sometimes I wonder … sometimes I listen …

In times like these, with a virus running the world into chaos, I sometimes wonder how much we as people really have developed over the last few thousand years, when some of us don’t even respect or understand the basic rules of a community – look out for each other! Instead people knowing they have tested positive of the virus get on a plane … others meet in big numbers to party or hold races or fights … some refuse to wear the simplest of all protection measures only because they think it is an infringement of their liberties and freedom …. I do not get it! Isn’t it finally time to let the ME thinking behind and start thinking US instead?  Many people have been hit hard by the restrictions which rightly were imposed to stop the spread of the virus but does an earlier functioning economy justify the price of even one life!! Not in my understanding of the world. I can only say again, what I think, that this will not be over until there is a vaccine and it is widely available around the world and until this is the case we need to be responsible citizens, thinking about our families, friends and everyone else around us and not taking unnecessary risks. That is for the time being the only way to stay safe!!!

The summer of 2020 will be remembered for a lot of things and maybe some of these wonderful records I listened to lately will be among them:

Antonio Lizana / Una Realidad Diferente – on his fourth album singer, saxophonist, and song writer Lizana expands his musical universe from jazz and flamenco into an even more multi-cultural world. Best example for this is the song ‘Carry You’, sung in English and Spanish with Becca Stevens, who seems to fit in perfectly in this mix of jazz, folk, nu soul and flamenco. Lizana’s band for the recording consisted of proven and long-term sidemen Daniel Garcia Diego on piano, Jesus Caparros on bass and Shayan Fathi on drums. The nine compositions on the album are nine stories taken out of life and told via music, full of hope and love.  Lizana has a clear and strong sound on his sax and is an immaculate singer, expressing his emotions so in two ways. Fathi excellently drives the rhythmic world of Lizana together with Caparros and Garcia adds some tasteful and catchy piano. Outstanding tracks next to ‘Carry You’ for me are: ‘Mora’, ‘Me Cambiaron Los Tiempos’ and ‘El Garrotin’. Top international production from Spain!!!!

David Gilmore / From Here To Here – This new Gilmore album is a tribute to the late Criss Cross label head Gerry Teekens and his second on the label. “I wanted to get a smaller working group in the studio to facilitate touring. My very first record was centred around a guitar-piano-bass-drums quartet; I wanted to return to that format (a) because I like it, and (b) because of logistics.” The excellent guitarist recorded ‘From Here To Here’ with a swinging New York rhythm section consisting of Luis Perdomo on piano, Brad Jones on bass and E. J. Strickland on drums. Eight strong Gilmore compositions are set against Sam Rivers ‘Cyclic Episode’ and Bill Even’s ‘Interplay’ and make the album varied stylistically, grooving, and swinging and giving the leader space to improvise and expand the compositions. A great showcase for a master on his instrument!

Nir Felder / II – For his second album guitarist Felder brought double bassist Matt Penman and drummer Jimmy MacBride into the studio and recorded as a trio with overdubs ranging from additional electric guitar to synthesizer, sampler, acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin, Rhodes piano, and theremin. The result is a record of many genres without losing its identity as a collection of strong compositions and some wonderful finger work by the leader, whose sound and phrasing is keeping the album congruent. Outstanding performances by Penman and MacBride adding to the overall quality of the recording. Nir Felder is one of the most promising young guitar players today and ‘II’ will cement that position .. and thankfully very soon there is more to come, as there is another album ready to come out ‘2.1’ … and having been lucky enough to get a chance to listen to it, I can only say that the future looks bright for Mr. Felder! Stunning!!

Aimee-Jo Benoit & Trio Velocity / Borjoner – Singer Aimee-Jo Benoit’s collaboration with the Trio Velocity (fellow Canadians Simon Fisk on bass, Sheldon Zandboer on piano and Robin Tufts on drums) is that rare beast of a really great album –  a selection or rock and pop songs that have meaning in the singers life, arranged loosely and played immaculate on the spot in the studio.  Opening the album with Nirvana’s ‘All Apologies’ gets you straight into the mood – brilliant piano, wonderful vocals and extended improvisations …. up there with Herbie Hancock’s version of this song on his ‘New Standard’ album. There is plenty of great music here: from Joni Mitchell’s ‘This Flight Tonight’, made famous by British Rockers Nazareth, to Feist’s ‘Lonely Lonely’ and a wonderful rendition of ‘Norwegian Wood’. One of the best jazz vocal albums of the year so far!! Excellent!

Verneri Pohjola / The Dead Don’t Dream – With his previous three releases and in concert, Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola has built himself a great reputation in Europe as a creative and innovative improviser with a warm and touching tone. On this new album Pohjola and his band play with the use of electronics in improvisation and creating soundscapes of relaxation and beauty. Tuomo Prättälä on piano, Antti Lötjönen on bass and Mika Kallio on drums, all top players in Finland, with their outstanding contributions, make this record a group effort, where everyone contributes to the greater good of the composition. Outstanding tracks in an overall great record for me are: ‘Wilder Brother’, ‘The Dead don’t Dream’ and ‘Suspended’!  Highly recommended!!

The JAC / A Gathering – for their 10th anniversary Australian 8-piece band the JAC are releasing their third album with some of the material recorded with the Korean traditional/jazz fusion quartet Black String. The JAC are Matthew Allison on trombone, Shaun Anderson on drums, Alexis French on trumpet; Nick Tipping on bass; Chris Buckland on saxophones; Daniel Millward on piano and compositions; Callum Allardice on guitar and compositions and Jake Baxendale on saxophones and compositions. The first of the two-part recording highlights their extremely tight ensemble play and some outstanding individual improvisations. The 5 compositions are throughout excellent and mingle the groups jazz background with some Korean traditions, so creating something unique and rhythmically powerful. The second part of ‘A Gathering’ will be released in 2021, followed by a tour – that hopefully will bring this interesting project to Europe as well. Recommended!!

Alexander Flood / Heartbeats – Australian drummer Alexander Flood’s ‘Heartbeat’ is a very different kind of debut album – mainly solo drums and percussion with samples and electronics, plus the occasional group track make this something uniquely focused on rhythm. Global grooves all fall back to the first rhythm … which is what Flood demonstrates with his first album … and what as well the album title manifests. Beside Flood on multiple percussion instruments and programming the following musicians took part in creating this album: Josh Chenoweth on trumpet, Dylan Paul on electric bass, Jack Stempel on organ and synth bass, Tyler Venter and Lewis But-Husaim on electric guitars, David Goodwin on keyboards and KS Roopraj and Deep Sroa on vocals. Released on Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s Stretch Music label, this recording will for sure get some attention … and deservedly so!!!

Bill Frisell / Valentine – I am not often reviewing releases of major jazz acts, as everyone will be able to read/hear about them anyway, but once in a while there is one, that needs to be praised for its sheer musicality and beauty … and ‘Valentine’ is one of these. This first outing of a new Frisell Trio featuring Thomas Morgan on bass and Rudy Royston on drums (both played with Frisell in different groupings over the last years) is a lesson in musical communication, creative freedom, and sublime individual performances. There is not one weak track among the 13 chosen out of Frisell’s catalogue, some new tracks, and some standards and covers. A genre-defying record, that is another outstanding addition to the vast and incredible Frisell library. Go and get it – Sublime music!!

soundtracks for our times

The last few weeks have been difficult because of the problems still created by COVID 19 around the globe and of course the ongoing discussion and demonstration against racism. The restrictions because of the pandemic are easing off in most of Asia and Europe already, but in some cases it seems that economic reasons are stronger than being careful and patient … in the Americas the situation is terrible with over 3 million infected just between the US and Brazil! This will only be under control once there is a working vaccine – so, please be careful and stay safe!

It was good to see that the global reactions to racism in the US, and most other countries around the world, has been strong with millions of people demonstrating peacefully (violence and looting have nothing to do with protest against racism and peaceful marches send a much stronger message to the ones who always know how to deal with violence, but are more afraid of silent and peaceful protests), but this can only be one step and the next ones need to happen as well during elections, with pressure on governments about policing the police and overall gun control. There is no place in modern society for any kind of injustice and oppression, be it by race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or whatever else!

Each time, each period in our lives has its soundtrack … here I want to suggest one album each for above mentioned events we are encountering right now, plus a few other new releases:

Heroes Are Gang Leaders / Artificial Happiness Button – Winners of the 2018 American Book Award for Oral Literature, Heroes Are Gang Leaders was co-founded by saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and Poet Thomas Sayers Ellis. Their goal is to combine valid and socially relevant poetry with music and so integrate the two forms of expression into one original form. As the press text correctly states: “Artificial Happiness Button is unflinching in its ability to take on such topics as the built-in earthly ceiling of human joy, the truth tug of war that occurs in personal relationships, the addictive effects of bottled racism in literature and the American South, mechanised widespread programmed hurt and the deadly electronic net of one-hive info sharing. This new offering from Heroes Are Gang Leaders is a timely and prophetic tour de force aimed at giving back all the false aspects of the globe (and local globalism) while rescuing the real ones.” Beside James Brandon Lewis and Thomas Sayers Ellis the album features Devin Brahja Waldman, Alto Sax / Brandon Moses, Guitar  / Heru Shabaka-ra, Trumpet / Jamie Branch, Trumpet / Melanie Dyer, Viola / Devin Brahja Waldman, Synthesizer / Luke Stewart, Bass, Vocals, Wood Blocks / William Parker, Upright Bass / Janice Lowe, Keyboards, Flute, Vocals  / Warren “Trae” Crudup, Drums, Cocoapods / Savannah Grace Harris, Drums / Margaret Morris, Vocals / Randall Horton, Vocals / Nettie Chickering, Vocals / No Land, Vocals / Cecilia Vicuna, Voice / Crystal Good,  Jenna Camille, Samantha Riott, Vocals and features poems by Thomas Ellis Sayers, Crystal Good, Randall Horton and No Land. Essential listening, not only for now … a timeless album that reminds me a bit of the Watts Prophets and their work with trumpeter Don Cherry (just check out the track ‘It’s The End Of The Babysitting Of Traumatized Grown Ass Men’). Impressive!

