Sixty thousand songs a day ….

If one considers that Spotify alone adds around 60.000 new songs every day to its catalogue, yes, that’s sixty thousand, it is hard to imagine how someone can find or discover anything new there …. And it makes me wonder how long they will be able to do so without cutting at the low use end … which for sure would mean classical and jazz and other niche genres. We are not there yet, but I am afraid at one point in the coming years we will see this happen. As I don’t like playlists, I discover new music via my contacts in the music business, by reading magazines for the music genres I like, following musicians on their social networks, stay in touch with labels and some PR companies to get their new records for a possible review. And here are some of these which I got lately and really like – I hope you will enjoy some of these as well.

Pål Nyberg / Lowlands – Swedish guitarist Nyberg’s new album puts a focus on his writing, performed by a wonderful group of musicians including Birgitta Flick on sax, Per ‘Texas’ Johansson on clarinets, Markus Jägerstedt on keyboards, Mauritz Agnas on bass and Konrad Agnas on drums. The compositions are melodic and relaxed, the individual performances especially from Johansson and Flick are outstanding. The subtle use of electronics enhances the overall sound and gives added emotional content. Nyberg’s guitar sound is traditional and clear and he swings wonderfully, even in a more modern context. Laid back, touching and contemplating – a great record for all hours of the day! Recommended.

Logan Richardson / AfroFuturism – Alto saxophonist, producer, and composer Richardson is joined on his new and fifth release by guitarist Igor Osypov, Peter Schlamb on vibes and keyboards, bassist Dominique Sanders, and drummers Ryan J. Lee and Corey Fonville. Guest appearances by vocalist Laura Taglialatela and Ezgi Karakus on strings round up the line-up for AfroFuturism. The albums diverse compositions are enhanced by keyboards, synthesizers and programmed parts, with sound samples used frequently amid heavy grooves. Modern jazz it is, but with a nod to the past. Logan’s alto keeping the album together, binding the various elements into one soundscape of different colours. Says Richardson: “I always feel strongly about all my projects, but this one was so fluid in the way we produced it and the way the different voices came together. It feels like something truly special.” Indeed, it is!

Joan Mar Sauqué / Gone With The Wind – On his second outing as a leader, trumpet player Joan Mar is accompanied by Josep Traver on guitar and Giuseppe Campisi on bass. The drum-less trio leads to a more melodic approach and therefore the selection of the songs: all from the 40’s and 50’s with strong melodies. The trio delivers a wonderful traditional jazz record, with Joan’s trumpet clear and straight and swinging. Outstanding Ray Brown and Dizzy Gillespies ‘Ray’s Idea’ as well as Gigi Gryce’s ‘Shabozz’. One musician to keep an eye on. Very promising!!

Tania Giannouli / In Fading Light – Greek composer and pianist Giannouli recorded her new album in a trio format, featuring Andreas Polyzogopoulos on trumpet and Kyriakos Tapakis on oud. “Oud and trumpet are two of my favourite instruments. A trio with these instruments is unusual, but I wanted to explore the beautiful textures, tonalities and emotional resonances that this combination of instruments offers” says Giannouli about the new record. Her music is touchingly beautiful, contemplative and melodic. One can hear that she is classically trained, but has an open mind for improvisation. In her words “The music on this album is an expression of love, hope and compassion, a plea for understanding, kindness, and the need to respect and embrace our common connectedness”. And it is exceptionally performed and highly recommended!!

HITRA / Transparence – The group Hitra is an international quartet, being born at the Norwegian Academy Of Music in Oslo and featuring Hilmar Jensson from Iceland on guitar, Italian pianist Alessandro Sgobbio on piano and Norwegians Jo Berger Myhre on bass and Øyvind Skarbø on drums. The compositions by Sgobbio for the band are spacious and ambient, with an openness for improvisations, either collectively (‘Labtayt’) or individually. Jensson is a wonderful guitar player   with a clear sound and a sensibility to fill spaces to enhance the soundscape of the songs, or to lead the way like in the captivating ‘Cite Des Poetes’. Sgobbio, who as well acted as the producer of this album and who is as well known for his work with the group Periscopes, sets the tone without being in the forefront, making this a true band album. One to check out!

Michael Wolff / Live at Vitellos – Already recorded 10 years ago, this quartet outing by pianist Wolff deservedly now sees the light of day. The band, consisting as beside the leader Wolff of trumpet player Mark Isham, John B. Williams on bass and drummer Mike Clark, opens the disc with the wonderful and touching ‘Ballad Noir’, in which Isham’s melodic improvisations shine. This is followed by a groovier piece entitled ‘Lagniappe’ and a wonderful rendition of Wayne Shorter’s ‘Fall’. Another of Wayne’s compositions, ‘Nefertiti’, shows the musicians’ deep connection, expanding the song through improvisations and working perfectly as a unit. Wolff and Isham are amazing soloists, backed and pushed forward by Williams and Clarke, a powerful rhythm section. A top live concert captured in perfect sound quality. Stunning!

Mike Freedman / Into The Daybreak – The debut album by Toronto jazz veteran Freedman showcases not only his tremendous skills as a player, but as well as a composer, as all 9 tracks on the album were written by him. Recorded with Jeremy Ledbetter on piano, Alexis Baro on trumpet, Chris Gale on tenor saxophone, Kobi Hass on bass, Max Senitt on rums & percussion, plus guests Curtis Freeman on fretless bass and Louis Simão on cuica, these nine diverse tracks are performed with verve and power. Freedman has a wonderful clear and full sound on his instrument and his improvisations shine through deep melodic and musical understanding. This is a top band playing – individually as well as an ensemble they shine and make the listener feel these modern jazz songs. A surprise in many ways.

Jihye Lee / Daring Mind – The second album by South Korean composer and arranger Lee ‘reflects her struggles, doubts, joys and hopes’ of living in New York City. “My goal is to invite listeners into my creative world, to relate to my stories, and to reflect on the truth that as humans, we share similar struggles and triumphs regardless of where we come from. It is my hope that we can create genuine connections with each other through art,” she says. Co-produced with Darcy James Argue the recording session included the following musicians: Guest artist: Sean Jones (Trumpet); Reeds: Ben Kono, Rob Wilkerson, Quinsin Nachoff, Jeremy Powell, Carl Maraghi; Trumpets: Brian Pareschi, John Lake, Sean Jones, Alex Norris; Trombones: Mike Fahie, Alan Ferber, Nick Grinder, Mark Patterson, Jennifer Wharton; Piano: Adam Birnbaum, Haeun Joo; Guitar: Sebastian Noelle; Bass: Evan Gregor and Drums: Mark Ferber. Her music is surely a universal reflection of what it means to be human and her band transports these feelings perfectly. A stand-out big ensemble work of many colours and emotions and timeless quality!!!

staying at home and listening to music …

Almost a year ago, on March 10th 2020 we started our voluntary confinement, anticipating the governmental restrictions in Spain by a few days – we saw what was coming our way and having a high-risk family member we had to act swiftly. Since then, our social contacts, like everyone else’s, have been meagre to say the least – a few drinks with friends on a terrace in the summer, one lunch in a restaurant in July and a barbecue with 4 friends in August, before things got worse again. The rest happened via video calls and conferences or quickly on the street through an accidental meet while shopping. I can say we have been careful and avoided to do what we really like – going out to gigs and dinners, travel and be with family and friends. The ongoing vaccination programs around the world give hope and once we are vaccinated, we expect to experience a ‘kind of normal’ again. Until then … stay safe, stay at home as much as you can and listen to new music, like the below records, which I had the pleasure to enjoy lately.

