrics over a sublime arrangement by Leonhart, supporting the message and driving the song with musical simplicity. The title track is a melodic rap tune that sticks to your head for a while. And so it goes on: one strong track after the other, no fillers, strong words about life’s tough situations and the beauty of love, laid over sound beds of extreme effectiveness and modernity. Other outstanding tracks are ‘Golden’, ‘What’s Love’, ‘Elegance’ and ‘Make Room’. Leonhart makes it sound easy to include jazz into the world of rap and makes it sound as if they always belonged together. This is probably one of the best and most congruent efforts, to musically combine the two genres. It is modern and cool, and will appeal to fans of both genres. This is playing on my stereo for a while now and I can’t get enough! Check this out!

Michael will release on March 25th the third Michael Leonhart Orchestra album, entitled ‘The Normyn Suites’, “a requiem and celebration, inspired by the life and death of the bandleader’s 15-year-old dog, a female mini dachshund named Normyn”. The recording is featuring the following soloists and guests – Elvis Costello: vocals; Joshua Redman: tenor saxophone; JSWISS: rap; Bill Frisell: guitar; Jim Pugh: trombone: Walt Weiskopf: tenor saxophone; Nels Cline: guitar; Michael Leonhart: trumpet; Larry Goldings: Hammond B3 Organ; Chris Potter: bass clarinet and Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone and starts with the groovy ‘Shut Him Down’, co-written by Leonhart with Elvis Costello, Julian Caldwell, Luke O’Malley and featuring Joshua Redman. A second version of that song follows the second ‘Normyn Suite’ and features Chris Potter on bass clarinet. Hard to say which version is better, as both instrumentalists are truly amazing and play flowing and glowing soli. The first ‘Normyn Suite’ features beside the orchestra a choir and expresses through its five parts the human way of dealing with loss and mourning. Leonhart’s compositions and arrangements and his choices of soloists for each track, give the music the depth and emotion sought by its creator. This first suite was inspired by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and her 1969 book ‘On Death and Dying’ and has moments of incredible beauty in sound. Between the two powerful and emotional suites sits another song, ‘Radio Is Everything’ co-written with Elvis Costello, Bill Frisell and Nels Cline and featuring all three as well to impressive effects. The second suite features six compositions and is taking the listener on a journey through the sonic world of Michael Leonhart – laying bare emotions of love and loss through deeply felt soundscapes and outstanding individual contributions by Larry Goldings and Bill Frisell. Leonhart has the full history of big band jazz at his proposal and uses the tradition well to move forward into the now and new. ‘Newspaper Pane’, another Leonhart, Costello and Frisell co-work closes the strong album with another powerful song of top quality. A record that got everything: great songs with stunning vocals by Costello; powerful compositions with outstanding performances by a very unique orchestra and touching beauty and emotions in the way the music is conceived and performed. And then there are the two bonus tracks: ‘Kenny Dorham’ and ‘Wayne Shorter’, composed as tributes to these two jazz masters and performed by the Michael Leonhart Organ Quartet featuring Donny McCaslin. These are cool and swinging jazz pieces, revoking the spirit of the musician they are dedicated to and are showing once more what a great composer Leonhart is. This is a timeless recording I can’t recommend enough. Stunning!!!!

Ron Miles, 1963 – 2022

American trumpeter and cornetist Miles was a unique voice in today’s jazz world, making his first steps as a leader around 1990, when his debut album ‘Witness’ was released, featuring among others the wonderful pianist Art Lande. I first discovered Ron Miles through his amazing 1997 album ‘Woman’s Day’, featuring Bill Frisell and having been produced by Hans Wendl, who later would be his manager as well as producer. Frisell was one artist Ron would go on to work with for many years, after their first encounter, culminating in the two fabulous trio recordings ‘Quiver’ and ‘Circuit Rider’, featuring as well drummer Brian Blade. I had the pleasure of seeing Ron Miles many times in the last decades, outstanding his performances with Bill Frisell, Madeleine Peyroux, whose songs he gave depth and a jazzy feeling and the group Still Dreaming. This band, founded by Joshua Redman to celebrate the group Old And New Dreams his father Dewey was part of, featured as well Scott Coley on bass and Blade on drums. I saw them twice, once in New York and once at North Sea Jazz and loved their free but controlled interplay and musicality. With ‘I Am A Man’, 2017 and 2020’s ‘Rainbow Sign’ Miles delivered two final recordings that will stand the test of time, for his beautiful playing and his outstanding compositions. May he Rest In Peace.

ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

For a few days I didn’t find any words within me to express my shock and anger about the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. A war in Europe in 2022? Hadn’t we really not learned our history lessons?? How easy history can repeat itself – it just needs one man to bring the world close to a devastating third world war. The dream of rebuilding a powerful Soviet Union, of not only having access to the natural resources of Russia, but as well to control distribution to Europe completely, could destroy our world.

The reaction of the West had been hesitating for a few days, but now there stands a united Europe, ready to sanction the aggressor, even if these sanctions will be felt at home as well. While the people of Ukraine are fighting for their lives and independence, Europe, the UK, US and others are fighting an economical war with Russia, hoping to hit the economy hard enough for Putin to re-think his actions. For that to happen, they all might need to go a few steps further ….

Will Russia, as threatened, use nuclear bombs to retaliate to this economic ‘aggression’ of the West? Who knows how far they will go in the end, if the world isn’t standing united against any invasions from any military power? India, who has good political relations with Russia and the West, is trying a balance act, that will fail in the end, as in a situation like this, one has to take a side. China is holding back, not condemning the invasion. Maybe they just watch to see what the world would do in case they move for Taiwan ….

“WAR: what is it good for? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!”  These words are from the song ‘War’, penned in 1969 by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong and released as a single with singer Edwin Starr in 1970 and it became the most famous and successful protest song ever. Time to play it again and again and again ….

I have immense respect for the people of Russia who go out to demonstrate against the war their leader started, even so if it could mean to be arrested for expressing their anger. School kids and elderly people are among the around 6000 imprisoned for demonstrating for peace. And I have a lot of respect for the people around the world who take in the ones fleeing the war in their country – above all the people of Poland who opened their borders and hearts to help in an unprecedented way. 

Let’s all do what we can: donate, demonstrate, talk to each other and help in any way possible. Let’s forget the ‘Me’ for a while and think ‘Us’, as in human beings.

Love, Peace and Happiness to all of us.

in the moment

The last time I saw and heard musicians play together was about 2 years ago and, honestly, I did miss it. Last week, on February 15th and 16th, I was invited to attend a rehearsal for a concert in March. The musicians, which gathered in the Camaléon Studios in Madrid, close to where I live in Vallecas, were Dhafer Youssef on oud and vocals, Daniel Garcia Diego on piano, Pablo Martin Caminero on bass and Shayan Fathi on drums. I came into the studio three hours after they had started and one has to mention, that even so Daniel, Pablo and Shayan had played as a trio previously, they never played with Dhafer before that day. They were rehearsing some of Dhafer’s compositions, tricky songs with odd meters, groovy and exciting. And the trio seemed to have a lot of fun while playing and learning and so had Dhafer. When I arrived, they already sounded powerful and at moments really touching. It really warmed my soul to hear these guys making music in the moment, trying out different ideas, but listening to what Dhafer wanted. I came back with my wife the following day and the four musicians already were extremely tight and played for us a new and touching ballad, rhythmically challenging, but with a beautiful little melody. With that 2022 is already better than the year before, when I didn’t have the pleasure to hear music-making live and I hope that this year, many more amazing moments, like the ones these two days provided, will follow. The concert in question will happen on March 28th, at the Porgy & Bess Club in Vienna and I can only recommend to my friends there to check this out … you won’t regret it!

I can recommend the following recordings I have bee listening to in the past weeks, only by chance all of them piano-led. Enjoy!

Zela Margossian / The Road – ‘The Road’ is pianist and composer Margossian’s second quintet album, again featuring Stuart Vandegraaff on saxophones, Jacques Emery on bass, Adem Yilmaz on percussion and Alexander Inman-Hislop on drums and continues where their first recording, the wonderful ‘Transition’ from 2018, left us. Self-produced and with all tracks written by Zela as well, the album shows all her various influences, creating a very unique musical language of beauty and positivity. Margossian is a melodious pianist with a great feel for folk and world music oriented grooves. Her compositions are touching and comforting and Vandegraaff delivers with clarity and emotions on her melodies. Outstanding tracks for me are the title track, a swinging composition, that makes you smile and move your body to the appealing groove; ‘Devotion’, a fascinating ballad with some stunning piano work by the leader; ‘Gratitude’, an uplifting and gorgeous melody and ‘The Good That Exists’, another colourful gem on an overall sensational album. Don’t miss this one!!!!