Brad Mehldau / Suite April 2020 – This simply outstanding solo piano recording features 15 tracks, 12 are featured in the ‘Suite April 2020’ and the last three are covers of Neil Young’s ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’, Billy Joel’s ‘New York State Of Mind’ and Jerome Kern’s ‘Look for a Silver Lining’. As Mehldau says, “Suite: April 2020 is a musical snapshot of life the last month in the world in which we’ve all found ourselves. In ‘keeping distance,’ for example, I traced the experience of two people social distancing, represented by the left and right hand—how they are unnaturally drawn apart, yet remain linked in some unexplainable, and perhaps illuminating way. I’ve pointed to some of the strong feelings that have arisen the past month or more: ‘remembering before all this’ expresses a bittersweet gut-pain that has hit me several times out of the blue, when I think back on how things were even just a few months ago, and how long ago and far away that seems now”. The emotions are perfectly reflected in the music, giving the listener moments of recognition and by that true emotional connection with the various pieces. I am sure that this is an album that will stand the test of time and will be one of the great solo piano recordings of our time. Sublime!! A 180-gram deluxe vinyl edition, out now and available for $100 exclusively from the Nonesuch Store, Bandcamp, and Discogs, is limited to 1,000 numbered units, signed by Mehldau; a minimum of $90 from each sale will be donated to the Jazz Foundation of America’s COVID-19 Musician’s Emergency Fund (after distribution fees). A portion of the proceeds from the digital album, out now, and the standard albums, due September 18, also goes to the fund.

Esperanza Spalding & Fred Hersch / Live At The Village Vanguard, Rough Mix EP – a thankfully recorded wonderful meeting of two of the masters of our times – Spalding on vocals and Hersch on piano are making these 5 songs to an intimate music affair. Spalding is not often heard interpreting standards, but her take on ‘But Not for Me’ is deeply musical and witty when commenting in the song on the lyrics … and she gets philosophical when getting into the meaning of the lyrics of ‘Girl Talk’ … like personal chatting with friends … always with Hersch’s piano supporting her perfectly. Hersch’s “Dream of Monk” has been in the program of the duo’s sets since the beginning. ‘Some Other Time’ is a beautiful Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne song, touchingly performed. Egberto Gismonti’s ‘Loro’ closes the set with a sparkle. “Playing with Fred feels like we’re in a sandbox,” Spalding says. “He takes his devotion to the music as serious as life and death, but once we start playing, it’s just fun. “I don’t think anybody’s heard Esperanza sing like this,” Hersch says, returning the compliments. “She’s fearless and is one of the smartest people I know.”  The EP will be offered exclusively for download through Bandcamp, with all proceeds benefitting the Jazz Foundation of America’s Covid 19 Musicians’ Emergency Fund. Released May 29th, the scintillating performance will be available only through the month of June for a minimum of $17, with additional donations encouraged on a pay-what-you-wish basis.  Go for it … it’s for a good cause and worth more than the asked price ….

Ferdinando Romano / Totem – the new album by Italian bass player and composer Romano is a beautiful exercise in music and sound. Perfectly performing the compositions of their leader are Tommaso Iacoviello on flugelhorn, Simone Alessandrini on alto & soprano sax, Nazareno Caputo on vibraphone & marimba, Manuel Magrini on piano, Giovanni Paolo Liguori on drums and special guest Ralph Alessi on trumpet, giving 6 of the 8 tracks his trademark sound. Says writer Federico Fini, who saw the band perform live: “Totem is a narration in music of the monolith made of memories, convictions and roots around which we dance all our life”. Outstanding the two-part suite ‘Sea crossing’, in which interesting compositional techniques and improvisation change and keep the track going at the same time. A strong statement from a musician we will hear hopefully more from in the future. Worth checking out!

Kathleen Grace with Larry Goldings / Tie Me To You – Vocalist and song writer Grace’s fifth album is her most intimate and personal recording yet, coming after a period of reflection and re-discovery. Touching originals, standards and covers of songs by Georges Moustaki, Son House and the Beatles make up an album of deep felt emotions shared via music. Larry Goldings put his magic touch on the songs and by deciding to leave out drums on the record, created a relaxed atmosphere and maintained the focus overall on the voice. Outstanding between a selection of jewels for me are: her  slow version of ‘The Thrill Is Gone’, Moustaki’s ‘Berceuse’, the Grace / Goldings original ‘Tie Me To You’, the standards ‘Where Or When’ and ‘Love For Sale’ and her very own ‘Everywhere’. This is a great album of amazing tunes, carried by the personality and voice of Grace and Goldings vision for her music – jazz at the base and whatever a song needed added to that. Stunning!!!!

Dave Bryant / Night Visitors – the former keyboarder, pianist of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time group delivers with ‘Night Visitors’ an album in the tradition of Coleman’s compositional and improvisational methodology, Harmolodics. Bassist Charnett Moffett, who as well performed with Coleman, and multi-percussionist Gregg Bendian join forces with Bryant on this powerful and energetic recording. With the exception of the Ornette Coleman track ‘Dee Dee’, written for jazz photographer Dee Kalea, all music on the album was composed by Bryant and the three musicians improvise amazingly, adding influences from other music styles as rock, blues and beyond into the performances. The very effective use of electronics enhances the compositions and creates diverse colours, like on “Three Night Visitors”, a three-part suite that combines improvisation with composed parts. Very original and a great tribute to the music of Coleman, taking his concepts forward. Adventurous and a pleasure to listen to!

Convergence / Convergence – Swiss drummer Florian Arbenz (of VEIN fame) introduces with ‘Convergence’ a new band project featuring Jorge Vistel on trumpet, Maikel Vistel on sax, Nelson Veras on guitar, Jim Hart on vibes and Rafael Jerjen on bass. This multi-cultural group of musicians, coming from Cuba, Brazil, Australia, the UK, and Switzerland, perform on their debut album the music of Arbenz and the Vistel brothers – modern, grooving jazz with exemplary soloing and some sophisticated writing. Complex rhythms and beautiful little melodies make this album a joy to listen to. Great ensemble play and outstanding communication between the musicians are making this a record that I can highly recommend.  Top Tracks – ‘Little Idea’, ‘Fast Lane’ and ‘Strong Steps’.

Dekel Bor / Let Love Rule – This is Bor’s first new music since the 2007 album ‘(The Long Way) Home’, as he had to recover from a motorcycle accident that nearly took his life. Hard work and a love for life brought him back into the studio to record ‘Let Love Rule’, produced by Robert Sadin and so telling his story. Dekel Bor has a wonderful and clear sound on his instruments, and chooses between acoustic and electric guitar depending on what each song needs and plays on the highest level. His band for the recording consisted of Daniel Ashkenazy on bass, Nitzan Birnbaum on drums and Aviv Peck on vocals. Bor’s modern compositions transport the message of love and positive thinking perfectly, the musicians giving these statements sound, colour, and emotions in a touching way. A return that should be welcomed by media and listeners around the world. Love it!!!

Songs Of Tales / Life Is A Gong Show – Songs of Tales is a group of 4 Canadian musicians and ‘Life Is A Gong Show’ is their debut recording. Jesse Zubot on violin, bass, synths, congas, Petr Cancura on saxophones and keyboards, Jean Martin on drums, electronics, vibraphone and Gordon Grdina on oud, guitars, bass have created a melange of various inspirations, ranging from Mingus to Ornette Coleman and some free elements and the end result is exciting and fresh and for sure worth checking out, From the eleven compositions on the album 10 are by members of the group leaving as the only standard ‘Moanin’ by Mingus – and a very cool take of this composition this is!!! ‘Life Is A Gong Show’ is all about variety and surprises, but it is as well a captivating and remarkable debut.

Sojoy + Stu Dias / Ambistellar – Drummer Jonny Peiffer’s modern jazz septet Sojoy joins forces with singer and songwriter Stu Dias on this new album and they as well are responsible for all music and lyrics on the album. There are so much musical influences and references here, but without losing track of the essence of the stunning compositions – sounding sometimes like a straight jazz ensemble, then like a funk band or a small ensemble supporting the vocalist. Stunning arrangements, the overall playing and the vocal performances (and lyrics) are outstanding. The cast on the recording was Eric Klaxton, Nick Mainella, Matt Langley on saxes and clarinet, Zach Lange o trumpet, Josh Gagnon on trombone and Scott Kiefner on bass. If you are looking for something a bit different but engaging and worth listening to – then go for ‘Ambistellar’!!

books

Ben Sidran / The Ballad of Tommy LiPuma – Pianist, keyboarder, writer, and producer Ben Sidran tells the story of Tommy Lipuma, one of the most successful music producers of the last 50 years. From Tommy’s childhood to the Grammy awards he received; this book is a lovingly told story of a man who made it in music. Sidran gives all the facts but tells them from the perspective of a friend and therefore gives them emotions and a human touch. As someone who had the pleasure to work with Tommy LiPuma when he was running Verve Records and beyond, I can say that the portrait of the man I know turned out exactly as I would have wished and recounted. Not wanting to give anything away, this is a book of stories with artists and managers etc. included and it has a great human being at its centre. Sidran found the essence of LiPuma in his recordings because Tommy was always all about the music. A must!

Al Schmitt with Maureen Droney/ Al Schmitt on the Record: The Magic Behind the Music – Sound engineer and producer Schmitt interestingly worked a lot with Tommy LiPuma and had been on his side when many of LiPuma’s greatest successes were recorded. Schmitt’s book tells some of these stories and others about his work in the studio with known and unknown acts, but first of all it is a study of how he works, how he sets up the studio for a recording. A more technical approach in terms of how to set up the right microphones, get the best sound out of a studio … but nevertheless interesting and captivating. A must read for every upcoming sound engineer, but as well for the general music interested reader.

the masked listener

End of May and slowly the restrictions imposed are eased here in Madrid, but there is still a long way to go … I only leave house with a mask and when really needed. We have times when we could go out for a walk, but then everyone is and most people didn’t care so far to wear a mask (which is now mandatory) or think about the necessary distances … some images of overcrowded plazas or beaches are simply shocking … not only in Spain, but the US, Italy, the UK and so on …. for me hard to understand, I refer to ‘better safe than sorry’.

The last two months there have been tons of albums released … I did listen to a lot of them and selected 12, which I am presenting below. Enjoy

Silvia Perez Cruz, Marco Mezquida / MA Live in Tokyo – after two years of touring and performing as a duo, singer and guitarist Silvia Perez Cruz and pianist Marco Mezquida recorded this album in October 2019 in Tokyo. Silvia is one of the most versatile and amazing singers of today’s Spain and Marco a talented and lyrical pianist, who together create an intimate show for the audience. The musical communication between the two is stunning, the way Mezquida supports her sensitive and touching and Perez Cru’z voice floats over the spare notes and emotionally captivates the audience. Outstanding their version of Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’, one of 4 songs in English on the album, next to a powerful take on  ‘The Sound Of Silence’ and ‘Lonely Woman’ plus ‘My Funny Valentine, the last two being part of an incredibly performed Medley that as well includes ‘Christus Factus Est’. This is the art of song, the art of accompaniment on the highest level. There is not a track on the album that does not reach top standard – a record that should be heard and appreciated around the world – Music for our times!!

