As every year, I have a look back on the last 12 months and see a very varied picture: a scary movement to the political right across the globe and a rise of right populism that makes me feel uneasy …. Race and gender discrimination increasing and ‘fake news’ dominating the headlines, as it is not the true story that counts, but how many eyeballs and sales one gets …. The I in the centre and the We in the background …. but thankfully in all of this madness there is still music to give moments of joy and intense emotions. I have been extremely lucky to be able to see over 50 shows in the last 12 months and listen to tons of records as well and what I perceived as the Best of the Best I will list below –

The best gigs of 2017

1 Julian Lage – both shows I attended of him this year – jazzahead and Clamores in Madrid – were simply stunning in terms of musicality, improvisations and emotional content.


2 Chris Potter – at the Madrid Jazz Festival – a powerful trio performance with the tasteful use of electronics. One of the leading saxophonist of today in truly amazing form.

3 Tigran Hamasyan – a solo piano concert of incredible deepness and beauty.

4 Pepe Habichuela – Pepe @ 60 with the amazing guests Miguel Poveda and Silvia Perez Cruz. A master celebrating his life and music. Simply beyond!

5 Dee Dee Bridgewater – Dee Dee brought her Soul to Madrid and got the audience going!

6 Fred Hersch Trio – sublime piano expressions.

7 Dave Holland Trio – a group performance of the highest level, giving a lesson on the history of improvised music.

8 Michael Leonhart Orchestra – powerful and captivating arrangements and compositions at New York’s Winter Jazz Fest.

9 Michel Camilo & Tomatito – the art of the duo, perfectly set in the Teatro Real in Madrid.

10 John Scofield’s Uberjam – one of the guitar masters of our time – groovy, funky and full of ideas.

Not to forget Lee Ritenour, Bill Frisell and strings, Camilla Meza, Christian Scott, Jose James, Madeleine Peyroux, Becca Stevens, Cristina Branco, Ganavya ……..


My favourite records of 2017           (excluding OKeh)

1 Hudson / Hudson – a record that got it all: great compositions and amazing playing that captures the listeners imagination and heart.

Hudson Cover

2 various artists / Celebrate Ornette – a wonderful box set celebrating the genius of Ornette Coleman. A must have!

3 Ellen Andrea Wang / Blank Out – a truly special album with new compositions by bass player and singer Wang. Modern and cool!

4 Ron Miles / I am a man – essential and powerful. Miles’ strongest statement so far!

5 Fred Hersch / Open Book – solo piano excursions of the highest level.

6 Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan / Small Town – the beauty of the duo performed to perfection!

7 Café Drechsler / and now …. boogie! – the more than welcome return of the power trio – amazing interplay and improvisations!

8 Silvia Perez Cruz / Vestida de nit – another little master piece by Spain’s best kept secret … Stunning!

9 Rohey / a million things – what a voice, what songs!! One for the future. Check them out!

10 Jef Neve / Spirit Control – Belgium’s piano master with strings and electronics … captivating.

And of course, there have been the OKeh releases I had the pleasure to be involved with – some incredible and globally celebrated music from Dee Dee Bridgewater, Somi, Silje Nergaard, Stacey Kent, Regina Carter and Markus Stockhausen.

Look out for more great recordings from OKeh in 2018!



Jazzfest Madrid, part 3 +

Outside the jazz festival there are as well a few interesting gigs in town and Cristina Branco in the Auditorio Nacional was one of them. Cristina is blessed with a voice and a control that is very unique and her place as one of the most impressive Fado singers is undisputed. The repertoire for this incredible show came mainly from her latest album ‘Menina’ and the rest from her extensive catalogue. The simplicity in the instrumentation, just piano, bass and Portuguese guitar, gives her voice focus and musical support, without drowning her in sound. A great artist, with style and taste, in the tradition of the Fado, but as well bringing the music into our times. Marvellous!!


On the 28th of November then was the show of the Dave Holland Trio, which should have played the Teatro Fernan Gomez and not the Clamores … but sometimes with all the shows going on during the festival, the better room is unfortunately not available… Nevertheless, the Trio, featuring beside Dave guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Obed Calvaire, delivered a show that must count as one of the best of the year: powerful jazz, blues and rock elements mixed to a unique brew that only musicians of this calibre can create! Despite some memorable soloing by Eubanks, this is first of all a group effort and without the different individuals it wouldn’t work the way it does. They include the whole history of jazz somehow, from blues to Miles (especially Tribute to Jack Johnson) plus a bit of the Band of Gypsies … with incredible group interplay and improvisations. Can’t wait until these guys are going to release their album next year!!! Sensational!!!