Coma World / Cream Submarine – Coma World is a collaboration between drummer Maxwell Hallett a.k.a. Betamax (The Comet Is Coming/Soccer96) and bass player Pete Bennie (Speakers Corner Quartet) in which both as well use electronics to construct an experimental mix of jazz and dub. The duos sonic improvisations over bubbling soundscapes, ambient clouds or heavy beats create spontaneous and raw funk, like in the track ‘Thief’. This is music beyond categorization – it’s driven by the artists vision for sound and rhythm and so becomes unique. The album surely grows with more time spent with it, discovering all the subtle colours and changes, like you will find in the wonderful title track. Love it!!!!

Rudi Berger featuring Toninho Horta – Austrian violinist and composer Berger and Brazilian guitar master, singer and composer Horta met for the first time in the late 1980’s when Horta asked Berger to record 2 songs with him for the album ‘Moonstone’ and since then they have played more than 500 times together. The recordings for this album go back until 1997, the latest having been done in 2019, with the exception of one track, the 1988 recording of Berger’s ‘Gabriele’, the track the Toninho loved most when first hearing Rudi’s debut album ‘First Step’. The first eight tracks on the album are wonderful and intimate duo recordings of standards and originals, showcasing not only the two musicians’ extraordinary talents, but as well their musical connection and emotional performances. The rest are band recordings with a strong Brazilian flavour, highlighting the compositions of Berger and Horta. The ‘musical brothers’ Berger and Horta have delivered a wonderful swinging and touching record, that I only can recommend highly. Stunning!!!

Eshed  Korten  Biolcati Kim / A Way Out – Israeli guitarist Yoav Eshed, New York pianist Lex Korten, Swedish-Italian bassist Massimo Biolcati and South Korean drummer Jongkuk “JK” Kim first met in 2017 at a jam session, but felt such a strong musical connection, that they continued to play together and finally in 2019 went to record ‘A Way Out’ – a vibrant modern jazz album, with strong originals, a nod to the past and very strong ensemble play as well as individual performances. Key tracks for me are ‘Rogue’, ‘Piano Rain’ and their version of Kenny Wheelers ‘Nikolette’. A promising debut!!

Alex Bird & The Jazz Mavericks / Whisky Kisses – Alex Bird is a Canadian singer and song writer of immense talent and the new album, his second, confirms that statement. With Ewen Farncombe on piano, Eric West on drums, and Scott Hunter on bass he is performing 11 strong originals, that are jazzy, swinging and fun to listen to. The band is the perfect vehicle for Bird’s vocals, supporting, challenging and pushing him to immaculate performances. ‘Fire Not Warmth’ is a great opener for the record, a groovy little number that immediately gets you into the album. ‘The Way She Moves’ and the title track are other highlights in an overall strong release. I hope Alex will soon have a chance to get to Europe and showcase his talent here – I for sure can’t wait to hear him live!

Allan Harris / Kate’s Soulfood – On his new album, guitarist and singer, song writer Harris pays tribute to Harlem by penning soulful and jazzy portraits of that vibrant neighbourhood. He recorded the album with the help of Arcoiris Sandoval on piano, Nimrod Speaks on bass and Shirazette Tinnin on drums. Also featured is Grégoire Maret on harmonica, David Castañeda on percussion, Curtis Taylor on trumpet, Alex Budman on alto saxophone, Keith Fiddmont on tenor saxophone and Ondre J Pivec on organ, plus guest Tonga Ross-M’au, who plays guitar on ‘Colour Of A Woman Is Blu’. This is Allan Harris at his best – great songs, perfectly performed. Terry Callier springs to my mind as an influence, but Harris is his own man and with ‘Kate’s Soulfood’ he has delivered a masterpiece!! No to be missed!!

Generations Quartet / Invitation – this is a project by saxophonist and educator Dave Liebman, inviting his students Billy Test (piano), Evan Gregor (bass) and Ian Froman (drums), spanning three generations of musicians, to this session of standards. The albums opener, a powerful reading of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Maiden Voyage’, has Liebman in outstanding form on the soprano sax and the band pushing him, urging him on! Other highlights include a wonderful ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, again with Liebman soaring and pianist Test shining his light and the title track, featuring amazing work by Gregor and Froman. The only live recording on the album, the closing track ‘You And The Night And The Music’ again showcases the incredible control Liebman has over his instrument, his inventiveness when improvising and that there is nothing better than an audience to get the best out of a band – the 4 musicians prove here that they are exactly that and not a project for the studio. Outstanding!!!

Dave Restivo / Arancina – Restivo’s third album as a leader was recorded in a trio setting featuring Jim Vivian on bass and Alyssa Falk on drums, plus special guest vocalist Fawn Frtizen on two tracks. The album opens with the 4 part ‘Sicilian Suite’, a swinging visit to Italy, with Restivo’s joyful playing and the excellent support by Vivian and Falk, making these 4 songs the highlights of the album. The compositions are traditional, but not museal, full of energy and emotions. The two tracks with singer Fritzen are wonderful and her performance outstanding! She truly gives life to these songs. Overall a great record which I can happily recommend.

Alan Pasqua / Day Dream – This solo piano recording by veteran pianist Pasqua captures the beauty and quietness of day dreaming perfectly and leads the listener into the depth of the songs. Says Pasqua about the album: “All of the songs that I have chosen have incredible melodies as well as harmonic depth. The performances are really a snapshot in time of my interpretation of the song”. An intimate album, best enjoyed with a glass of wine and eyes closed … Day Dreams will lift you up. Highlights are for me the title track, ‘In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning’, ‘Prelude To A Kiss’ and ‘Turn Out The Stars’. Beautiful!!

Cotatcha Orchestra / BigBand Elektronics – The Cotatcha Orchestra is the brain child of trumpeter Jiří Kotača, whose musical vision was to blend the sound of a full jazz orchestra with electronic music, hence the albums name. He brought together the following musicians to fulfil his dream: Marek Kotača on alto and soprano sax, clarinet; Radek Zapadlo on alto sax, clarinet; Petr Smékal on tenor sax, clarinet; Ivan Podhola on tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Radim Hanousek on baritone sax, bass clarinet; Matthias Zeindlhofer, Jan Galia and Ivan Melin on trombone; Michal Motýl on bass trombone; Ádám Gráf, Jan Kozelek and Jan Přibil on trumpet; Martin Konvička on piano; Peter Korman on double bass and Kamil Slezák on drums, plus guests Lenka Dusilová on vocals (on the fantastic ‘Billy’ Pilgramage’) and Ilja Reijngoud on trombone (on the delightful ‘A Very Old Lady Driving A Ferrari). Seven of the nine compositions are by Martin Konvička, a pianist, composer, and producer of electronic music all in one, giving Kotača the material for the band. This is a fun album, with wonderful arrangements, ambient sounds combined with powerful brass and some delicate soloing by Kotaca and Konvička. A gem!!!!