Silje Nergaard / Silje Nergaard – This wonderful 2 CD album by Norwegian singer Nergaard is a celebration of 30 years as a recording artist. I met Silje first in 1999, when I helped her to get signed to Universal Norway and we worked together or have been in touch ever since. On disc 1 she is revisiting some of her older successes, but this time just as a duo with the excellent pianist Espen Berg. These recordings showcase again what a great songwriter and what an outstanding singer she is. Faultless vocal performances throughout this acoustic set make it an intimate and emotional listening experience. Between some of her best songs we can find here Peter Gabriel’s ‘Mercy Street’ and Freddie Mercury’s ‘ Love Of My Life’, which she both makes completely her own and as bonus tracks there is her version of ‘What A Wonderful World’ as well as a Norwegian language take on ‘Gracias al la vida’. Outstanding! Disc 2 holds all new music – a concept album entitled ‘Hamar Railway Station’, inspired by Silje’s youth in the town of Hamar and the dreams of seeing the world, travelling, finding adventures, returning. The songs are mature compositions and are perfectly performed by some of Norway’s best musicians: Audun Erlien on bass, Wetle Holte on drums, Andreas Ulvo on keys, Mike Hartung and Sidsel Walstad on harp, Nils Einar Vinjor on guitar and Karla Nergaard Totland on backing vocals. Another interesting fact of disc 2 is that the Hamar album is on it twice – first the English version and then the same songs again, but in Norwegian … Double the music, double the pleasure!!! Happy anniversary Silje — keep going!!!!

Ute Lemper / Rendezvous With Marlene – For me Ute Lemper is one of the best singers we have today – limitless in her repertoire or genre, always powerful and emotional and immaculate in performing. Her most recent show is based on a 3-hour phone call and exchange between her and Marlene Dietrich in 1988 in Paris. What an experience to be able to talk with Marlene about her life, her work, her love for the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, as well as her complicated relationship with Germany. The songs on this disc, from all periods of Dietrich’s life, are in the show connected by Ute speaking about the contents of that call …. here we have ‘just’ the music …. a selection of known songs from ‘Lili Marleen’ to ‘Blowing In The Wind’, ‘Falling In Love Again’ via many others to a touching rendition of ‘Where have all the flowers gone’. 20 Songs, all performed excellently by Lemper and her band, sung in English, German and French, sometimes two languages within a song. The musicians on her side on this recording are Vana Gierig on piano and keyboards, Matthew Parish on bass, Cyril Garac on violin, Todd Turkisher on drums, Gary Schreiner on accordion, Tim Ouimette on trumpet and fluegelhorn and Aaron Heick on saxophones plus all strings arranged and orchestrated by Martin Gellner and Werner Stranka and conducted by Martin Gellner. They create the perfect musical bedding for Lemper’s voice to shine and support the essence of the songs. A disc and a show not to be missed!!! The musical story of two lives who have somehow much in common. Wonderful!!!

Lauren Henderson / The Songbook Session – This album by singer Henderson is her sixth collaboration with outstanding pianist Sullivan Fortner and is featuring Eric Wheeler as well on bass and Allan Menard on drums. Henderson’s Panamanian, Montserratian, and Caribbean roots are mixed with her North American upbringing and giving her the perfect cultural background for these songs … from a swinging ‘Day By Day’ via a ‘Besame Mucho’ that opens as a wonderful drum / vocal duo, to her version of ‘Tenderly’, entitled ‘Tiernamente’. Notes Henderson: “I selected ‘Tenderly’ because I grew up listening to Billie Holiday’s rendition with my father.  I have always tried to incorporate my cultures into my music. I was inspired to write my own lyrics in Spanish to tie it together.” Her band is stunning in the way they support her, play behind her and lead when allowed. Especially Fortner is incredible and seems to anticipate every breath she takes – just check out the piano / vocal version of ‘Day By Day’ that closes the album … wow!! Recommended!!!

Sophia Smith / Elevation – ‘Elevation’ is the debut album by the Sophia Smith Quartet, founded in 2017 and featuring beside Smith on alto saxophone pianist Amir Mehrabi, bass player Sam Fitzpatrick and drummer Agneya Chikte. Smith, who composed all the tracks on the record, is influenced by the music of Chris Potter, Kenny Garrett and Pat Metheny and has a unique blend of modern jazz, with a foot in the tradition and the other going forward, and beautiful little melodies, that, together with her clear sound on the alto makes the music positive and uplifting. The groups improvisations, as an ensemble or individual, are faultless and are enhancing each composition. A very promising debut album from a band to watch out for!!!!

Aaron Parks / Little Big II: Dreams Of A Mechanical Man – “I want to cast a spell,” explains Parks, “to lull you into a trance where you think you know where you’re going, and then take you somewhere unexpected, almost without realizing how you got there.” With the help of his Little Big collaborators (guitarist Greg Tuohey, bassist David “DJ” Ginyard, and drummer Tommy Crane) he manages that perfectly: creative improvised music with influences from electronica, jazz, pop, hop-hop and indie-rock that captivates throughout and surprises constantly. Says Parks: “Today, the band operates as a single organism. The first record was about the tunes and the aesthetic. This album keeps that focus and captures the chemistry we’ve developed on the road, the way this band feels as it makes music in the moment.” Great individual performances and tight ensemble performances of Parks modern compositions make this a truly wonderful album. This will be on many year-end lists, I am sure!!

Bartosz Hadala / Three Short Stories – Polish-Canadian pianist and composer Hadala released with ‘Three Sort Stories’ his second album, featuring fellow musicians Luis Deniz (alto sax), Kelly Jefferson (soprano sax), Eric St Laurent (guitar),  Brad Cheeseman and Michael Manring (bass guitar), Marito Marques (drums, percussion) and João Frade (accordion). Hadala’s composition are complex and modern, but accessible when listening deeper – there is a wonderful flow to the album and the songs swing, have a touch of blues or funk and are all exceptionally well performed. In an overall great record, the outstanding tracks for me are ‘Monks Unfinished Symphony’ a quirky little number, ‘Longing’, plus the title track as well as ‘The Itsy-Bitsy Spider Blues’. Check this out!!!!

AuB / AuB – AuB (pronounced ORB) is the debut album from a London based quartet masterminded by saxophonists Tom Barford and Alex Hitchcock and additionally featuring bass player Fergus Ireland, who together with Hitchcock and Barford performs on synthesizers as well, and drummer James Maddren. With a two-sax frontline the music is modern, powerful, and fierce while remaining open for improvisations. Even so the first track on the album is called ‘Not Jazz’, this is an original, dynamic, uncompromising, and adventurous jazz album, that follows the tradition of the two-tenor set up but taking it into today. Both Barford and Hitchcock are amazing on their saxes and perfectly supported by their rhythm section. Recommended!!!

Matty Stecks & Musical Tramps / Long Time Ago Rumble – saxophonist Matthew Steckler, aka Matty Stecks, is know from various projects he was involved in, most notably Dead Cat Bounce, but with this 2 CD set he showcases his maturity as a composer and leader. For this recording he performed beside the sax on Personnel: flute, vocal, keyboards, electronics and EWI and the rest of the personnel is: Keith Price on guitar, Matt Kozicki  on bass, Eric Platz on drums and percussion, Leanne Zacharias on cello, Catherine Wood on clarinet, Jeff Presslaff on piano & keyboard, Megan Demarest, Hannah Fearn and Lenya Wilks on vocals. The music is a mix of modern jazz, film score, pop songs for grown-ups and avantgarde. Written parts are mixed with free improvisations, all executed amazingly well by the musicians. The use of field recordings within the improvisations is captivating and giving the music and extra edge. As the press text correctly states: “The result is a long-form work both singular concept in process and pluralistic journey in performance.” Stunning!

Harrison Argatoff / Toronto Streets Tour – in 2019 sax player Argatoff performed 30 solo concerts on the streets of Toronto, with locations set in advance and advertised only by postal code, listeners were asked to search for the exact location with open ears … This album is some of the music performed then – 9 originals and two traditional songs, one from Zimbabwe and one from Russia. Argatoff is in complete control of his instrument and plays touching little melodies, so creating emotional and captivating music. Outstanding tracks for me are the almost 12-minute ‘Wait’, ‘Rainfall’, ‘Muroro’ and the beautiful ‘Love Is Love’. A discovery worth making!!!

Periscopes+1 / UP – Periscopes+1 are the two original ‘Periscopers’ Alessandro Sgobbio on piano and Emiliano Vernizzi on tenor sax and electronics plus the 2015 recruit Nick Wright on drums. Their new trio recording is a disc of great compositions, wonderful interplay, and musicianship. This is beautiful, touching, and deep music! Starting out with the captivating ‘Wonderland’ and from there going through various melodic and rhythmic adventures. From the edgy ‘Disco Gagarin’ to the cool groove of ‘Danza Di Kuwa’ and the intense ‘Martyrlied’ to their very own take of Dire Straits ‘Sultans Of Swing’. Unique and highly recommended!!!

Aleph Trio / Promenade – says guitarist Antonio Cece about ‘Promenade’: “During the last ten years I have been travelling in various parts of the world. I visited and lived in different cities, stages, club, rooms. I moved through different cultures, I have stepped in and out trough different musical languages and I have tried hard to reach my inner voice as a human being”. Together with Daniele De Santo on bass and Marco Fazzari on drums, as well as special guest violinist Fernando Marozzi, he put all these memories and emotions into music. His guitar sound is clear and touching, can be laid back and relaxing, or powerful grooving, but always telling us a story … and Fazzari and De Santo back him up and push him when necessary. Surprising and highly recommended debut album.