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Just a day later another highlight of the festival, the solo piano concert of Tigran Hamasyan. I know Tigran and his music since many years and met his first when he was playing in the group of Dhafer Youssef. He has developed a unique voice on the piano and it shows best when working solo – from ‘a fable’, his first solo piano album from 2010 to the new solo recording ‘An Ancient Observer’, he has made various steps into becoming one of the most celebrated composers and performers today and the show in Madrid, in front of a very young audience, just showed that his music doesn’t know borders and attracts an audience that is not necessarily jazz, classical or world music oriented – they come to simply hear great music – and that’s what they got in abundance!

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Another artist who wasn’t part of the festival, but surely worth checking out was China Moses, who performed on Friday, December 1st with her band in the smaller room of the Auditorio Nacional. China’s captivating soul, jazz and R&B mix didn’t really fit into the venue, which is more for acoustic music and therefore the sound wasn’t too good – unfortunately the drums drowned a lot of what else was going on … this only improved a bit after 3 songs … the really good band (featuring Luigi Grasso on sax and keyboards; Joe Armon-Jones on piano and keyboards; Neil Charles on bass and Marijus Aleksa on drums) did their best and China worked hard to get her audience going, which in the end happened and they did sing along and got up and danced … The music of the concert came from China’s latest album ‘Nightintales’, which, as the live show, I can only highly recommend.


more jazz from Madrid 17

Saxophonist James Carter hasn’t performed in Madrid for a while and as I had been working with him on his Emarcy records, I was looking forward to see him again and with a new project entitled Elektrik Outlet. This new group features keyboarder Gerard Gibbs, who has so effectively played the organ in James’ previous trio, Ralphe Armstrong on bass and Alex White on drums. Wednesdays show was only the second gig of this group, which uses electronic effects to enhance their sounds and grooves, as this is truly a more funk based project that any other James did before. These guys can definitely groove – Carter blowing so hard that at one point he lost the mic on the soprano sax and just stepped closer to the audience and continued to play and we could still hear him well over the infectious bass grooves and drum shots. James has this incredible technical ability and uses it perfectly to fit the songs.. with the grooves of the trio behind him he could showcase his incredible circular breathing and spectacular sax runs …keeping it in the song and pushing his band to further limits … once these guys have played a few more gigs, this is going to be one hot show – it was already great here in Madrid, but I am sure there will be more to come. Not to be missed!!!

The Fred Hersch Trio with Hersch on piano, John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums has been playing together for many years now and have developed an almost telepathic way to communicate while playing together – which makes the music-making look and feel very easy and light, despite the difficulty of the compositions presented here. The majority of these were by Fred Hersch, from which for me the tribute he composed for British pianist John Taylor was the most touching. Like on their last trio album ‘Sunday Night at the Vanguard’, the guys performed Paul McCartneys ‘For No One’ and Monks ‘We See’ perfectly. The Trio’s playing almost feels understated, there is no showing off in any form and maybe because of that the music is so emotional and touching. The solo encore Hersch gave the thankful audience, alone would have been worth attending this show: a beautiful ballad whose emotional content brought tears to the eyes of the people sitting next to me. If music can create such strong emotions, it is at its best.

Saxophonist Melissa Aldana is growing in stature in the jazz world and rightly so: the show with her quartet featuring Sam Harris on piano, Pablo Menares on bass and Craig Weinrib on drums was energetic, intense and a great example in modern jazz improvising, as the group perfectly supported Aldana in her sax excursions with free playing, but always checking what her leader was up to, so musical context could be created. Outstanding her solo intro to ‘I Loves You Porgy’, which then the group performed beautifully. All in all a great show, which could have even been better if the drums wouldn’t have been too much upfront in the mix, making it sometimes hard to hear the exciting piano runs by Sam Harris.


















Now that’s what I call a power trio: Chris Potter on saxes, sounds, samples, loops and electronics, Reuben Rogers on electric bass and Eric Harland on drums!!Starting their show with an extended version of The Police’s Synchronicity was a statement as such – this is modern jazz and we can take any starting point and then move freely around in the song to express what we want to communicate to our audience! Potter, using electronic and loops to empower his sound and use different colours within each song, played with a seldom heard intensity and bass and drums powered him to further impressive soloing when needed, or simply and sensitively supported his ideas. 5 compositions performed in a show of over 90 minutes …freedom to play around within a song, to go to new places and find new expressions as a group is an important part of this music, which only can be achieved by true masters of their instruments and musicians with an understanding for each other. Potter + Rogers + Harland = an amazing musical adventure of the highest level. Truly stunning music making and another contender for jazz gig of the year!!

