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

not enough time …

There are so many new releases in jazz every week, that it is hard to follow what’s coming out in the various markets around the world. Despite having more time at my hands while being more at home and doing some research and listening, it is still impossible to hear them all or even a small percentage. And of course, in most cases I avoid writing about the ‘big’ releases, as they get enough publicity anyway, but try to find some great unknown acts or upcoming musicians to introduce to a slightly wider audience. And maybe one or the other of the readers follows up and does enjoy a certain record … than my job would be done and all can be happy.

With the pandemic still troubling this world in many ways, I still recommend to buy music, not stream it, as artists now depend on that income much more than ever and ordering a CD from your local music shop or online service helps them as well. Time to built your COVID music library … and here are a few recommendations of recently released albums:

Sharqant / Sharqant – founded by guitarist Manar Alhashemi, the groups self-titled debut album features band members Hassan Albadri on oud, Mouhammad Fadel Kuj on percussion and Mouhammad Almajzoub as the vocalist plus the Norwegians Håkon Kornstad on saxophone / vocals and Knut Reiersrud on guitar and bass. Together, based on mainly Egyptian, Iranian, and Syrian texts, they create stunning and unique music – a melange of Arabic and Nordic influences with lots of space for improvisations. A floating sound scape of melodic beauty and deep interaction. Atmospheric at times, groovy at others, this is an album that draws the listener into the music, revealing individually imagined stories and being touched by the emotions in sound. Top performance marks all around make this record standing out. One of the recordings that really prove that music is a global language. Highly recommended!

Simone Kopmejer / My Wonderland – Austrian singer Kopmejer is building a reputation as a traditional jazz singer to watch in Europe and some Asian markets … and her new album will surely help her to make some steps forward – classy tunes, from some great originals (‘My Wonderland’ and ‘A Trembling Moon’, based on Debussy’s Claire de Lune) to Ellington, Bacharach, Jobim, Santana and others, perfectly sung and played by her outstanding band, featuring Terry Myers on tenor sax and clarinets, Paul Urbanek on piano, Martin Spitzer on guitar, Karl Sayer on bass and Reinhard Winkler on drums. Simone intonates perfectly, is at home in ballads and up-tempo songs and radiates the joy of singing in all tracks. Delightful!!!!

Kari Van Der Kloot / The Architects – ‘The Architects’ is the second album by New York based Canadian singer and song writer van der Kloot and features fellow Canadians Jamie Reynolds and Lisanne Tremblay on piano and violin respectively, as well as bassist Gary Wang and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell. The songs are wonderful stories put to music and are set in the tradition of the great Canadian song writers like Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, but with a modern touch. The themes of the songs tell us about growing, trying to break out of our routines and create the world in a way we would like to live in. Kari’s voice is strong and fragile at the same time, her band supporting perfectly and so transporting the emotional content of the music to the listener. A true discovery!!!

James Brandon Lewis & Chad Taylor / Live in Willisau – last year’s jazz festival in Willisau again put on a sax / drum duo, as they had done successfully in the past with Dewey Redman & Ed Blackwell as well as Max Roach & Archie Shepp. Saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and drummer Chad Taylor in their show payed tribute to these historical concerts, as well gave a nod to Coltrane and Ellington. Past, Presence and Future – their music, 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. The communication between the two musicians works on the highest musical level and the result is an outstanding album of improvised music, fitting our times. James Brandon Lewis once again confirms that he is one of the most accomplished improvisers of his generation and with master drummer Taylor he found the perfect partner. Sublime!!!

Regina Carter Freedom Band / Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground – Violinist extraordinaire Carter called up an all-star band to record this musical and political statement – John Daversa trumpet and flugelhorn, Kabir Sehgal on bass and percussion, Harvey Mason on drums and Jon Batiste on piano, plus Alexis Cuadrado on bass. Says Carter: “voting is a civic duty and an extremely important responsibility, even more so now as we are living in surreal times…we have become a divided country of Red vs. Blue, Us vs. Them or Not Our Kind and that pot is starting to boil over. The Swing States project is a musical contribution that I hope will help galvanize folks to get out, exercise their right to vote and encourage their brothers and sisters to do so as well.” The Song selection reflects music from the ‘Swing States’ and is delivered with verve and an underlying optimism, hopefully encouraging people to take part in the coming democratic process. Regina Carters playing is second to none, emotional and touching, soaring, and leaving us wanting for more. Musically essential, but as a record in our times, even more so – listen, enjoy, and then get out and vote! Timeless!!!

Ant Law / The Sleeper Wakes – On his 4th band album, Law steps out not only as a skilful guitarist, but again as a talented composer, whose songs this time around transmit positivity, warmth, and humour. Supported by Michael Chillingworth on alto saxophone & bass clarinet, Ivo Neame on piano, Tom Farmer on acoustic bass, James Maddren on drums, plus guests Tim Garland on tenor saxophone and Adam Kovacs on percussion, ‘The Sleeper Wakes’ becomes a powerful statement by Ant and will further enhance his already growing reputation. There is a great band feel to the performances and beside Ant especially Neame and Maddren are standing out from this wonderful ensemble. This is modern improvised music, with swing and beautiful little melodies. Made me smile all through the album and made me enjoy the musicality of the group and its leader. Outstanding!

John Finley / Soul Singer – After returning to Canada and a 5 decades lasting career as singer and song writer, John Finley presents his latest recording, mainly featuring his own compositions – only 3 of the 11 songs are not either written or co-written by Finley. Starting off the album is his ‘Let Me Serenade You’, which was a hit for Three Dog Night in 1973 and still sounds like a cool track. ‘Go’ is a little funky gem and very well sung. So is ‘Money Love’ and his take on Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ is touching and soulful.  Finley’s unique singing is supported here by Lou Pomanti as the producer and on piano, organ and keyboards, Marc Rogers on bass, Larnell Lewis and Davide DiRenzo on drums, Danny Weiss, John Findlay and Sam Pomanti on guitar, William Sperandei and Tony Carlucci on trumpet, William Carn on trombone, Allison Young on saxophone and Robin Newman, Gavin Hope, Amoy Levy, Ciceal Levy and Katherine Rose on background vocals. A wonderful vocal album with great tunes and a charismatic and very individual singer. A real surprise!!

Alvaro Rojas / Gran Kasa – about his new project guitarist Rojas says: “If I were to sum up this record in a few words, I might say it sounds a bit like a 70’s prog band, a salsa band and a string quartet going on a road trip together”. Fellow musicians on this trip are Meredith Bates on violin, Peggy Lee on cello, Chris Gestrin on piano and analog synths, James Meger on acoustic and electric bass, Liam MacDonald on percussion and Sam Cartwright on drums. Peruvian icon Susana Baca adds her voice to the outstanding ‘Tu, La Tierra’, the rest are instrumentals by the leader. Strong compositions with a lot of different influences, melodic and with their own sound. A great ensemble makes this record fun and rewarding to listen to. Worth checking out!!!

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.