R.I.P. Chick Corea (1941 – 2021)

Armando Anthony ‘Chick’ Corea, who passed away, much too early, on February 9th, aged 79, will always be remembered for being an outstanding pianist and keyboarder, winner of 23 Grammy awards, as well as the man who wrote the song ’Spain’. For me Chick means so much more than this: his music was a big part of the soundtrack of my life ever since my friend Ewald Volk introduced me to ‘Return To Forever’ in 1973. I had heard about him being part of Miles Davis’s group in the late 1960’s, but until then not followed up. The ease with which he switched from straight ahead jazz to fusion and Latin was not heard of before, his compositions outstanding and played by many other musicians throughout his career. For me it was beside RTF the album ‘My Spanish Heart’ and the duo recordings with Herbie Hancock that really touched me. The music with Gary Burton is as well incredible and so are the albums he did with classical musicians like Friedrich Gulda and Nicolas Economou. ‘The Children Songs’ then became one of my favourite Corea albums of all time and not to forget ‘Play’, one the albums he recorded with Bobby McFerrin … In 1992 Chick started Stretch Records for his releases, having them distributed by Concord shortly after that. That’s when I met him for the first time and started to work on his releases via Concord, which had a distribution deal with Universal Music, for whom I did global jazz marketing at the time. We talked a lot about how to utilise his vast catalogue better, as Universal was now holding most of his music and we worked on the marketing of the new recordings, of which the solo piano albums are still my favourites. Chick invited me to the opening of the Blue Note in Milano in 2003 and we discussed the release of a project he had done with Philips Electronics – the surround sound recording of a series of shows at the Blue Note in New York, featuring a lot of special guests. I signed this project on to license from his label for global release and this album, ‘Rendezvous In New York’ feels a bit like a snapshot of Chick’s career, featuring the crème de la crème of improvised music: Bobby McFerrin, Roy Haines, Miroslav Vitous, Christian McBride, Joshua Redman, Terence Blanchard, Gary Burton, John Patitucci, Dave Weckl, Steve Wilson, Avishai Cohen, Jeff Ballard, Tim Garland, Steve Davis, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Eddie Gomez, Steve Gadd and Michael Brecker. What a wonderful recording!!! Whenever possible I saw Chick and his manager Bill Rooney on tour, we had dinners or lunches together or just chatted a bit.  Once he did send me a new iPod, the so-called ‘Chickpod’ with a little video message on it … and when I got married in July 2007, he did send a little song, ‘Wulf’s Wedding Song’, from wherever he was at the time on tour … something my wife and I value a lot. That year he released, only in Japan, a box set with 4 different piano trios – simply outstanding! And he followed that up with a trio featuring Christian McBride and Brian Blade – both double albums of this band Trilogy are among the best of his tremendous output. And so is the final album he released, 2019’s ‘The Spanish Heart Band – Antidote’, a powerful reminder of his love for Flamenco, which he has shown many times before while collaborating with guitarist Paco De Lucia. I saw the Spanish heart Band at the 2019 North Sea Jazz Festival and it was one of the best shows of that weekend – and it was the last time I saw Chick as well … he will be missed by many, but never forgotten. R.I.P

2021 it is …

So, 2021 it is …. And the first weeks aren’t too promising!!! COVID-19 is still a massive problem around the world with over 2 million victims so far and vaccinating is not up to speed yet, so we’ll have a few more months with restrictions and being careful and responsible. Political horror in the US was making the news and shocked the world, even so it was not that much surprising that Trump had something up his sleeve …. And maybe there is even more to come …. but for now, there is hope with the new president sworn in and active … Global warming let Spain drown in snow and shiver from arctic frost while Scandinavia had relative mild temperatures … I still hope that 2021 will be better, but it will take some more time until we will be able to go out the way we did a year ago or see concerts and festivals …. Or travel to see friends and family … Patience and Responsibility are the words of our times …

The beginning of the year unfortunately as well saw the passing of many great jazz musicians, some of them I had the pleasure to hear live or even meet, or their music was part of my life at some point:

Howard Johnson, the adventurous tuba player and baritone saxophonist, who gave the tuba a renewed place in jazz and whom I met when he recorded and toured with his band Gravity for Verve in 1996/1997, the German office of it to be precise, led at the time by Christian Kellersmann, who as well acted as Executive Producer on the two albums. Outstanding records both of them, with the second album featuring Taj Mahal. The third and last of the Gravity recordings was released in 2017 and in January that year I met Howard again at the Jazz Conference in New York, where below picture was taken.

Pianist Bobby Few was probably more known in Europe than in the US, having lived in Paris since 1969 and toured the region frequently with his own projects, Archie Shepp or Steve Lacy, with whom I had the pleasure hearing Few perform in the early 1980’s. As an exemplary improviser and attentive sideman, he was the perfect companion for adventurous jazz musicians like Shepp or Lacy.

I heard of cellist David Darling first through the amazing 1984 ECM album EOS, recorded with guitarist Terje Rypdal, followed by Darling’s wonderful 1992 solo album Cello and then the outstanding duo and quartet recordings he did with pianist and composer Ketil Bjornstad between 1995 and 2000. The duo albums THE RIVER and EPIGRAPHS are extremely touching and The Sea Quartet recordings powerful and captivating. His final recording, Homage To Kindness from 2019, is a neo classical album featuring some wonderful compositions.

All three musicians will be sorely missed.

And the year started with some great music as well … or better 2019 ended with some great music, as in the reviews below there are as well some late releases from last year – enjoy!

Kjetil Jerve / The Soundtrack Of My Home – The idea behind this solo piano record by young Norwegian Jerve was to give everyone in his current and previous home a song – starting with himself, adding his wife and three kids as well as his parents and two brothers and his cat Sussi, each has a song dedicated to them, expressing “a mood he feels for them”. The compositions are minimalistic throughout, touchingly melodic and perfectly performed. Sometimes sounds from within the house that happened while the recording took place can be heard, they add atmosphere and life to the sounds of the piano. Listening to this music is like looking at a photo album of the family and recalling moments of love and happiness. Highly recommended!

Jonathan Parker /The Remainder – Recorded at Blue House Studio in Maryland, the album features Brooklyn-based saxophonist and composer Parker’s long-standing quintet from his days living in Washington D.C. – Chris Barrick on vibraphone, Max Light on guitar, Eliot Seppa on bass and Abinnet Berhanu on drums. The music is modern, swinging and grooving jazz with space for improvisations, which all members of the group use impressively. Parker has a beautiful sound and is in full command of his instrument. The ensemble play is tight and with respect to Parker’s compositions, which are at the same time accessible and deep. A pleasure to listen to!

MicroCorgi / MicroCosmos – MicroCorgi are pianist Andrew McGowan, guitarist Yuto Kanazawa and drummer Ilya Dynov, and their musical influences range from Japanese Rock, European Jazz, Afro-Beat and New Orleans Brass and it is this mixture that makes their first album unique. The first track ‘Cosmophere’ already lets the listener dive into a soundscape that features a lot of above influences, therefore clarifying that this is a borderless album when it comes to musical genres. Focus tracks for me are: ‘Avocados Every Day’, ‘Alayashiki’ and ‘Utopia’, which are highlighting the perfect group interplay and some wonderful improvising. Would love to see these guys live at one point.

Leon Lee Dorsey / Thank You, Mr. Mabern! – Bass player and producer Dorsey brought legendary soul jazz pianist Harold Mabern to the studio in July 2019 to record a trio album that as well featured Mike Clark, the former Headhunters drummer. Sadly, shortly after this session Mabern passed away, but this album is a welcome reminder of his powerful playing. The opener ‘Rakin’ And Scrapin’’ sets the tone to an outstanding recording of groovy jazz tunes, including ‘Watermelon Man’ and Fats Domino’s ‘I’m Walkin’’. Dorsey and Clarke are a great rhythm section, supporting and pushing Mabern to a wonderful performance. Says Dorsey: “I really just wanted Harold to come in, have a good time and not have to think about anything. We just hit, and it was just a tremendous experience. And I feel like I got the best from him and Mike Clark on this session.” Not to be missed!!