John Cumming (1948 – 2020)

Over the last two days there have been written many heartfelt and beautiful words about John Cumming, who passed much to early last Sunday, May 17th. There is not much to add to these condolences, but one’s own memories: I first met John in the early 1990’s after having moved to London to work as International Jazz Marketing Director for PolyGram, which then became Universal Music. Both moving in the jazz circle, we met and started chatting about the state of jazz, the business, new acts … and were hanging out at gigs at Ronnie Scott’s and other venues. We started to discuss the acts I was working with and with which and how to work together, built them for the UK market … an often-frustrating undertaking in a pop-oriented marketplace, but always continuing. What struck me immediately when meeting John was his incredible passion for music and his understanding that without the creative forces, without the artists, there would be nothing. This got him the respect of his peers as well as the artists he worked with. Later on we not only met in London, but as well in New York at APAP or Jazz Congress or at gigs during Winter Jazz, then at jazzahead (where below picture with Austrian sax player Wolfgang Puschnig and myself was taken in 2016) and at North Sea Jazz occasionally. John and Puschnig knew each other as well from way back – in 1991 Puschnig made a record called ‘Alpine Aspects’ which combined a 16 piece traditional Austrian brass band and a jazz group and John brought the whole gang over to London for a gig …. That album was one of the early ones in my career as executive producer …

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When Serious started the Take Five educational program for young jazz musicians John invited me to come and talk about the music business from the perspective of a major label and since then I have done most of them … the English ones, the Scottish, the Swiss and the two European ones. In the end I talked about the music business and labels in general, not being connected to Universal anymore and we did the session as a kind of interview, were John would ask me the questions and tried to get answers that gave the young audience something to take away with them. So, the lecture became more like a chat between friends and still had lots of info about the music business included. These events also gave us time to talk and have a drink together. They are unforgettable memories for me. Below photo was taken at the end of the 2016 Take Five Switzerland sessions and shows beside the musicians Julie Campiche, Yilian Canizares, Yeal Miller, Nils Fischer, Joel Graf, Christoph Irniger, Manuel Troller and Mandla Mlangeni as well promoter Jan Ole Otnaes, manager and agent Mike Bindraban, Serious staff Martel Ollerenshaw, Amy Pearce, John and myself.

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John played different roles for different people: husband, father, colleague, friend, agent, manager, mentor, educator, etc., but first of all he was a wonderful, warm, passionate human being, open for new adventures and always having an hear for upcoming new talent. I truly loved working with him, talking and thereby learning, listening to gigs together with a drink in our hands. Last night I had a glass of a wonderful single malt whisky, a 1990 Bladnoch with the name ‘Jam Session’ – a gift from my friend Wolfgang Puschnig and I silently toasted to the life of John Cumming, who will be sorely missed, but he will always be in my memory. R.I.P. my friend.

locked down and music

I just want to state a few things while we are preparing to ease the global restrictions set during the virus outbreak – I have seen many artists doing concerts from their homes and streaming them online, which in general is a good idea, but (and this is a big BUT) these shouldn’t be for free! There are ways to have people pay for access to your streams and performances and in times when concert income is more or less zero, this is more than needed – so please: Do Not Give Away Your Music For Free!!!! Especially when having in mind that a ‘normal’ concert schedule and with it income, most likely won’t be available until next year. Streaming old concerts on video channels is fine, but for the new performances you need to charge.

And for the non-musicians: please go out and buy a CD or two in your local record store (if you still got one) or order them online, therefore helping the local business and the artists – streaming is not creating enough income for jazz and other niche genres artists and therefore I urge everyone to do something old fashioned and actually buy music! Thanks.

Here are a few discs I listened to in the last few weeks and did enjoy doing so:

Rob Luft / Life Is The Dancer – British guitarist Luft is for me one of the best on his instrument today – a talented and humble young man. ‘Life Is The Dancer’ is his second album after his acclaimed debut ‘Riser’ and shares the same line-up as the previous recording: Joe Wright on  tenor saxophone, Joe Webb on Hammond organ and piano, Tom McCredie on bass and Corrie Dick on drums plus guests Byron Wallen on trumpet and Luna Cohen on vocals. Luft’s compositions are strong and captivating, his playing that of a future star on his instruments (just listen to ‘One Day In Romentino’ and ‘Sad Stars’) and his group an ensemble at home with the leaders writing and way to tell stories. The title ‘Life Is The Dancer’ is a reference to the book ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle: ‘Life Is The Dancer and you are the Dance’, that is to say, you don’t live your life but life lives you. As Rob Luft explains: “I think that idea is a beautiful sentiment and I think the album title of ‘Life Is The Dancer’ suits my record, as the new compositions have something very bright, positive and dance-like in them. This warmth & energy is what I want people to feel when they listen to my music. The message is essentially: the past is in your head and the present is in your hands”. Highly recommended!!!!

Monika Herzig / Sheroes: Eternal Dance – Sheroes, the female all-star band assembled by pianist and composer Herzig, shows with the new album again that this group is open to tackle any kind of repertoire, from Herzig originals to covers of ‘We Are The Champions’,  ’Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child’ and ‘We Can Be (S)Heroes’ by Bowie and Eno. With Herzig on the recording were Jamie Baum on flute, Reut Regev on trombone, Leni Stern on guitar, who each contribute one composition to the album as well, plus Jennifer Vincent on bass and Rosa Avilla on drums, with guest appearances by Lakecia Benjamin on alto sax, Akua Dixon on cello and Mayra Casales on percussion. A mainstream jazz recording with incredible individual performances, lead by a composer and pianist with a clear musical vision. An album that is growing on me the more often I am listening to it.

Robert Lee / Ascension – bass player Lee is a rising star on the Canadian jazz scene and his debut album a strong statement as a composer, musician, and band leader. Recorded with vocalists Mingjia Chen and Caity Gyorgy, Allison Au on alto saxophone, Trevor Giancola on guitar, Augustine Yates on piano, Geoff Claridge on clarinet, Michael Davidson on vibraphone and Jacob Wutzke on drums, ‘Ascension’ combines influences from jazz, chamber and film music and modern folk. The individual performances are top, and the ensemble sounds together and tight. A very promising debut of modern improvised music from a musician who does not seem to know boundaries. Exciting!

Eivind Aarset & Jan Bang / Snow Catches On Her Eyelashes – Eivind Aarset (guitar, bass, electronics) and Jan Bang (programming, samples, editing) are two outstanding musicians who have been working together in different forms since the 1990’s and this new album is the culmination of all of these experiences: it is free flowing music that is influenced from many different styles, ranging from contemporary classical music, to dub, from ambient to pop, always performed with a jazzy touch. Aarset’s inventiveness of sounds on the guitar is legendary and Bang’s way to play with sounds and enhancing them as well. As the provided press text states perfectly: “This focus on content and whole, rather than on tools and individual elements, provides the album with its emotional impact. Although technology is a prerequisite for creating this form of music, the album is far from a cold, intellectual exercise”. Close your eyes and listen—and smile! Beautiful, deep and contemplative!!!

Huet, Fournier, Kuhl / Rarefied Air – Edwin Huet on electronics and live processing, Alex Fournier -on double bass and Mike Kuhl on drums and percussion recorded an album of “ethereal, moody and textural improvisations”. Huet and Fournier, known as a duo as Xiodjiha, are expanding on the new album into a trio with the addition of drums and percussion, which gives the improvised music a new dimension as well as different colours. There are 4 pieces on the record, of which the title track is an 18-minute free improvisation of changing sounds and intense internal communication between the musicians. Listening to the fellow musicians and reacting to what they do and so creating music in the moment. Breath-taking!

Stefano Rocco / A New Night, A New Day – this debut by Sydney-based guitar player Rocco features Muhamed Mehmedbasic on double bass, Nick Southcott on piano and Ed Rodrigues on drums. Each of the seven songs is part of a story and represents a place or time or mood relevant to the character at the centre of the story. Explains Rocco: “During a summer evening, our character feels a chilled excitement before going out, then a few hours later on a beach, contemplating a bright and mysterious full moon. Later that night the weather turns foggy, a blurry vision causes disorientation and discomfort. After a long night out, our character is now finally on the way back home, walking through dark and hazy streets which are slowly lit by the sunrise. After a few hours of sleep, it is time for a slow start to the day, but suddenly, the sound of an old carillon interrupts the weariness, the clock is ticking. The adventure finishes with a storm: clouds building up, intense winds, thunder and rain …it is summer though, the sun will break back soon”. Jazzy storytelling!

Fiil Free / Under Overfladen (Beneath The Surface) – The Copenhagen-based septet by pianist and composer Lars Fiil continues on their new album its adventurous expeditions into the freer side of jazz. The collectively improvising musicians of the group are Tomasz Dabrowski on trumpet, Henrik Pultz Melbye on saxophone and clarinet, Henrik Olsson on guitar, Martin Fabricius on vibraphone, Casper Nyvang Rask on double bass and Bjørn Heebøll on drums. “There is whispering minimalistic ballads, big chaotic charges of energy and subtle grooves, and the open structures lets the unique and personal expression of each of the seven musicians shine through”. This is powerful music, with great individual contributions by all musicians and wonderful ensemble improvisations. Recommended!

Andy Milne / The reMission – this is pianist Milne’s first trio recording, a line-up he had found daunting so far. The recording session featured with drummer Clarence Penn and bassist John Hébert two experienced sidemen, which helped him to tackle the intimate piano trio format to the best. Says Milne: “For me, the decision to present who I have become as an artist in the trio setting involved a reckoning and a certain degree of artistic and technical evolution in order to both embody my past projects, and forge a new path forward.” Unison, so the name of the trio, start the album with McCoy Tyner’s ‘Passion Dance’, energetic and powerful. Another highlight is ‘Dancing In The Savannah’, a Milne original, which is opening with a groovy bass and as well including some incredible work by drummer Penn. Listen and enjoy!

locked in with music

Since March 10th we are now in our flat, having been out since then only once to buy some bread and other essentials and twice to bring the rubbish down … and it seems that we will have at least another 2 weeks to stay in, as we are not allowed in Madrid to go out for a walk … just shopping and looking after elderly family members … we found our rhythm, do exercise, read, listen to music, watch TV – like everyone else. The one amazing thing about being locked in is, that people will get in touch, some you hadn’t heard from in ages – just checking in how you are … and we do the same … Skype and Zoom sessions with family and friends keeps us in touch as well … checking on neighbours increases the community feel and going to the window or balcony every evening at 8 pm to clap in admiration for the health services and other people that keep the city going … strange times indeed, but times to focus on oneself and the ones close to us and to make sure we all get through this together. And of course, music is helping a lot – giving emotions and distraction, taking us to other worlds … here is a link to a list of done and forthcoming streamed home performances and living room gigs (https://www.jazzonthetube.com/we-can-do-this/) as well as some new records I listened to and can recommend:

Kurt Elling featuring Danilo Perez / Secrets Are The Best Stories – A new album by master singer Elling is always something to look forward to and the news of his collaboration with Danilo Perez only heightened the expectations. Says Elling “Danilo and I share many of the same concerns and anxieties about where the world is today” and when listening to one of the albums most outstanding tracks ‘Song Of The Rio Grande’ the message is clear – this song, a memorial to drowned Salvadoran migrants Oscar and Valeria Martínez-Ramírez, is based on the composition ’Across The Crystal Sea’ from the symphonic Perez album of the same name, but with Elling’s lyrics it becomes a touching tribute and social-political statement at the same time. Two compositions by Jaco Pastorius got the Elling treatment, as well one each by Wayne Shorter and Vince Mendoza plus more by Perez … 2 tracks by Django Bates and Sidsel Endresen, ‘Stage I’ and ‘Stages II,III’, are rounding up a wonderful and essential album. Elling is at his usual best, it seems there is nothing this man can’t do with his voice … and pianist Danilo Perez is giving colour and power to the proceedings, with the support of Clark Summers on bass, Johnathan Blake on drums and Brazilian percussion master Rogerio Boccato. Special guests on the recording are alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, guitarist Chico Pinheiro, and Cuban percussionist Román Díaz. One album that shouldn’t be missed – essential for our times.