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One of the shows I was looking forward to within the excellent program of this year’s festival was Bill Frisell: Music For Strings. Frisell, in musical partnership with long time collaborators Jenny Scheinman on violin, Eyvind Kang on viola and Hank Roberts on cello, re-visited gems from his own catalogue plus other compositions, notably Burt Bacharach and the theme to the TV show Bonanza, which ended the concert as second encore. The 4 musicians drifted between arrangements that felt more Americana and some like contemporary classical pieces, never forgetting the beauty of the basic melody in each tune. The concert again showed how great Frisell’s compositions are and that they can shine, no matter what instrumentation he decides upon. In this case Scheinman, Kang and Roberts were the perfect partners and created a laid back atmosphere to enjoy this great music. A deserved standing ovation showed the appreciation of Frisell’s art by the audience.


The concert of John Medeski’s Mad Skillet on Sunday, November 12th, could be described as ‘Sun Ra visits New Orleans’, as the quartet with Medeski on piano and organ, Will Bernard on guitar, Kirk Joseph on tuba and Julian Addison on drums, grooved their way through some impressive originals that the band has recorded for their forthcoming new album, as well as ‘Golden Lady’ by Sun Ra, which completely fitted in with the rest of this psychedelic groove gig. Medeski is a master on the Hammond B3 and the rest of the gang did some great soloing as well were extremely tight as a group. Couldn’t keep my feet still ….. this is going to be one hell of a festival act!!


After New Orleans, the next gig took me on Tuesday night to Memphis, birth place of the unique singer Dee Dee Bridgewater. Dee Dee brought the Memphis Soulphony with her to perform songs from her new album ‘Memphis…Yes, I am ready’ and did so in style! Dee Dee is probably one of the greatest singers of our time – whether she does Jazz or Soul – it doesn’t matter – she makes the songs her own and delivers without fail. This project is a step back into her teenage years and the music she listened to then, but putting her own stamp on these compositions.  One of the many highlights of the 2 hours show was Pops Staples ‘Why (Am I Treated So Bad)’ with an explanation of the roots of this song and a performance that was full of emotion and power. The band with Farindell Smith on keyboards and organ, Barry Campbell on bass, Charlton Johnson on guitar, Carlos Sargent on drums, Curtis Pulliam on trumpet, Bryant Lockhart on saxes, as well as singers Monet Owens and Shontelle Norman was absolutely incredible and helped Dee Dee to deliver her vocals on the highest level.  Her story telling between the songs was interesting and funny, but maybe for some of the audience, which didn’t understand English, a bit too much. All i9n all one of the best shows of the year – Dee is still on tour with this program for a while – don’t miss it!!!


fall shows

Comes fall, comes the Jazz Festival season and in Madrid the festival this year started on November 2nd … but just before the festival got under way I went to the concert of the Norwegian World Orchestra, which did perform for 2 days in town. Lead by Javid Afsari Rad this 10 piece orchestra is a reflection of our world: 10 musicians from 4 continents; 8 countries and their cultures mixed into one sound, one idea of expression. Here music shows what politics is missing: communication on a human level, common expression for the love of life and compromise and understanding.  The orchestra on the night I saw featured beside Rad, who plays the santur, saxophonist Trygve Seim, violinists Harpreet Bansal and Sara Ovinge, Andres Maurette O’Brien on viola, Adrian Fiskum Myhr on double bass, Solo Cissokho on cora and vocals, Aissa Tobi on sinter, rabab and vocals, Jai Shankhar on tablas and Habib Meftah Boushehri on percussion. Each musician and instrument contributed to the universal sound and beauty of the music, which had a flow and lightness to it that is difficult to achieve. From duos to the full orchestra playing, the music never stopped to cross borders and engage the listener – global expressions of the highest kind. A flicker of humanity in a crazy world.

NWO Panorama

Gilad Hekselman is one of the leading young guitarist around today and his trio with Rick Rosato on bass and Jonathan Pinson on drums, a great band to hear live. Add to that the amazing saxophone of Mark Turner and you are in for a night of great jazz. Hekselman’s compositions are beautiful and clear, as is his playing and his understanding with Turner, who adds some deepness to an already great band. The communication between the sax and the guitar is truly special, as is the support the bass and drums are providing. The musicians seemed to have fun on stage and the audience was enjoying the show as well, as a standing ovation highlighted. Clap Clap was not only the name of one of Gilad’s great compositions performed that night, but as well the sound of the audience after each song.