Amanda Tosoff / Earth Voices – On her sixth album, pianist and composer Tosoff uses the voices of seven vocalists to perform poetry by Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Rumi, Pablo Neruda and more over Tosoff’s arrangements of songs by Joni Mitchell, Mike Ross (Soulpepper Theatre), and Yo-Yo Ma’s Goat Rodeo Session project. Her compositions and arrangements are full and rich and are immaculately performed by Kelly Jefferson – Soprano Sax, Allison Au – Alto Sax, Aline Homzy – Violin, Beth Silver – Cello, Jeremy Potts – Viola, Laurence Schaufele – Viola, Alex Goodman – Guitar, Jon Maharaj – Bass and Morgan Childs – Drums, as well as singers Emilie-Claire Barlow, Laila Biali, Michelle Willis, Lydia Persaud, Robin Dann, Felicity Williams, and Alex Samaras. Tosoff’s lyrical piano flows over the strings and horns to sublime effect. To get a feel about this outstanding recording, just listen to the wonderful ‘Oh, Life’!  Poetry in sound!!

Composer and saxophonist Matty Stecks (Matthew Steckler) had a busy few month recording and releasing two new projects: in December Matty Stecks & Dead Cat Bounce’ new album ‘Lucky & Live In STL’ and then in January Matty Stecks & Persiflage’s new opus ‘Night Cravings’. Dead Cat Bounce are, beside Stecks, Jared Sims, Felipe Salles, Charlie Kohlhase on saxes, Gary Wicks on bass and Bill Carbone on drums and their music, even so rooted in tradition, is powerful and modern. The brass can surely groove and swing and the compositions are engaging and captivating. Wonderful ensemble play and individual contributions make this an album that is fun to listen to. Check out the tracks ‘Pendulum Sketch’, ‘Elegy’, ‘Hot Peas & Butter’ as well as their wonderful take of ‘Goodbye Porkpie Hat’.

Persiflage, another outlet for Stecks compositions, features Curtis Hasselbring on trombone, Todd Neufeld on guitar, Dave Ambrosio on bass and Satoshi Takeishi on drums & percussion. Their new album ‘Night Cravings’ is a powerful modern jazz record with great tunes, wonderful improvisations by all members (with Stecks’ sax leading the way), tight and gripping ensemble play and space to explore the depths of the compositions together. Check out ‘Bastard Rag’, ‘Night Cravings’, ‘Ant Colony’ and basically all the rest – a record that will play on my stereo for some time to come. Excellent music, both albums!!!!

Marty Elkins & Mike Richmond / ‘Tis Autumn – This, the fifth album by singer Elkins, is a lesson in jazz history in many ways: the repertoire comes from 1926 to 1947, singer Elkins performs these tunes in a traditional, but yet fresh way. Bass player and cellist Richmond is the perfect partner for her, coming from a background that includes stints with Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Roland Kirk, Kenny Wheeler, Michael Brecker and many more, so himself being part of that history and he brings all this experience into a wonderful recording. Simplicity is difficult to achieve, but the two are so perfectly in synch, that one never thinks of the album as just voice and bass – it feels so much fuller. Elkins voice is clear and immaculate, while Richmond gives texture and heartbeat. Touching as well his cello, especially in ‘My Mother’s Eyes’. A record for the quiet times of the day, best consumed with a glass of wine. Stunning!!!

Watched and loved the movie ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ for various reasons – the well told story, the outstanding performances by all, but especially Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman and the music. Branford Marsalis really captured the sound and feel of the time and for all who enjoyed the movie and music as well I can only recommend to listen to the full soundtrack Marsalis recorded for the film. An acoustic feast!!!

my 2020 picks

Some of you might have seen my recent guest article at the Marlbank blog in the UK and therefore will know some of my favourite albums of 2020 – the complete list in alphabetical order is below – this is from what I have heard throughout the year, as it is impossible to listen to everything … and even then, any list would be subjective in any case … no list of best concerts this year for obvious reasons, but 3 music related books I can recommend.  Otherwise, I’ll look forward to 2021 with the hope of a better year and a return to some kind of normality for everyone. Until then, listen to my picks from this year’s releases:

Thana Alexa / ONA – 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 they confirm that Alexa is a jazz singer for our times – a masterful performer and writer, relevant in her messages and statements.

Badi Assad / Around The World – Badi Assad at her best – creating intimate atmospheres and touching moments of musical beauty. ‘Around The World’ is connected to Badi’s first book, released in 2018 and titled ‘Around The World In 80 Artists’, as the covers on the record come from artist from all corners of this world.

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.

Ketil Bjornstad & Guro Kleven Hagen / The Personal Gallery – Bjornstad composed especially for this cooperation with young classical violinist Guro Kleven Hagen and the music is melodic, touching and beautiful. 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.

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 that showcases the trios chamber music qualities, with a bit of blues thrown in.

Julie Campiche / ONKALO – On her first record, Swiss harpist Julie Campiche is creating wonderful soundscapes and spaces for improvisation for her band. 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.

Mino Cinelu & Nils Petter Molvaer / SulaMadiana – Percussionist, guitar player and singer Mino Cinelu and trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer created (with the help of some electronics) a wonderful and captivating musical landscape. “SulaMadiana” combines both artists history and present, culturally, and musically, but with an eye on the tomorrow.

Silvia Perez Cruz, Marco Mezquida / MA Live in Tokyo – The musical communication between the two is stunning, the way pianist Mezquida supports her is sensitive and touching and Perez Cruz’ voice floats over the spare notes and emotionally captivates the audience.

Kurt Elling featuring Danilo Perez / Secrets Are The Best Stories – 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. One album that shouldn’t be missed – lyrically and musically essential for our times.

Bill Frisell / Valentine – This first outing of a new Frisell Trio featuring Thomas Morgan on bass and Rudy Royston on drums is a lesson in musical communication, creative freedom, and sublime individual performances.

Nubia Garcia / Source – Soulful compositions, energetic performances and a modern approach rooted in the tradition, make this a wonderful jazz record, multicultural and rooted in its time, without losing its focus.

James Brandon Lewis & Chad Taylor / Live At Wilisau – This music is full of dynamics, roughness, and beauty, covers it all and is in a category of its own – free as well as structured, melodic, and full of groove. The raw energy of the performance is even on the recording amazing and captivating.

Rob Luft / Life Is The Dancer – Luft’s compositions are strong and captivating, his guitar playing that of a future star on his instruments and his group an ensemble that is completely at home with the leaders writing and way to tell stories.

Jesse Markowitz & various artists / Palladium 2020 – this 22-track tribute to the music of Wayne Shorter is stunning, as each of the performances just enhances the awe one had already for Wayne Shorter as a composer and musical visionary.  A tribute album that sits comfortably next to some of Hal Wilner’s productions.

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’.  I am sure that this is an album will be one of the great solo piano recordings of our time.

Wolfgang Muthspiel / Angular Blues – This outstanding trio moves beautifully between subtle swing and groovy little numbers as well as pensive ballads. Muthspiel switching between electric and acoustic guitars makes this album more colourful, his clear and beautiful sound is a pleasure to listen to and the musicianship and communication and understanding between the musicians makes the music deeper and touching.

Kasia Pietrzko / Ephemeral Pleasures – Pianist Kasia Pietrzko is for me one of the most interesting young artists to emerge in Europe. She writes with her Polish and European classical background in mind but gives within songs composition and improvisation equal importance.

Rymden / Space Sailors – Their eclectic mix of electronic and acoustic jazz with prog and psychodelia and shots of rock got tighter, more intense, and powerful. A true European power trio! Not to be missed!

Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah / Axiom – Chief Adjuah is in blistering form and his horn wails, calls, and whispers when necessary. You can hear the past as well the present and future of improvised music, performed by musicians who are listening to each other, reacting, and creating on the spot beauty in sound.

Ellen Andrea Wang / Closeness – The closeness between the musicians is evident right from the start: Jon Fält setting the pace, Wang adding the beat and steadiness and Rob Luft’s guitar is flying over their infectious groove and delivering an outstanding performance.

Books

Ben Sidran / The Ballad of Tommy LiPuma – This book is a lovingly told story of a man who made it in music – a book of stories with artists and managers and it has a great human being at its centre. Sidran found the essence of LiPuma in his writings.

Al Schmitt with Maureen Droney/ Al Schmitt on the Record: The Magic Behind the Music – Schmitt’s book tells stories 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. Interesting and captivating

Chema Garcia Martinez / Tocar La Vida – This Spanish language book is a collection of articles and other writings by journalist Garcia Martinez, giving evidence what it means to ‘Play The Life’. Chema is a jazzman who writes with passion, insight, understanding and honesty. A wonderful and educating read.

music for the season …

There is music for every occasion and the festive season is no exception. Every year new holiday recordings are added to the vast catalogue of wonderful albums for Christmas and every year we can go back to our old favourites. I will below introduce you to 12 of Christmas and Winter albums I love to listen to – 4 classics, for from recent years and 4 new ones. Enjoy!

The classics

Ella Fitzgerald / Wishes You a Swinging Christmas … is exactly what it says to be: a wonderful and swinging affair, a jazzy Christmas album from 1960 with incredible performances by Ella and the Frank DeVol Orchestra.

The Singers Unlimited / Christmas … a record from 1972 that is showcasing the incredible vocal skills of this group. Great arrangements, partly swinging, partly contemplative and excellent singing by Gene Puerling, Bonnie Herman, Don Shelton and Len Dresslar make this a festive hit.

The Swingle Singers / Christmastime (Noel Sans Passeport) …. One of the best vocal groups of their time and their take on Christmas – the tracks are usually medleys and are covering songs in various languages from around the world. Originally released in 1968, this is still outstanding and beautiful.

Spike Jones / Let’s Sing A Song Of Christmas … if you like your Christmas party to have the songs, but done differently – this one is for you! Jones’s sense of humour is incredible and the album makes you smile from the start (All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth) to the end. Musically impressive and fun.

Recent ones

Sting / If On A Winters Night …. A mix of traditional, classical and own songs, wonderful arranged by Robert Sadin, make this album the perfect record for the cold season, as it warms your heart.

Saxofour / Reindeer Games …. Reindeer Games (2002) is already the second album with Christmas material from the Austrian saxophone quartet featuring Klaus Dickbauer, Christian Maurer, Florian Bramboeck and Wolfgang Puschnig. Collective and individual play is outstanding and so are the arrangements. Instrumental joy!

Bugge Wesseltoft / It’s Snowing On My Piano …. Almost a classic already in Germany and Scandinavia, this 1997 solo piano album is hitting the charts every year – and deservedly so, as Bugge gives us beauty in sound. A perfect present.

Kurt Elling / The Beautiful Day …. As with everything Mr. Elling does, this is an album of touching quality and immaculate vocal performances. Released in 2016 it has become one of my all-time favourite seasonal recordings. Don’t miss this one!

The new ones

Rebekka Bakken / Winter Nights … traditional and modern Christmas songs, mixed with a handful of great originals for the season and as usual outstanding vocals by Rebekka, make this album a more than welcome addition to my collection. Just check out her own ‘Angels Never Sleep’ and her stunning version of ‘Last Christmas’.

Simone Kopmajer / Christmas … Austrian singer Kopmajer invited a few friends to record this traditional jazzy seasonal album and they obviously had fun recording, as the result is uplifting and charming. Check out especially ‘The Christmas Song’ featuring Allan Harris.

Jamie Cullum / The Pianoman At Christmas … Jamie Cullum, singer and pianist, came up with 10 new songs for the season … with big band and all bells ringing, these are great tunes that will enlighten your holidays. Love it!!!

Lauren Henderson / Classic Christmas … this stylish and deeply touching EP was recorded with pianists Issac Wilson and Sullivan Fortner, bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Allan Mednard and the included 4 songs is all you need to get into the festive spirit.

a chance …

America after the election (even so there are still some states re-counting, which is a bit surprising after more than two weeks) looks like it has been given a chance – to bring back respect and direct communication in politics, to bridge the internal divisions and differences, to fight racism and to finally get rid of an old and complicated voting system. A chance to lead the fight for climate change, to mend relations internationally, and to improve an image that has taken a nose dive in the last four years. What the world needs now is a willingness for compromise over confrontation, for discussion instead of defamation and for unity instead of selfishness. There is only one world, which we all need to protect together.

In November 1920 singer Mamie Smith released her second recording, a song entitled ‘Crazy Blues’. OKeh Records took the chance to record the first Afro-American female blues singer and landed a million-selling single with ‘Crazy Blues’, opening doors for other Afro-American artists. It is a true pity that Sony Music, now owners of the OKeh catalogue, is not celebrating this historic event – as they didn’t celebrate in any form the 100th anniversary of the label in 2018. A label that released some of the best recorded jazz of all time with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven tracks. A chance missed to learn from history.

The American JazzTimes magazine, celebrating its 50th anniversary, asked their audience to vote for the 10 best records of each of these 5 decades and the result doesn’t really wield any surprises, except that there are only two albums that are not led by an American artist, which are the 1981 album ‘Friday Night In San Francisco’ by Paco De Lucia, John McLaughlin & Al De Meola and the Dave Holland Quintet release from the year 2000 ‘Prime Directive’. The other 48 are all North American artists and are deservedly in a list which is compiled from a mainly US based audience, even so a great number of these recordings originated in Europe on labels like ECM, EmArCy or Verve France. A trend that continues as well in their lists from the jazz critics – one for each decade from the 1970’s to the 2010’s and only in the first decade 3 European artists made into the critics best list – John McLaughlin with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Dave Holland and Joe Zawinul with Weather Report and then Dave Holland again in 2010 with ‘Aziza’, his group with Chris Potter, Lionel Loueke and Eric Harland. It seems that there still is a long way to go until essential albums by artists like Nils Petter Molvaer, Till Bronner, Dhafer Youssef, E.S.T., John Surman and many many others, will get the same recognition they have over here.  In the critics list I found as well a few recordings I worked for on the global marketing campaigns and 3 in which I was involved more directly in some form: Michael Brecker’s last statement ‘Pilgrimage’, the Roy Hargrove master piece ‘Earfood’, both released on EmArCy and last year’s outstanding ‘The Secret Between The Shadow and The Soul’ by the Branford Marsalis Quartet on Okeh Records.

Each new album by any given artist as well is a new chance for the artist in question: to create awareness for one’s work, to get reviews and built a bigger fan base, to get concerts to let people hear the new music live and, last but not least, to make money, as bills need to be paid. Following is a selection of new recordings that I consider a chance well taken – records I can recommend to listen to, to purchase and to add to your music library. Take a chance ….

Finity / Jazz Pa Engelsk, Finity’s Destiny – Finity are a group from Norway, featuring Heida K. Johannesdottir on tuba, Anja Lauvdal on piano/synthesizer, Hanna Paulsberg on saxophone, Torstein Lavik Larsen on trumpet, Andreas Wildhagen on drums and Kyrre Laastad on electronics. On their new album they are bringing the music of pop group Destiny’s Child into the jazz universe by “exploration, transformation and celebration”. The arrangements of the songs by Heida Karine Johannesdottir and Anja Lauvdal are adventurous and not at all gimmicky – they are open and melodic, groovy when asked for and always deeply musical. The performed tracks are ‘Bootylicious’, ‘Independent Women’, ‘Say My Name’, ’Jumpin Jumpin’, ‘Survivor’ and ‘Stand Up For Love’. Each musician is performing well, the ensemble-play is outstanding and overall, this is a welcome surprise of an album. A treat!