Ilona Damiecka / Hope – This Trio recording from 2020 only just now reached me, and even so I hardly ever write about albums that are not current, this is the exception to the rule. The eight tracks on the album were composed by Damiecka and are, with one exception, instrumentals. Recorded with Pawel Urowski (double bass) and Krzysztof Szmańdą (drums), the album opens with the beautiful and touching ballad ‘The Sea’, which is followed by ‘Matrix’, a melodic and captivating composition. Another beauty in sound is ‘Waltz For Master T.S.’, dedicated to the late trumpet master Tomasz Stanko and as well ‘Jewish Dance, an open and spaced out groovy piece. The title song is another swinging-in-positivity jewel in a wonderful album, that finishes with the only vocal track, entitled ‘Tenfour’, which showcases what a great singer this lyrical pianist is.

Mathis Picard / Live at the Museum – I love solo piano recordings and this one was a bit of a surprise for me – I hadn’t heard of Picard before and checked the album out to discover a very unique and interesting young player, influenced by Oscar Peterson, Fats Waller and Art Tatum. The album features besides five originals compositions by John Lewis, Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith, John Williams, Maurice Ravel and Bix Beiderbecke. Only ‘Smith’s ‘Woodland Fantasy’ features another musician in drummer Savannah Harris, recreating the original line up for this composition with piano and drums. Recorded live at the National Jazz Museum of Harlem, NYC, the album showcases Picard’s stride piano influences and what he made out of them to become an individually unique and emotional performer. Amazing as well to hear Beiderbecke’s seldom performed ‘In A Mist’ in a powerful and cool version.

Bill O’Connell / A Change Is Gonne Come – Pianist O’Connell recorded his new album with bassist Lincoln Goines, percussionist Pedrito Martinez and special guest Craig Handy on tenor and soprano saxophones. They together created a positive and swinging traditional jazz album of top class, featuring a wonderful tribute to Sonny Rollins in ‘Sun For Sonny’, with whom Bill played for a while and who’s ‘St Thomas’ he quotes in his piano solo in the piece. ‘Covid Blues’ is another playful highlight of the album and referring to it O’Connell states: “We have to remain optimistic in the crazy time we’re going through” and his music definitely helps with that. ‘Prayer For Us’ feels like a gospel and features a beautiful solo by Goines, who, as the rest of the band, throughout delivers and makes this an album to cherish.

Little North / Familiar Places – This is the Danish trio’s fourth album and Benjamin Nørholm Jacobsen on piano, Martin Brunbjerg Rasmussen on bass and Lasse Jacobsen drums continue to give the European jazz piano trio tradition a new twist with their cinematic approach to their beautiful compositions. Guest appearances from Kasper Tranberg on trumpet and young Viktor Spasov on guitar give the brilliant album some additional colour and depth. A lyrical piano trio that has a sound much bigger than just three musicians and delivers with emotions and verve on their contemplative compositions. Moving, poignant and tender music, performed by a trio that is very tight and together in creating these miniatures of exquisiteness. Watch out for these guys!!

looking forward …

The first month of the new year has passed more or less like most of the last two years – in the grip of Covid 19. The new variant’s spread in Europe finally seems to be slowing down a bit and hopefully we can look forward to some kind of ‘new normality’ soon.

It would be nice to be able to travel and hang out without having to think about being close to other people twice. Or grabbing a test after every other cough.

On the other hand, that first month of 2022 saw as well the world moving closer to a military conflict and a re-activation of the Cold War of the times after World War II. The Russian sabre-rattling and the trigger-happy militaries around the world might get us there and it will prove once again, that humans don’t learn from history. At what price this time?

How did Carlos Ruiz Zafón write so correctly in his incredible novel ‘The Shadow Of The Wind’: “Wars have no memory, and nobody has the courage to understand them until there are no voices left to tell what really happened, until the moment comes when we no longer recognize them and they return, with another face and another name, to devour everything they left behind”

Everyday, when in my office, I look forward to see the sun set over Madrid and every day it is a new and wonderful and colourful spectacle, as the photo above proves.