Ketil Bjornstad & Guro Kleven Hagen / The Personal Gallery – composer, pianist and writer Bjornstad doesn’t fit any category and neither does the music on this album. Music he wrote for this cooperation with young classical violinist Guro Kleven Hagen and music that is melodic, touching and beautiful. Uplifting I might add as well. These compositions have a classical background and a jazzy feel and gorgeous little melodies that make the listener smile. The performances by both musicians are outstanding, telling the stories of the pictures in this gallery with emotion and passion.  Explains Bjornstad: “We talked a great deal about our lives while we were rehearsing the suite. Guro asked about the background for the titles, and the order in which they were written, while at the same time telling stories from her own life. We became storytellers for each other. There was much that was recognisable for both of us. The musical idols of my youth were also hers, and vice versa. We had many of the same reference points. I felt that the titles we decided on during the process were as much hers as mine. There is 42 years age gap between Guro and me. I could have been her grandfather. But it is I who am the student.” I Can’t stop listening to this very unique album!

Jacek Kochan & musiConspiracy / Occupational Hazard – veteran drummer Kochan is a force in the Canadian jazz scene and for his new album he brought some friends to the studio to help to record this ambitious project: singer and pianist Elizabeth Shepherd, Sari Dajani on vocals on 2 tracks, Luis Deniz on alto saxophone, Petr Cancura on tenor, guitarists Jerry De Villiers Jr., Rasp Soulage, Fabrizio Brusca, Pierre Coté and Nguyên Lê, on keyboards Dan Thouin and Anthony Alexander, as well as Zbyszek Chojnacki on accordion, Adrian Vedady on upright bass plus Rich Brown and Mo Boo on electric bass. Occupational Hazard is a musical tour de force, combining elements of acoustic and electric jazz, rock, and contemporary improvised music, it weaves rhythms and harmonies from around the world into an eclectic and infectious mix. Shepherd’s vocals are very well delivered and are kind of floating on the music. The ensemble play is tight and captivating and the compositions full of surprises. Worth checking out!

Ahmed Abdullah / A Music of the Spirit / Out of Sistas’ Place – Long-time Sun Ra trumpeter and musical director for the Brooklyn venue Sistas’ Place, delivers an outstanding and adventurous, high energy new album. Recorded with Francisco Mora Catlett on percussion, Monique Ngozi Nri – poetry and vocals, Alex Harding on baritone saxophone, Don Chapman on tenor saxophone, Bob Stewart on tuba, Donald Smith on piano, Radu Ben Judah on bass, Ronnie Burrage and Roman Diaz on percussion, this record is a very personal and powerful tribute to Sun Ra and his musical concept. The ensemble here plays with incredible precision and masterful improvisations in the space given. Highlights in this overall amazing album are Sun Ra’s ‘Disciple 27’ and Miriam Makeba’s ‘Magwalandini’ – both arranged by Ahmed, whose trumpet soars over the music like a bird …. Love this one!!!!!

Yilian Canizares / Erzulie – Cuban singer and violinist Canizares presents with ‘Erzulie’ a very personal album with her lyrics touching issues like freedom, immigration, what it means to be a woman today and love – all packed in wonderful compositions, performed to perfection by Canizares and her band: Paul Beaubrun on guitar, Childo Tomas on bass, Inor Sotolongo on percussion and Black Samurai on drums. The special guests, which include Christian Scott, Bobby Sparks and Bill Laurence, are giving the album colour and depths. Canizares is a violinist who can play powerful or touching, never losing the passion in her expression – her singing is confident and carries the songs. A wonderful mix of Latin, African and Creole influences, with a shot of jazz and pop, makes this a special recording with a contemporary and relevant message!

Avishai Cohen / Big Vicious – This new album by trumpet star Cohen introduces his band Big Vicious, put together after his return to Israel from New York a few years ago and features the musical talents of Cohen on trumpet, effects and synthesizer, Uzi Ramirez on guitar, Yonatan Albalak on bass, Aviv Cohen on drums plus Ziv Ravitz on drums and live sampling. Together they create music that is influenced by their respective histories and various musical styles including electronica, rock, pop, ambient and classical music. Most of the composition’s credits are shared except for two Cohen works and a piece each by Massive Attack and Ludwig Van Beethoven. Great band interaction and individual performances make this album one of the best releases of 2020 so far.

Hildegunn Øiseth / Manana – Trumpet Player Hildegunn Øiseth delivers with her new album a touching and captivating jazz record of the highest quality. Her amazing sidemen for this album are Espen Berg on piano, Magne Thormodsæter on bass and Per Oddvar Johansen on drums. Musician and composer Sarah Chaksad says about her: “Hildegunn Øiseth’s distinctive sound combines timeless elegance, a very personal, natural language of improvisation with dreamlike stylistic confidence. Watching her is like seeing a powerful poet at work; she is touching the hearts of the audience and her fellow musicians with every single note”. A true discovery!!!

In case you are going to check out one or more of these recommendations and in case you like what you hear – why not make the step and order the CD? In these difficult times for artists and indie labels any sale helps, and any sold CD is better than a few streams …. If you want to help – Buy Music!!

difficult times need good music …

March 2020 – very difficult times and I won’t add to the tons of messages about the how, what and who … just asking everyone to be responsible citizens and stay at home!

It seems while at home many people use their social networks more than usual and therefore a lot of challenges have popped up – I did the photo one charting my life in 9 pictures, but some of the others I can’t do. How can someone who goes to gigs constantly for over more than 45 years pick his top 10 of these or how can someone who has thousands of records select his top 10? For me that’s simply impossible – each period in my life has important records in many ways, so this is one challenge I pass on. In general, I don’t like these kind of challenges and therefore I didn’t respond – even so I found the one concerning ones most influential labels quite interesting – for me that would be (not in any order): amadeo, CTI, Strata East, Gramavision, enja, ECM, Emarcy, Verve/Impulse, Jazzland, Okeh, Edition, Ropeadope to mention the ones that jump into my head right now (including obviously the ones I worked with). Different periods in my life had different main labels, but most of them, once with me, stayed with me. And their music I am still listening to …..

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Here are a few interesting recent releases:

Lakecia Benjamin / Pursuance: The Coltranes – alto saxophonist extraordinaire Benjamin pays with her third album homage to Alice and John Coltrane. Co-produced with bass player Reggie Workman, who played with both Coltranes, this album is a strong statement of individuality and musical power. Ron Carter, Gary Bartz, Regina Carter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Meshell Ndgecello, Steve Wilson, The Last Poets, Marc Cary, Keyon Harrold, Marcus Strickland, Brandee Younger and Jazzmeia Horn are the guests on the recording – representing three generations of musicians, all with the goal to give new impetus to the music of the celebrated Coltranes … with stunning results – Regina Carter in ‘Walk With Me’, Dee Dee Bridgewater and The Last Poets in ‘Acknowledgement’ and Benjamin’s performance  throughout the album make this a contender for album of the year! One not to miss!

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Dennis Kwok Jazz Orchestra / Windward Bound – Windward Bound is the first full-length album from the Canadian Dennis Kwok Jazz Orchestra featuring a six-movement suite for jazz orchestra and multiple woodwind soloists. All compositions are by leader, woodwind player, composer and arranger Kwok and are a kind of tribute to the tradition of the big band but being modern and fresh. The orchestra features beside the leader vocalist Caity Gyorgy, Naomi McCarroll-Butler, Sophia Smith, Brenden Varty, Kyle Tarder-Stoll and Jonathan Lau on reeds, Megan Jutting, Matt Smith, Paul Callander and Marie Goudy on trumpets, Nick Marshall, Andrew Gormley,Charlotte Mcafee-Brunner and Inayat Kassam on trombones, Augustine Yates on piano, Aidan Funston on guitar, Jonathan Wielebnowski on bass and Jacob Wutzke on drums. A wonderful swinging and relaxed big band album with great performances all around and fantastic sound!

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Mike McCormick / Proxemic Studies, Volume I – Mike McCormick is an Oslo-based guitarist, laptop performer and composer originally from Yellowknife, Canada. He recorded his debut album, an exploration of human intimacy, with the help of vocalist Laura Swankey, Emily Denison on trumpet and Knut Kvifte Nesheim on drums and vibraphone. The music they create is emotional, powerful and haunting, the lyrics are parts of letters, emails and texts he received from partners of the past …. Giving expressions from love and lust to bitterness and so making this a truly personal exploration of the space of intimacy. Wonderful not only McCormick’s guitar sound and craft, but Laura Swankeys pure vocals, the beautiful trumpet sound of Denison and the straight grooves of Nesheim. Deep and edgy – and for sure worth checking out!

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Thana Alexa / ONA – singer Alexa says about her new recording: “ONA is the musical expression of what being a woman means to me. It is my discovery of the wild woman spirit within me and the experiences I’ve encountered in setting her free. It celebrates the inspirational women in my life who have given me the confidence to realise my truth and express it freely. This music tells the story of what I’ve learned about the lives of women – starting with my own – our experiences, our emotions, our sexuality, our worth, our desire for freedom and our ability to overcome injustice by fighting for what we believe in”. ONA, which is the word for “she” in her native Croatian language, was recorded with drummer and co-producer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Matt Brewer, pianist Carmen Staaf and guitarist Jordan Peters. The guests on the album are Regina Carter, Becca Stevens, Claudia Acuña, Sofia Rei, Nicole Zuraitis, Sarah Charles, poet Staceyann Chin, and the ROSA Vocal Group. All songs were composed by Alexa, except her wonderful vocal arrangement for Massive Attacks ‘Teardrops’ and Tears For Fears ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’, which she totally makes her own. Powerful in their messages and musically amazing are for me all tracks but especially ‘Pachamama’ with the great Regina Carter adding colour to the beauty of the song, as well as ‘He Said She Said’, featuring Becca Stevens. Thana Alexa is a jazz singer for our times – masterful performer and writer, relevant in her messages and statements and this record is simply ESSENTIAL LISTENING!!!