Dan Fortin / The Latest Tech – For about ten years Fortin has played in various formations in the Toronto jazz circuit and beyond, with ‘The Latest Tech’ he now presents his first album for solo acoustic bass. The nine pieces, mostly through-composed, show a variety of influences: from J.S. Bach to Jimi Hendrix, from Joseph Beuys to Susan Sontag, and most of the leading bass players in the history of improvised music. Fortin is a wonderful story teller, who can be caressing and loving, but as well angry and aggressive … a show of emotions and technical skills make this a very personal album, but a worthwhile listening experience. Fortin manages to keep the listener engaged over the full album, not easy when playing solo and another pointer on the quality of the compositions and performances. Recommended!

Piotr Budniak Essential Group / Heart, Mind & Spirit – 29 years old drummer Budniak is one of the busiest young jazz drummers in Poland. He has recorded and performed among others Janusz Muniak and Tomasz Stańko and is part of the wonderful Kasia Pietrzko Trio. He started his Essential Group in 2014 and their new album features David Doružka on guitar, Wojciech Lichtański on alto & soprano sax, flute, Kajetan Borowski on piano, keys, Piotr Narajowski on double bass and guest appearances by Szymon Mika on acoustic guitar, Łukasz Belcyr on banjo, guitar and Jakub Łępa on bass clarinet. Says Budniak: “The title of the album loosely refers to the concept of a human being as the sum of the spirit, soul and body professed in early Christianity and derived from Hebrew philosophy. The assumption of the quintet is an attempt to capture the essence of human integrity with the whole palette of his feelings, thoughts, beliefs, experiences and struggles”. This is modern jazz, leaning toward jazz fusion, with influences from Eastern Europe and their classical traditions. Melodic and groovy and very well performed. Worth checking out!!!

Guillermo Bazola / Lost & Found – Argentinian guitarist Bazola recorded his new album in 2018 after a concert in Buenos Aires with Rodrigo Domínguez on soprano and alto saxophones, Natalio Sued on tenor saxophone, Jerónimo Carmona on acoustic bass and Hernán Mandelman on drums. All compositions are by the guitar master and the album is dedicated to Kenny Wheeler, a musical inspiration for Bazola, who says: “Kenny Wheeler’s music is an endless source of knowledge that left a profound mark on me along the years. This work is not intended to be anything other than an act of love for his music.” The band executes the music in a perfect way, all getting space to shine in improvisations, but all serving the song first of all. Bazola has a great and full sound on his instrument and is an accomplished soloist himself. ‘A smile For Kenny’, one of the many amazingly beautiful tracks on the album, would truly have made Wheeler smile – love and respect packed into sound. Highly recommended!

Mike Casey / Law Of Attraction – this is saxophonist Mike Casey’s first studio album and it is for sure worth checking out: powerful performances over groovy and swinging compositions. The music is mainly presented in a trio format with Matt Dwonszyk on bass and Corey Garcia on drums, plus pianist Benito Gonzalez, who guests on three songs, including the smashing opener and closing title of the album ‘No Church In The Wild’. Casey is a very expressive player, full of passion and emotions, all expressed melodically and powerful. He is a modern story teller and in Dwonszyk and Garcia he found partners who can enhance his stories. Says Casey: ““Improvising, or as I like to think of it, spontaneous composing, is not about displaying skill for ego’s sake. I aim to deliver each musical statement with power, honesty, and passion to connect with audiences.” Mission accomplished!!!

James Brandon Lewis / Molecular – saxophonist Lewis has become one of the most important and adventurous jazz musicians of today – his new album, recorded with Aruan Ortiz on piano, Brad Jones on bass and Chad Taylor on drums, is just confirming that status again. Molecular refers to James’s “idea that within a single melodic line emerges a counter line of varied rhythms, pitches and harmony”. The music on the new album reflects these deeper thoughts of the composer, but in general the concept is not in the way of the music or expression of emotions. The band improvises impressively on Lewis’ themes and the interplay and reactions to what is happening are sublime. Lewis does it all, the powerful phrasing, the high and angry screams on the horn, the touching ballads, expressed with tenderness and love. An album every fan of improvised music should have heard … or even better own. Masterly!!!!

Kristiana Roemer / House Of Mirrors – Born to an American mother and a German father, Roemer, a very unique singer, is utilizing both languages for her art. The album was recorded with pianist Addison Frei, bass player Alex Claffy and drummer Adam Arruda, plus special guest appearances from guitarists Gilad Hekselman and Ben Monder, percussionist Rogerio Boccato and sax player Dayna Stephens. Her story telling is touching and direct, her compositions beautiful and very well executed by her band. The two German language songs are based on poems by Felice Schragenheim and Herman Hesse and are among the highlights on the album, like her own ‘Beauty Is A Wound’, ‘Lullaby For N’ and her version of Stanley Turrentine’s ‘Sugar’. A welcome addition to the art of song. Captivating!

Julian Argüelles – Mário Laginha – Helge Andreas Norbakken / Atlântico – the European trio of British sax player Argüelles, Portuguese pianist Laginha and Norwegian percussionist Norbakken is releasing a joyful and melodic second album, melting European tradition and American jazz into a unique and flowing soundscape. Each of them a master in their own right, their interplay is outstanding, their communication perfect. Explains Argüelles: “This trio is so much more than a project band. We have all known each other for many, many years and it’s that respect, friendship and companionship that informs the music. We all share similar influences, history and interests in Art and culture. As a result, the music flows with little effort”. Uplifting music that leaves a smile on your face – beautiful and touching! Highly recommended!!!

A big THANKS to all artists and pr agents, managers and friends who have sent me music throughout the year. Unfortunately, I simply couldn’t review all recordings I got, even if some were truly wonderful and unique. I’ll do my best to keep up in 2021.

The next two blogs, before the year comes to an end, will be about some old and new Christmas albums and of course my personal ‘best of the year’ lists.

too much choice …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections on Closeness

Madrid is in the grip of a second wave of the Covid19 pandemic – certain neighbourhoods are closed off (including where we live) and new restrictions are in place – too little, too late, if you ask me, but better than nothing. Most of the year so far we had to stay at home or in the ‘barrio’ and therefore had limited chances of a social life … and it doesn’t seem to get better. Thanks to modern communication technology one can be in touch with family and friends, but not in touching distance! We miss going out with friends and going to gigs, but for the sake of everyone’s health, we must go through this, so we can build something better for the future. Let us try still to be positive and make the best out of this challenge and chance we got. As always music helps and here are some great new releases I listened to lately, for you to check out:

Florian Arbenz & Greg Osby / Reflections – the drummer of VEIN and Greg Osby got together last December to record a duo album of ‘Reflections Of The Eternal Line’. As well in the studio was Stephan Spicher, who painted while the music was recorded, and this painting was then used as the album cover … art directly inspired by a different genre of art! Five of the seven compositions on the album are by Arbenz, two by Osby. The opener ‘Wooden Lines’ is a groovy and powerful composition by the drummer and shows off the amazing communication between the two musicians. ‘Chant’, another Arbenz piece, is exactly that – a contemplative and emotional chant of sax and percussion. Between the outstanding interactions of the two musicians they leave each other space for individual expressions, only to get back to musically ‘discuss’ what just happened … truly amazing! ‘Passage Of Light’ and Osby’s ‘Please Stand By Me’ are very good examples for that. Another wonderful addition to the library of sax/drum duos. Highly recommended!!