Beside that, I am as well looking forward to the good things life has to offer and music, for me, is a big part of that and there will be coming in the next few moths a few outstanding records, of which I had the pleasure to hear some parts already, but will review in more detail when they come out:

Michael Leonhart Orchestra / The Normyn Suites – powerful big band with incredible arrangements and soloists. Another strong statement from Leonhart.

Curtis Stigers / This Life – impressive recordings of some of Curtis big hits in a new jazzy form.

Somi / Zenzile – Somi’s wonderful tribute to Miriam Makeba and Africa.

Zela Margossian Quartet / The Road – outstanding pianist Margossian with another captivating and brilliant recording, that will increase her international status.

And then there will be in the fall a new album by guitarist Julian Lage, which had just been recorded and will feature Bill Frisell, Jorge Roeder and Dave King. Can’t wait to hear that!!!

each end is a beginning …

A few nights ago, I had a dream. I was at a festival. Not a specific one, but a jazz festival and I was walking around and ran into producer Joachim Becker and we chatted amicably, while continuing to walk. Then I was suddenly in a venue and on stage was Abdullah Ibrahim, singing, behind the piano. Beautiful how his voice was clear and filled the silent room. Then he got up and played a bit of harp and pocket trumpet, like the one Don Cherry used to play. While doing so, he morphed into Archie Shepp … and then I woke up. Kind of strange, but really something special in the way Abdullah sang, touching and soothing. I have no idea what all of this means, beside that I dream of jazz as well as living it, but I enjoyed that musical dream and hope for a repetition.

A blog I wrote back in 2013 titled ‘The Sound Of Next’, about a campaign we ran for new artists on OKeh Records that year, got over seven hundred views recently and I have no idea why. All of these actually coming from Indonesia. If anyone knows why especially this piece of writing was of interest in that country in the last few months, please be so kind and let me know.

2021 is coming to an end – the first year in over 50 when I didn’t see one live concert!!!! Feels kind of weird writing this, but it is true. Even so there were a few gigs in Madrid in the second part of the year, I didn’t go, as I wasn’t prepared to venture into a closed space with people not wearing masks. The recent increase in infections confirmed to me that I had been unfortunately right.

I have spent a big part of the year writing my chronicle, which I hope to have finished in the early part of 2022. Therefore, I didn’t spend much time to review all the music that artists, labels and PR people had sent to me and I am sorry for not having found the time to do so, as among these were great recordings like

  • Matthew Shipp’s outstanding solo effort ‘Codebreaker’
  • Mike Casey’s captivating ‘Law of Attraction: The Remixes’
  • Florian Arbenz’s 4th part of his adventurous ‘Conversation’ series: ‘Vulcanized’
  • Lionel Loueke / Reuben Rodgers / Eric Harland  – ‘Close Your Eyes’
  • Eliane Elias  – great duos with Chick Corea & Chucho Valdes on ‘Mirror, Mirror’
  • Plus albums by Don MacDonald, singer Sheila Simmenes, sax player Benjamin Deschamps, guitarist Oli Astral, Alex Hitchcock, Sam Anning, the Australian Art Orchestra and a few more …

Sorry once again for not having gone deeper into these, but writing and correcting, editing, doing a bit more research on a topic, etc. is taking a lot of time, despite the fun I have doing so.

The twelve records I liked most in 2021 came from a variety of countries around the world and really stood out of the music I heard this year. Here they are in no particular order:

Florian Arbenz – his exploratory series of collaborations ‘Conversations’ 1 to 4!!!

Sachal Vasandani feat. Romain Collin – ‘Midnight Shelter’. A rare vocal beauty!

Tania Giannouli – ‘In Fading Light’

Marc Johnson – ‘Overpass’.  Solo bass improvisations.

James Brandon Lewis – ‘Jesup Wagon’

Dave Holland / Kevin Eubanks / Obed Calvaire – ‘Another Land’

Hakon Kornstad – ‘For You Alone’

Julian Lage – ‘Squint’

Gretchen Parlato – ‘Flor’

Kurt Elling – ‘SuperBlue’

Nils Petter Molvaer – ‘Stitches’

Ketil Bjornstad – ‘Flagstad, The Opera’

Which leaves me to wish you all the best for the New Year. May it be much better than the last two ….

Love, Jazz and Happiness to all of you