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Wolfgang Muthspiel / Angular Blues – on his fourth album for ECM, Austrian guitar master Muthspiel returns to the trio format, this time with his old friends bass player Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade, who both appeared for the first time with Muthspiel on the 2000 album with singer Rebekka Bakken ‘Daily Mirror’. Here the trio moves beautifully between subtle swing and groovy little numbers as well as pensive ballads. Switching between electric and acoustic guitars makes this album more colourful, his clear and beautiful sound on the guitars is a pleasure to listen to and the musicianship and communication and understanding between the musicians makes the music deeper and touching. Beside the guitarists compositions the trio as well performs exceptionally well two standards: ‘Everything I Love’ and ‘I’ll Remember April’ and Muthspiel performs his piece ‘Solo Kanon in 5/4’without his sidemen – a touch of classical music, a melodic walk on his own into a beautiful musical landscape. Outstanding!!!

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Stay safe – stay home!!!

jazz A&R today .. and more new music

A short observation on A&R in Jazz today: A&R (Artists and Repertoire) used to be the core of any jazz label – being the direct work with the artists to discuss projects, song selection, side men, recording studios and special guests, producers and engineers – but that has changed over the last few years. Today any artist can easily produce the record they want to do and then, after the recording is done, look for a label or service provider that puts the record out physically and/or digitally. The label function therefore is less A&R oriented and more focused on distribution, marketing and promotion. At new labels like Edition Records or Ropeadope, to name just two of many, artists make license deals for their recordings and work together with the label on marketing and PR by using all social networks and traditional marketing means. These labels act more like collectors, putting together a selection of releases based on what they want on their labels … some more narrow in their musical selection process, others more open. A&R is probably more done at the major labels once they signed an artist, as they must fulfil the overall company’s objective as well as their own and must make sure the released music fits these parameters. In this climate the process of A&R in jazz seems to fall more to the team around the artist, like managers, agents and producers (in case the artist isn’t self-producing), as they are in more direct contact with the musician than most labels are today. This doesn’t mean that jazz labels today don’t need A&R people, they do, as the discussion on future projects once an artist is licensing his/her music to a label is obviously happening, but A&R people need to know more than in the past – they have to have a knowledge on modern communication and marketing concepts, to make sure the music they get on the label gets heard. There is now obviously as well the possibility of a form of ‘indie A&R’, as many artists, who recorded their music do not know to which label to go with it, or how to approach a label when not having the right contacts. Such an A&R person would not only need to know the musicians, but as well most major and indie label personnel and have contacts there to provide them with new recordings that are needing a home.  If one understands the philosophy and musical direction of any label and is able to place recordings that fit within these parameters, it is a win-win situation for the label and the artist and as well for the indie A&R person. I am sure we will see more indie A&R, for the lack of a better description, in the future.

Concerts:

On Tuesday February 24th a new trio formed by pianist Daniel Garcia Diego, bassist Pablo Martin Caminero and drummer Shayan Fathi had their first ever concert at Madrid’s Café Central. The trio, billed by the venue as Trio Flamenco, sees itself as a jazz group that has its base in Flamenco and performs a complex mix of the two styles. Repertoire includes compositions by Daniel as well as Pablo and Paco de Lucia, Chick Corea and others. The way the group mixed the complex rhythms of Flamenco with jazz improvisation left the audience in awe of their musicianship. The trio mainly worked as a unit, supporting as well when one of them played a solo and therefore constantly changing colours and creating an intense atmosphere. Paco de Lucia’s ‘Zyryab’ was a firework of rhythms and explosive interaction … but the compositions by Daniel and Pablo as well caught the ear of the listener for their beauty and power … and when the group got into Lyle Mays ‘Travels’ as an encore and tribute to the late musician, respect and emotion were flowing through the performance and captivated the attentive audience. As debuts go, this was a top one and I can’t wait to hear what these guys are going to record in a few months’ time. Something special happening here ….

Five Days later I had the pleasure to hear one of the longest performing small groups in European jazz – the Marcin Wasilewski Trio, which is working and recording together for 26 years now. Their communication and understanding are incredible and gives them space to constantly exchange ideas when improvising. The sold out concert in the Sala Camara of Madrid’s Auditorio Nacional featured mainly Wasilewski’s compositions, some known from previous recordings, as the wonderful ’Night Train with You’ and ‘Austin’, as well as three new ones, ‘Glimmer Of Hope’, ‘Amour Fou’ and ‘Passing Sorrow’, which confirmed once again what a great composer Wasilewski is. These three songs will be on a new, already recorded, album and based on these songs alone it is going to be another great record by the trio. Slawomir Kurkiewicz on bass and drummer Michal Miskiewicz were outstanding as well and made the piano trio really sound like a group, not just three musicians playing together. They can swing, lay back in ballads and groove, as they did in the last song of the concert, Herbie Hancock’s ‘Actual Proof’, before coming back for a touching rendition of Krzysztof Komeda’s ‘Lullaby’ from the soundtrack to Rosemary’s Baby. Catch them if they come to play in a place near you … this is wonderful melodic jazz performed on the highest level!

New releases:

Weird Turn Pro / Maul and Mezcal – this is the group’s third album and as they say an ‘excursion into the cracks in the lining between structure and unpredictability’. Pianist Mike Effenberger, Rob Gerry on bass, Mike Walsh on drums, Matt Langley on reeds, Chris Gagne on trombone and Chris Klaxton on trumpet deliver their best work so far – a meditation on life, presented via collective improvisations and masterly individual performances. This is partly ambient and beautiful, partly powerful and free flowing. WTP is an ensemble that surprises and captivates – through beauty in music and constant quality.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AK9WXqU4V9o&list=PL0e5JozUoqRkj-uMZcMQoBdMEo8r7-Qrt

SHRI / The Letter – bass player Shri (born Shrikanth Sriram) came to fame with the UK group Badmarsh and Shri but has released a string of wonderful albums as well under his own name since 1997. ‘The Letter’ is a tribute to German bass player Eberhard Weber, who wrote Shri an encouraging letter after listening to a demo Shri had made. The two opening tracks of the album ‘Drum The Bass’ and The Letter’ are wonderful solo bass excursions, before a spacey trio track featuring the late drummer Paolo Vinaccia and keyboarder Bugge Wesseltoft takes the listener into a world of sounds, grooves and improvisations. The beautiful ‘New Day’ features the sax of Tore Brunborg in dialogue with Shri on bass and percussion. Other guests on the album include Ben Castle on bass clarinet and Arild Anderson on double bass on 2 bass duo tracks, the eclectic ‘Bow’ and ‘Night’, which ends the album on a quiet and contemplative note. Ten tracks full of surprises, from solo to group performances, showcasing a unique talent. Outstanding!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFvm84WOD1w

Trilok Gurtu / God Is A Drummer – this is already the 20th album by master percussionist Gurtu … and one of his best!!! He has always been at the crossroads of many musical styles and loved to create mixtures of all these genres without losing musical quality or individuality. ‘God Is A Drummer’ works the same way, but as well is a tribute to some of the musicians that have influenced Gurtu along  his musical path like keyboardist and Weather Report co-founder Joe Zawinul, Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos, jazz drumming great Tony Williams, and his mother, the Indian classical singing star Shobha Gurtu. He recorded this album with German trumpeter Frederik Köster, trombonist Christophe Schweizer, Turkish-born keyboardist Sabri Tulug Tirpan and electric bassist Jonathan Cuniado, the perfect partners for this journey around the world in 11 tunes. Wonderful!!!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-DaP0BBUHU

Kat Edmonson / Dreamers Do – On her 5th album, Edmonson takes dreams as a concept and recorded Disney related songs and originals to help us through sleepless nights. The band consists of drummer Aaron Thurston, who co-produced the album with her and arranged most of the songs, bassist Bob Hart, guitarist Matt Munisteri, pianist Matt Ray and Rob Schwimmer on various keyboards. Edmonson is immediately recognizable because of her unique voice and phrasing and as always, her new records is retro, but modern at the same time. Guest appearances by vocal trio Duchess on the wonderful ‘In A World Of My Own’ and Bill Frisell on an equalling beautiful ‘The Age Of Not Believing’ make the album even more outstanding. Beside these tracks just check out the Edmonson composition ‘Too Late To Dream’ as well as her renditions of ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ and ‘What A Wonderful World’ – Sublime!!!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vTdynsh0Po

Kadri Voorand / in duo with Mihkel Mälgand – singer, pianist and composer Voorand is a star in her native Estonia and Mihkle a famous bass player there as well. Together they have performed for a few years already and now released their first international album. The record is an exciting mix of own music and covers and the adding of some electronic make this an interesting and captivating listening experience. Kadri’s voice is powerful and clear, her composition the perfect vehicle for it. Outstanding tracks on the album are her original ‘I’m Not In Love’, Michael Jacksons ‘They Don’t Really Care About Us’ and ‘Kättemaks’, written by Eeva Talsi with Estonian lyrics by Jan Tätte.  A multifaceted recording by an upcoming powerful artist. Highly recommended! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqJowzyQLt4

Pablo Martin Caminero / Bost – the Caminero Quintet’s new album features beside bassist Pablo the usual crew with Ariel Brínguez on sax, Moisés P. Sánchez on piano, Toni Belenguer on trombone and Michael Olivera on drums. Bost (which stands for five in the Basque language) continues Caminero’s flamenco jazz saga with fresh new ideas. All members of this group are amazing musicians in their own right, but here they come together to create a bigger group sound, based on the complex compositions of Martin Caminero. From the title track to ‘El Tema Raro del Disco’, this is fantastic music by a great band. And now, with having a European agent, there is a chance that this band can be seen and heard outside of Spain as well soon – don’t miss out!!!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ds6WflfS8yo

Marek Napiorkowski / Hipokamp – this late 2019 release somehow got lost on my desk and I just got a chance to listen and truly did enjoy the music created by guitarist Napiorkowski, Jan Smoczynski on keyboards, Pawel Dobrowolski on drums, Luis Ribeiro on percussion and special guest Adam Pieronczyk on soprano sax. The album is, except for two tunes by David Bowie (‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Absolute Beginners’) and one by Egberto Gismonti (‘Agua E Vinho’), composed by Marek and shows his incredible writing skills as well as his powerful and emotional guitar play. Outstanding tracks are ‘Brainstorm’, with a screaming sax solo and an incredible guitar performance, the groovy ‘Professor Kuppelweiser’, a beautifully spaced out ‘Space Oddity’ and the rocky ‘Absolute Beginners’! A very cool jazz guitar album indeed!!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggA8L8usgxc

Continuing with my introduction to some Canadian artists and their recent releases for preparation for jazzahead 2020:

Mark Godfrey / Square Peg – the second album by bass player Godfrey features as well Allison Au on alto saxophone, Matt Woroshyl on tenor saxophone, Chris Pruden on piano and Nick Fraser on drums. All compositions are by Godfrey and are for his band of long-time collaborators, except the composition ‘Bucket List’ which ends the album and is written for solo bass. The band uses the space given to improvise in a fantastic manner and groove and swing with passion. Outstanding tracks are ‘No Gig Today’, ‘USS Rent A Car’ and ‘Bucket List’. Recommended!!