Ellen Andrea Wang / Closeness – For her third album Norwegian bass player and singer Wang recruited young British guitar player Rob Luft and Swedish drummer Jon Fält to form a trio extraordinaire! She as well wrote all the music on the album, except  for the Traditionals ‘Nobody Knows’ and ‘Wayfaring Stranger’, as well as ‘Lonely Woman’ by Ornette Coleman and ‘This Is Not America’ by Metheny, Bowie and Mays. The opener ‘Erasmus’ is the perfect showcase for Wang’s writing skills and the musicality of each member of the trio – the closeness between the three musicians is evident right from the start: Fält setting the pace, Wang adding the beat and steadiness and Luft is flying over their infectious groove and delivering an outstanding  solo. Their reading of the Spiritual ‘Nobody Knows’ is delicate, laid back and in perfect support of Wang’s vocals. They play with immense respect for each other and the material they are performing, and one can hear that. The communication between them is immaculate and therefore they sound like a group that played together for a long while. ‘Strange Flower’ and all other Wang compositions give the musicians the chance to shine and they do – individually and as a unit. ‘Lonely Woman’ opens with a beautiful bass intro, before Wang’s voice enters, and bass and vocals continue together until guitar and drums carefully enter to enhance the touching atmosphere and take the song further out. A stunning version!!! And so is ‘This Is Not America’ with Fält setting the groove, Wang’s voice comes in …. and Luft lets fly into a wonderful guitar solo again. The album closes with two quiet numbers – Wang’s ‘Silence’ and ‘Wayfaring Stranger’, both with incredible vocals by Wang. Her bass sound is deep and full, and she grooves, swings, and sets the heartbeat for all songs with ease. From the song selection and even through her own songs one can hear that this record is as well a wonderful tribute to bass master Charlie Haden. For me one of the best releases of 2020 so far. Outstanding!

Alex Moxon Quartet – the young Canadian’s debut album features, beside the leader on guitar, Steve Boudreau on piano, John Geggie on bass, and Michel Delage on drums. One can hear that the quartet has played many times together as they communicate perfectly and sound like a unit in performing Moxon’s compositions. The album opens powerful with Woody Shaw’s ‘In A Capricornian Way’, one of two compositions not from the leader, the other one being a stunning 12-minute solo guitar version of Chris Cornell’s ‘Black Hole Sun’. Other highlights include ‘Mining For Gold’, another example of impressive finger-work and ‘Romantique’, a well performed and uplifting ballad. The step from sideman to leader is never an easy one, Moxon has delivered a wonderful first record and shown that his time is now! Recommended!!

Mino Cinelu & Nils Petter Molvaer / SulaMadiana – These two artists I know individually for about 20 years each and have over that time worked on various projects of and with them … when they told me that they would record an album together I was truly excited, as I could clearly imagine what they could do together – and they exceeded these expectations by far!! Percussionist, guitar player and singer Mino Cinelu and trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer created (with the help of some electronics) a wonderful and captivating musical landscape. ‘New York Stroll’, a groovy instrumental with Molvaer laying New York impressions over the beat, is a great example of how the difference backgrounds of these musicians can create a wonderful blend of sounds and expressions. ‘SulaMadiana’ incorporates Cinelu’s grooves, guitar and vocals to construct a captivating and touching song, dedicated by the musicians to Many Dibango. Sula is the Norwegian island where Molvaer grew up and Madiana is a synonym for Martinique, where Cinelu’s father comes from. “SulaMadiana” combines therefore both artists history and present, culturally, and musically, but with an eye on the tomorrow. ‘Kanno Mwen’ is another beauty of musical expression, crossing genre borders with ease. ‘Rose Of Jericho’ is a powerful and dynamic piece and next to the title track one of my favourites on the album. This is simply great music by two master musicians. Sublime!!!!

Dan Pitt / Monochrome – This is Pitt’s second album, after the critically acclaimed trio recording ‘Fundamentally Flawed’ and it is a solo guitar recording. Using various guitars and effects to create the desired sounds and atmospheres, Pitt makes music without genre borders, inclusive of elements of jazz, folk, electronica, and rock. The opener ‘Ghosts’ is a contemplative piece, followed by a more rock influenced ‘Attraction’ and that sets the pace for the album – beauty and rouges sit next to each other and make sense through the fingers of the guitarist. ‘Long Lake’ is a beautiful composition and touchingly performed. Very cool as well ’Lester Sleeps In’, which ends the album on a high. Expect the unexpected and check this out – another Canadian guitarist to have an eye on!!!

 

May they rest in peace:

Gary Peacock (1935 – 2020) – bass player extraordinaire with the Keith Jarrett Trio, which I had the pleasure to hear and see many times over the years, either performing standards or improvising freely. I totally love his recording with Ralph Towner, ‘Oracle’ and ‘Muthspiel, Peacock, Muthspiel, Motian’, a 1993 release by the brothers Wolfgang and Christian Muthspiel, for which I was executive producer.

Toni Belenguer (1978 – 2020) – as a trombone player Belenguer had a massive impact in the Spanish jazz scene and I saw him perform a few times with the Pablo Martin Caminero group (see photo below from one of the shows at the now closed BOGUI club in Madrid) and witnessed his outstanding talent. Beside this group and his own formation, he performed among others with the Michael Brecker Quindectet, Perico Sambeat and Albert Sanz. He will be sorely missed.

 

August Celebrations

August Celebrations – Wayne Shorter’s 87th birthday, celebrated with a wonderful tribute album (see review below); Branford Marsalis turning 60 and finishing the soundtrack to the Netflix production ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ and 100 years since the birth of Charlie Parker … Three iconic musicians with timeless compositions and recordings. Sure, a good reason to celebrate as the ongoing battle against the COVID19 virus continues as well as the fights for freedom and equality around the globe. Strange times indeed and times that need the magic of music more than ever to help us to go through all this.  Here is a selection of albums which were released and  I listened to lately:

Ian McGimpsey and Harrison Argatoff / Ontario 559 West – a rare guitar / saxophone duo outing made in Canada. Guitarist McGimpsey and Tenorist Harrison Argatoff recorded an album of short and emotional songs, inspired by Nick Drake’s ‘Pink Moon’. Half of the 15 compositions are a collaborative effort, the rest individual contributions from both players. The focus is on simplicity and staying in the song format and expressing the emotions straight through the two instruments. These miniatures, the shortest is 1 minute 34 and the longest 4 minutes 12, are best enjoyed with a glass of wine and a quiet environment. Touching simplicity is difficult to create, on this album it is wonderfully achieved. A pleasure to listen to!

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Mehmet Ali Sanlikol / The Rise Up: Stories Of Strife, Struggle And Inspiration – ‘The Rise Up’ was written on request for sax master Dave Liebman and features him as the main soloist. Sanlikol uses his expanded Whatsnext? orchestra to tell his stories and musically combines Turkish classical music, flamenco, Sephardic Jewish musical elements, and middle eastern traditional music into a unique and utterly beautiful and touching art. Says Sanlikol: “As a musician who is devoted to a type of multiculturalism that is not touristic but truly internalised, I was particularly careful to incorporate the Turkish makam, usul (rhythmic cycles), microtones, and inflections without exoticizing them.” The music is a trip through time and cultures and leaves the listener stunned and uplifted, as the stories told are human in their core. Liebman seems to be at home in whatever Sanlikol wrote for him and absorbs the various influences and cultures to add his own and distinctive voice to the music. A large ensemble album that will have a good run at a Grammy in that category and should find a global audience for its quality and masterful writing and performance. Stunning!!!!!