Emie R Roussel Trio / Rythme de Passage – the trio of pianist Emie Rioux-Roussel has already played successfully at jazzahead last year, but this new album with Nicolas Bedard on bass and Dominic Cloutier is definitely worth checking out. The music on ‘Rythme de Passage’, their fifth album, is like a conversation: in turn quiet, agitated, and passionate, but always about communicating and performing as a group. Out of the eight songs on the album five are from Roussel, who is not only a great pianist but as well a writer of status and three by Bedard, whose ‘Agent Orange’ is one of the standout tracks on the album, next to Roussel’s ‘Yatse Club’, ‘Rythme de passage’ and ‘Maltagliati’. A piano trio to look out for.

Peter Hum / Ordinary Heroes – Pianist Hum gathered some of Canada’s best musicians around him to record ‘Ordinary Heroes’ – Kenji Omae on tenor saxophone, David Smith on trumpet, Mike Rud on guitar, Alec Walkington, Dave Watts on bass and Ted Warren on drums. Together they create modern mainstream jazz, perfectly performed as an ensemble. Giving meaning and emotions to the social critical and political compositions by Hum. Outstanding tracks are ‘Fake News Blues’, ‘Rabble Rouser’, the touching ‘Tears for the Innocent’ and the title track ‘Ordinary Heroes’. Great performances from all players and a wonderful sound make this album a listening pleasure.

Ernesto Cervini / Tetrahedron – Cervini, one of the countries leading composers and drummers and know from many different projects, has a new band with Tetrahedron, featuring outstanding guitarist Nir Felder, electric bass player Rich Brown and Luis Denz on alto sax. Originally a trio, the addition of Felder took the band into new spheres. The album opens powerful with ‘Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise’ and doesn’t really let go after that: ‘Forward Motion’ and ‘Angelicus’ feature Nir Felder at his best and ‘Stro’ includes some fine work by Denz. Cervini and Brown are holding everything together with masterly rhythm work and finish the record with the powerful ‘The Sneaky Two’. Recommended!

 

some thoughts on music streaming …. and new releases !

The British magazine Jazzwise printed in their recent issue an article by writer Stuart Nicholson about digital streaming, entitled ‘Stream Machine’. Nicholson is asking a valid question with “how long are streaming services going to hang on to music that’s not generating revenue”, meaning the underuse of millions of tracks from niche genres and is pointing out in comparison, that Netflix did cut its content of films made before 1950 to just 25, because of the same problem. With streaming being song oriented, so argues Nicholson, jazz and related niche genres are falling through the system. If you add to that the bad presentation of jazz on most streaming services, one could think Nicholson might be right and one should for sure be worried.

But there is, in my opinion,  another possible scenario: all streaming services are fighting for growth by adding subscribers, but slowly the pop subscriptions will be or are already slowing down and in the fight for additional income the services might start to look into the smaller genres like classical music, jazz, folk etc. Once the music is presented in a way the jazz consumer wants (more relevant information on sidemen, recording dates, etc and artists with the same name separated by instrument or date of birth ..) and in better sound quality (here amazon made the first move already) than there is a good chance that jazz fans will migrate to streaming services faster and subscribe. And with that, make the niche repertoire for the streaming services worth having within their businesses. Of course, it will as well depend on what the stand of the big record companies will be on that … they are not only holding the biggest jazz catalogues, but as well a share in some of the streaming services and for all of them Jazz is only about 1 % of their overall business …. Interesting times indeed!! And maybe time to think about all label including genre oriented streaming services for niche repertoire like Jazz and classical music ….

recommended new music:

Julie Campiche / ONKALO – on her first record under her own name, Swiss harpist Julie Campiche is creating wonderful soundscapes and spaces for improvisation for her band, which includes saxman Leo Fumagalli, bass player Manu Hagmann and drummer Clemens Kuratle. Five out of the six composition on the album are by Campiche and show her talent as a writer with a unique style, using the talents of her co-musicians perfectly. Her sound on the harp is very individual and captivating, her music from groovy to contemplative, from ambient to modern jazz, with deep musical content, at the same time accessible and challenging and rewarding when listening closely. And it can be all that in one song … without losing its magic!! Julie Campiche is sure an artist to have an eye on for the future! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zukiErFon0

Cherise / Paradise EP – Singer, flautist Cherise (Adams-Burnett) is one of these rare musicians that pop up only once in a while: last year she won the Jazz Vocalist of the Year Award from Jazz FM in the UK without having even released any of her own music, just based on the merit of her work in various projects, all above Tomorrow’s Warriors and Nubiyan Twist. Her debut EP is including 4 songs written by her, showcasing the composing talents as well her incredible vocal skills. These songs are modern, nu soul, jazzy tunes which reveal a variety of influences. The title track is a soul number that leans on India.Arie, without losing its originality. ‘Violet Nights’ swings lightly and has a beautiful little groove – a classy jazz tune. ‘Siren Song’ has a more cinematic feel and the final track on the EP, ‘Felicity’is a beautiful slower song. A very promising debut from an artist we will for sure hear a lot more in the coming years!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMbGmk9DDe8

Eunhye Jeong / The Colliding Beings, Chi-Da – This new exciting live recording is pianist Eunhye Jeong’s fourth record as a leader or co-leader, of her latest concert Chi-Da, the free improvisation project that encourages colliding worlds of different performers and aims to achieve the harmony through the independency of each musician involved in the act. Eunhye Jeon, together with Soo Jin Suh on drums, Il-dong Bae on vocals and JI Park on cello created some powerful music, with all tracks giving space to improvisations and communication between the musicians. All songs, except one, being over 12 minutes long, with ‘The Hope Landed’ standing at 25 minutes and leading the listener into a place, where only expression through sound exists. The recorded concert has an intensity that is unusual, draws one into the music and one is captured by all performances and the haunting sound of the human voice. The singing reminds me a lot of Kim Duk Soo’s SamulNori, with whom I did some recordings with a jazz band (Red Sun) in the late 80’s. The singer then was Lee Kwang Soo and the band Red Sun featured sax player Wolfgang Puschnig, singer Linda Sharrock, bass player Jamaaladeen Tacuma and pianist Uli Scherer and their music had the same intensity and global power. Eunhye Jeong is a force in improvised music and this record deserves to be heard by many.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSFufq7j1CE

Roberta Piket / Piket Plays Mintz – this unique and beautiful recording started out as a birthday gift from pianist Roberta Piket for her husband, drummer and composer Billy Mintz. As she says in the liner notes:I appreciate Billy’s direct, personal approach to composition; they have an open quality which gives the performer the freedom to put forth her own viewpoint. Yet in every piece, I hear Billy’s distinct voice and vision. It’s a voice free of grandiosity, music pared down to its essence without unnecessary elaboration”. These emotionally charged solo piano recordings not only show what great compositions Mintz has, but as well what a sensible and wonderfully skilled pianist Roberta Piket is. A record for quiet hours, to listen and enjoy.  A true treasure!

Robin McKelle / Alterations – singer/song writer McKelle digs for her new album into the works of some of the most celebrated female artists of the past and present: from Billie Holiday via Joni Mitchell to Amy Winehouse and Adele, to name just a few. McKelle is joined on this release by pianist and arranger Shedrick Mitchell, acoustic and electric bassist Richie Goods, drummer Charles Haynes and outstanding guitarist Nir Felder.  Guest performances by saxophonist Keith Loftis and trumpeter Marquis Hill are completing the list of participating musicians. McKelle’s singing as usually is immaculate and I truly like how Robin makes all the songs her own, gives them personality and connects them through a great concept.  Outstanding tracks for me are ‘Back To Black’, ‘Don’t Explain’, ‘River’, ‘Mercedes Benz’ and her own composition ‘Head High’, which stands equally within all these jewels. A record that will spin for a while on my player.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TM5UNyTFYk

VA Virginia Schenk / Battle Cry – “What I sing matters. What I say matters. I see myself as a peacemaker and networker, someone who weaves worlds and people together. In 2016, my vision changed”, says VA, and ‘Battle Cry’ is her response to that change. The singer brought with her to the studio for this album pianist Kevin Bales, bassist Rodney Jordan and drummer Marlon Patton, who have been VA’s core working band for the past decade. Add to that tenor saxophonist Kebbi Williams, guitarist Rick Lollar and spoken word artist James Benson and the line-up is complete. Her versions of ‘Bali Hai’, ‘Abraham, Martin and John’ and ‘Strange Fruit’ are excellent and valid statements for our times and the only original on the album ‘Hear My Battle Cry’ is a groovy affair with strong lyrics, who make clear that for VA  “My music is my resistance”!  Recommended!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hek6aNttm3g

Elliot Galvin / Live In Paris, at Foundation Louis Vuitton – Galvin is for sure one of the young and upcoming UK jazz musicians. He is an extremely talented improviser and composer, as he has showcased as member of the group Dinosaur or with his own projects and recordings. The 6 pieces on this live album are completely free improvised and showcasing a musician’s brilliance in instant composing, as well as a storyteller, whose means to tell his story is his instrument. Outstanding tracks for me are ‘For J. S.’, ‘Time and Everything’ and the beautiful ‘Broken Windows’. But that might change, as with every listen I hear more nuances, discover little somethings I hadn’t heard earlier …. For sure a record that grows with listening to it. Wonderful!!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_PfBUgB7R0

John McLaughlin, Shankar Mahadevan, Zakir Hussain / Is That So? – Guitar star McLaughlin has a long history of working with Indian musicians, going back to the original Shakti band from 1976, via Remember Shakti and now this outstanding trio, featuring the master himself on guitar, guitar synthesizer and orchestrations, as well as tabla legend and long-time collaborator Zakir Hussain and vocalist Shankar Mahadevan. ‘Is That So?’ might have been six years in the making, but it sounds fresh and exciting and the music is touching and most likely one of the best offerings in the meetings of musicians from East and West. Shankar Mahadevan’s voice is clear and soaring over the sounds McLaughlin creates and the beats Hussain sets out to keep it all together. Sensational!!!   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQRl6mhpq8M

Roberta Piket / Piket Plays Mintz – this unique and beautiful recording started out as a birthday gift from pianist Roberta Piket for her husband, drummer and composer Billy Mintz. As she says in the liner notes: “I appreciate Billy’s direct, personal approach to composition; they have an open quality which gives the performer the freedom to put forth her own viewpoint. Yet in every piece, I hear Billy’s distinct voice and vision. It’s a voice free of grandiosity, music pared down to its essence without unnecessary elaboration”. These emotionally charged solo piano recordings not only show what great compositions Mintz has, but as well what a sensible and wonderfully skilled pianist Roberta Piket is. A record for quiet hours, to listen and enjoy.  A true treasure!

Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow / Life Goes On – This trio is working together on and off since 1994 and now has developed into one of the most exciting small jazz groups around – and the intelligent and witty compositions by Carla get the best out of the three players. ‘Life Goes On’ is a three suite album: ‘Life Goes On’ is the first and showcases the trios chamber music qualities, with a bit of blues thrown in; ‘Beautiful Telephones’ is Bley at her best – she has summed it up as “a piece where things get excited and then impatient and then excited again and then change. Nothing stays the same because, with the attention span of the President, we have to quickly change the music, too.” The Third suite ‘Copycat’ is playing around with the call and response notion in jazz in an exciting and meaningful way. All three players sound exceptional good and are at ease with each other and the material. An early contender for album of the year!

Audrey Ochoa / Frankenhorn – Young Canadian trombonist Ochoa is a rising star in her own right, a skilled composer, exciting performer and not afraid to play in any genre that fits her musical expressions. All songs, except one, are her compositions … mixing her trombone with piano, bass and drums, as well as strings to create a melange of chamber music, groove and contemporary jazz. Her sidemen are Chris Andrew on piano/keyboards, Sandro Dominelli on drums, Mike Lent and Rubim de Toledo on bass, Luis Tovar and Raul Tabera on percussion, Kate Svrcek and Shannon Johnson on violin, Ian Woodman on cello and special guest Battery Poacher, who created cool remixes for two of the tracks. Surprising in its variety and quality, this is a cool record to discover. Audrey Ochoa will as well perform in April at jazzahead in Bremen – go and check her out!!!!

Dan Loomis / Job’s Trials – Called a Jazz Song Cycle or, even better, a jazz oratorio, this is an ambitious recording project by bass player Dan Loomis and his band, consisting of vocalists Yoon Sun Choi and Song Yi Jeon, Jeff Miles on guitar, Jared Schonig on drums and Daniel Breaker as narrator. ‘Job’s Trials’ is an innovative, genre-bending work that uses the power of the human voice and the expressive palette of jazz to tell one of the world’s most poignant and ancient stories. Loomis uses spoken interludes between the songs to create a narrative that the music supports dramatically. The voices of the two Korean singers are expressive and soulful and make this unusual project work in a special way. Great music, nothing less!!!

the 20’s and more jazz

The start of 2020 is a good reason to have a look back into the roaring 1920’s … a period known, beside other names, as the Jazz Age. Post WW I the global economy was showing constant growth and modernity, the word for this time, brought the radio, movies and cars. Cities like Berlin, London, Paris, Sydney, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago had the cultural edge. The period became known for Prohibition, Art Deco, the Harlem Renaissance, women liberation and getting voting rights in many countries, Freud and his theories, to name just a few major developments.  The name Jazz Age is definitely correct as in these times some of the most important jazz recordings of all time were made – above all the eternal Louis Armstrong Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings on OKeh, but as well the music by Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington, Sydney Bechet, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, and and and … Blues recordings became hits in the US and the first country songs were recorded as well … labels like OKeh, Black Swan, Broome, ARTo, Vocalion, Ajax and many others, as well as  the big ones: Victor and Columbia were driving this new musical output. But the 1920’s ended with a bang: Black Tuesday on Wall Street in New York on October 29th, 1929, the result of the London Stock Exchange crash from September 20, which send uncertainty into global stock markets and the years of speculation came to a tragic end that led into the Great Depression of the following years, culminating in WW II.

So how does that compare with the start of our 2020’s? Different set of problems … mostly environmental, which, if done right, could as well lead to an upswing in a currently slow growth economy. On the other hand modernity could be a good word for our times as well … all going into one gadget that can do everything .. phone, TV set, camera, satellite navigation system, medical equipment, … Politically the move to the right looks like it will continue globally – a scenario in which jazz, for obvious reasons,  usually thrives. Only time will tell if these years will yield everlasting new recordings as well. And let’s see if mankind learned enough to avoid another Black Tuesday … but the bubble of companies like Spotify, Uber, etc. which hardly ever made a profit (if at all) and are valued at billions of dollars might need to be addressed in some form at some time. For me it looks like these 20’s are neither going to be roaring nor boring!!

Sadly 2020 started with the loss of a few very important jazz musicians … Jimmy Heath – ‘Little Bird’ was still playing aged 93; he has been a true jazz giant who mentored generations of musicians and a wonderful human being. Claudio Roditi – Brazilian jazz trumpet player with a distinguished career in the US and beyond and European jazz legend, pianist and keyboarder Wolfgang Dauner, whom I had the pleasure to meet a few times. I first heard of him as a player with saxophonist Hans Koller, then through his own recordings for MPS and later the Mood label, which he co-founded in 1977 with Albert Mangelsdorff, Volker Kriegel and others. Beautiful his solo piano albums and of course his work in the powerful United Jazz+Rock Ensemble, whose first album ‘Live Im Schützenhaus’ is still one of the top selling jazz recordings in Germany. When I was executive producer for the 1988 Konstantin Wecker album ‘Wieder Dahaom – Live in Wien und Graz’, Dauner was in the band that recorded these concerts and we had some fun doing the gigs  … and spend that year New Year’s Eve together with Wecker in Berlin. Dauner was a leading improviser and played Avantgarde, modern jazz as well as fusion .. always seeking for new sounds and ways to express himself. May they all rest in peace!

Jazzahead 2020 will have Canada as the focus market – a thriving jazz scene with wonderful established and new artists. Beside the Gala and opening night there will be the Canadian Night, featuring 8 selected artists/groups to showcase the variety and quality of this jazz market. I will write a bit more about this in a jazzahead preview in March. For now – here are a few more Canadian records worth checking out:

Eric St-Laurent / Bliss Station – Guitarist and keyboarder St-Laurent recorded ‘Bliss Station’ in Berlin and Toronto with his friend Sebastian Studnitzky on trumpet and piano, Jordan O’Connor on bass and Michel Dequevedo on percussion. Wonderful compositions perfectly performed – beautiful how the sounds of Studnitzky’s mellow trumpet and St-Laurent’s guitar mix into one colour, carrying the melodies of the songs. Recommended!!

The University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra / Embargo – This is only the second album of this University’s big band and it showcases the talents of the young musicians as soloists, composers and arrangers. With the exception of ‘Take The A Train’, all tracks on ‘Embargo’ are composed and arranged by the musicians, led by conductor Gordon Foote /Zach Griffin – Alto Sax, Soprano Sax, Flute / Griff Vona – Alto sax, Clarinet / Geoff Claridge – Tenor Sax, Clarinet / Jacob Chung – Tenor Sax / Alex Manoukas – Baritone Sax, Bass Clarinet / Evan Dalling, Kaelin Murphy, Christian Antonacci / Ben Frost – Trumpets / Nick Adema, Vonne Aguda, Kyle Orlando / Charlotte McAffee-Brunner – Trombones / Charlotte Alexander, Ilinca Stafie – French Horns / Anthony D’Alessandro – Piano / Julien Bradley-Combs – Guitar / Evan Gratham – Bass and Jacob Slous – Drums. Great, swinging, modern big band sounds!! Powerful brass and touching ballads. Some of these performers will soon start making waves around Canada!!!

 

LOCAL TALENT / Higienópolis – LOCAL TALENT combines 3 of Canada’s most eminent instrumentalists performing together on record for the first time. The group is led by composer and keyboardist James Hill, known best for his work with international jazz and hip-hop group BADBADNOTGOOD and Autobahn Trio. Accompanying him are electric bassist Rich Brown and drummer Ian Wright. All compositions on the album are by Hill and cover a variety of moods and soundscapes – from ambient to groovy to Brazil and back to Canada. Local can be anywhere you are … Hill’s skills on the piano and keyboards are exceptional and I am sure this album will build a great following for him. Top track for me: The Silent Cry.

Shuffle Demons / Crazy Time – The Shuffle Demons are Richard Underhill – alto & baritone saxophones, lead vocals; Stich Wynston – drums, percussion, bg vocals; Kelly Jefferson – tenor saxophone, bg vocals; Matt Lagan – tenor saxophone, bg vocals; Mike Downes – bass, bg vocals; Mike Murley – tenor saxophone and Jim Vivian – bass. This is the band’s 9th album, in a career lasting 35 years – with changing line-ups but the same powerful approach to jazz.  The typical instrumental / vocal mix is represented here as well as some groovy ensemble play. A band to discover and one I would love to see/hear live!! Cool rap in ‘Have a good one’ … and ‘Even Demons Get The Blues’ is another stand-out track! Cool!!

Mark Segger Sextet / Lift Off – Segger’s new album is another prove of the diversity of Canada’s jazz scene… this is a wonderful recording of improvised music, based on his compositions. His music reflects a wide range of creative interests, from the swing of Mel Lewis and his jazz orchestra to the genre expanding string quartet writing by composers like Bartok and Ligeti. This captivating album features beside drummer Segger Jim Lewis on trumpet, Heather Saumer on trombone, Peter Lutek on tenor saxophone & clarinet, Tania Gill on piano & melodica and Rob Clutton on bass. Challenging and rewarding music. Adventurous!