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Nubya Garcia / Source – I have mentioned tenor sax player Garcia a few times in my blog already, met her and have seen her perform and now have the chance to write about her full album debut ‘Source’, which was just released. To make a long story short: it was worth the wait!! Power- and soulful compositions, energetic performances and a modern approach rooted in the tradition, make this album standing out. Recorded with Daniel Casimir on bass, Joe Armon-Jones on piano, keyboards, Sam Jones on drums and guests Ms Maurice* on trumpet and flügelhorn, and vocalists Akenya, Cassie Kinoshi, Richie Seivwright and Sheila Maurice-Grey, this album is a wonderful modern jazz record, multicultural and rooted in its time, without losing its focus. The 12-minute title track is simply amazing, and the Latin influenced ’La cumbia me esta llamando’ a cool and groovy affair. With every listen I discover more and more nuances and little delights in this music!  Incredible – one of the best releases this year so far!!

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Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah / Axiom – I do admit being a fan of this outstanding trumpet player and composer and have therefore seen many of his shows in Europe over the years  – from club performances to festivals one thing is always guaranteed: you’ll get your money’s worth of powerful and emotional music!!! This live recording from March 2020 at NYC Blue Note is no exception – Chief Adjuah is in blistering form and his horn wails, calls, and whispers when necessary. His fantastic band, featuring Elena Pinderhughes on flute, Alex Han on alto sax, Weedie Braimah on djembe, congas and bata, Corey Fonville on drums and SPDSX, Lawrence Fields on piano, Rhodes, Korg and Kris Funn on bass, is cooking as well as their boss and stretching the compositions to wonderful improvised expressions of humanity. Says Christian, who composed all music on the recording except for the David Crosby song ‘Guinnevere’: “There’s a difference between hearing and listening. The intention to understand is present in listening. When you listen to our band, what you are hearing is the sound of listening”. Not only that, you can hear the past as well the present and future of improvised music, performed by musicians who are listening to each other, reacting, and creating on the spot and so creating beauty in sound. A must in times when concerts are rare, and you seek that ‘live’ feeling and a top record in any case. Incredible!!!

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Black Art Jazz Collective / Ascension – The Black Art Jazz Collective was founded in 2012 by saxophonist Wayne Escoffery and trumpet player Jeremy Pelt to pay homage to their mentors and musical influences as well as to preserve the tradition, while moving forward. ‘Ascension’ was recorded with James Burton III on trombone, Victor Gould on piano, Rashaan Carter on bass and Mark Whitfield Jr. on drums and features compositions by band members Escoffery, Pelt, Gould and Burton, as well as Jackie McLean’s ‘Twin Towers’. The musical nods of appreciation include Larry Willis, Harold Mabern, Wayne Shorter, Woody Shaw and of course Jackie McLean. The band is tight, swings incredibly and opens up spaces in the songs for wonderful improvisations. Going forward means you have to know where you come from …. Respect!!

Ascension

Jesse Fischer / Resilience – Pianist, producer and composer Fischer brought with him into the studio the following  group of top musicians: trumpeter Billy Buss, saxophonist Godwin Louis, drummer Obed Calvaire, electric bassist David Cutler, guitarist Jordan Peters and percussionist Keita Ogawa, plus a number of special guests including trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, vocalists Becca Stevens and Sarah Elizabeth Charles, harmonica master Gregoire Marét, as well as Morgan Guerin, appearing on tenor sax, EWI, and drums, plus percussionist Mino Cinélu. His compositions are modern jazz with some African and Jewish cultural influences, groovy or contemplative, melodic and touching. Fischer as well was the lyricist for the two vocal tracks on the record, which are both remarkable, as different as they are. Powerful the title track featuring the wonderful trumpet by Christian Scott. Another highlight is the track ‘Chorale’, a classical influenced composition, about which Fischer says: “I tried to imagine Glenn Gould, playing a bar mitzvah, at an A.M.E. church deep in Brooklyn… what would that sound like?” An album definitely worth checking out.!!!

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Kasia Pietrzko / Ephemeral Pleasures – Pianist Kasia Pietrzko is for me one of the most interesting young artists to emerge in Europe and the critical success of her first album ‘Forthright Stories’ and more dates outside of Poland are testimony of this. Her new self-released album was recorded with Andrzej Święs on double bass and Piotr Budniak on drums and features 10 tracks – four composed by Pietrzko, one by Święs and 5 improvisations called Episodes. Kasia writes with her Polish and European classical background in mind but gives within songs composition and improvisation equal importance. ‘Dearest John’, a more contemplative composition, is one of the highlights of the album with Kasia displaying her melodic and storytelling skills. ‘For T. S.’, a dedication to Tomasz Stanko, is another beauty of a song, a bit more upbeat, with wonderful performances by all three musicians. The five Episode tracks give the Trio a chance to improvise either as a collective or individually and they offer the listener a different side of the group. On ‘Episode V’ Pietrzko makes the piano sound like falling rain on a summer’s day … a perfect way to close an overall impressive recording. It is time that a good label picks her up to make her music globally available – she deserves it for sure. Outstanding!!!

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Various / Palladium 2020 – this 22-track tribute to the music of Wayne Shorter is the brainchild of jazz social media promoter Jesse Markowitz and his first work as a producer. Jesse invited some of his favourite artists to record a tune either written or made famous by Wayne Shorter and the result is stunning: each of the performances just enhances the awe one had already for Wayne Shorter as a composer and musical visionary. The list of participating artists is ranging from jazz masters as Dave Liebman via established artists like Mark Whitfield, Eric Reed, Melissa Aldana to young and partly not widely known acts like pianist Sean Mason. Beside these there are contributions by Sasha Berliner, Nicole Glover, Daniel Duke, Nic Cacioppo, Shai Maestro, Emmet Cohen, Russell Hall, Kyle Poole, Willy Rodriguez, Chien Chien Lu, Benny Green, Pablo Held, Dan Tepfer, Luther S. Allison, Kevin Hays, Nite Bjuti (Candice Hoyes, MiMi Jones & Val Jeanty), Gabe Schnider, Jason Marsalis, Mariel Bildsten, Veronica Swift, Dan Chmielinski, Michael Eckert, Julius Rodriguez, Morgan Guerin and words from Wayne & Carolina Shorter. Sasha Berliner’s opener ‘Meridianne – A Wood Sylph’ sets the tone for the album – adventurous, delicate, and looking forward, perfectly reflecting what Wayne Shorter’s music is all about, without losing the always imminent human touch in his music.  It is difficult to pick favourites from this amazing record, as each performer made the material, they worked with, respectfully their own. The Aldana / Maestro duo recording of ‘Infant Eyes’ is one highlight for me and so is ‘Footprints’ by Liebman with drummer Willy Rodriguez or Kevin Hays’ ‘ESP’, or Mark Whitfield’s solo guitar rendition of ‘Midnight In Carlotta’s Hair’, or trombonist Mariel Bildsten’s brass arrangement for ‘Sleeping Dance, Sleep On’ or the closing track of the album ‘Orbits’, performed by young keyboarder Julius Rodriguez and soprano sax player Morgan Guerin. A feast for my ears!! Markowitz captured the spirit and open mind of Shorter with the right song selection and the right artists to perform them … a tribute album that sits comfortably next to some of Hal Wilner’s productions. Out of this world!!!!

Palladium 2020