I have kind of a soft spot for Becca Stevens: her song writing is simply amazing and her vocal performance in a league of her own. Her show in Madrid, featuring Alicyn Yaffee on bass and backing vocals and Jordan Perlson on drums, featured songs from her album ‘Perfect Animal’ and of course of her latest release ‘Regina’ and again showed what an excellent singer she is – her songs are not easy pop songs, but compositions of fine art and touching and with excellent lyrics. And even when she is performing someone else’s songs (like Stevie Wonder’s Always) it sounds like it is one of hers, she makes in completely her own with her phrasing and arrangement. The audience had a great time listening, sometimes singing along and in the end asking for 2 encores! Becca Stevens is an artist on the rise and deservedly so.


CD shorts

Kasia Pietrzko / Forthright Stories – still in her early 20s, this young Polish pianist and composer has a lot to offer – cool ideas in her songs and fantastic playing with her trio, as well a beautiful  song with added cello (Zielone Oczy Grafitowe). One to keep an eye on!

Swiss singer Yael Miller released a self-titled 5 song EP, which is definitely worth checking out. Simple and modern in the arrangements, this music doesn’t fit into any genre, but nevertheless is great: well written music with great lyrics and perfectly performed. Check her out. Can’t wait for the first full album of her!

In 1995 Wolfgang Puschnig released the acclaimed album Mixed Metaphors, which just was re-issued. The recording features a singer, a poet and a rapper to perform their vocal skills over groovy and touching jazz composition by the Austrian sax player and features Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass, Questlove on drums, Rick Iannacone and the Andy Manndorff on guitars and Milton Cardona on percussion. The vocal parts are performed by Linda Sharrock, rapper Antoine ‘Bun’ Green and poet Ernst Jandl. A unique album then, the re-issue just shows how timeless this music is.


more jazz from around the world

Mario Biondi is a star in his native Italy and known around Europe, but not yet on the same level as at home …. His first ever visit to Madrid therefore was something special and a good chance to see a singer whose records I enjoyed, but never had seen live. The repertoire for this show came mainly form his last 2 records SUN and BEYOND and the audience happily sang along to the great performance – a top band that got the groove and Mario singing absolutely wonderful. Live he showed what a great singer he actually is and what control he has and that there is much more to him than having a voice like Barry White. Mario is at the moment working on a Brazil influenced album, which is slated for a spring release in 2018 – looking forward to him signing and swinging through that repertoire. Don’t miss if he comes to your city – you’ll simply enjoy a singer at the peak of his art.


Pepe Habichuela is a master of the flamenco guitar and he celebrated 60 years of performing live over three days at the Teatro Circo Price in Madrid last week – with most of his family and friends, who travelled all or part of this journey with him. On day one he had invited the Morente family, Arcangel, Antonio Canales  and more; then on the second day he was celebrated by and was celebrating with Jose Merce, Tomatito, Nina Pastori, El Pele and Farruquito.

Pepe 60

We went on the third day when dancer Israel Galvan, Miguel Poveda, Silvia Perez Cruz, Javier Colina, Jorge Pardo and the rest of the Familia Habichuela ended the celebrations in style! The show opened with a spectacular solo dance by Galvan, which was not only amazing in terms of body movements, but as well a treat rhythmically as his feed created a firework of percussive sounds. Miguel Poveda, either with Pepe or his own group showed again what an amazing and emotional singer he is and the same can be said of Silvia Perez Cruz, who from solo, via duos with bass player Colina to a trio with Pepe and Colina simply got everyone screaming OLE! – two extraordinary talents! Then Josemi Carmona, Pepe’s son and fellow guitar player, who acted as musical director for all three days, played a new composition dedicated to his father – a beautiful and touching song full of love for life and music. Incredible writing and performance! After a wonderful flute solo by Pardo the family came on stage and all played together – danced together – sang together! Even Tomatito joined in for that part of the show again – a great end to a concert that as such will be long remembered and will be impossible to do again – it was like being invited to the Mount Olympus of Flamenco and watching the gods having a ball …..


CD recommendations:

Ellen Andrea Wang / Blank Out – Ellen Andrea is one of the leading young bass players in Europe and on top of that is a great song writer and singer. Blank Out is her second album and a great step forward as an artist: this is modern jazz, soul, and pop fused into a unique blend of accessible and challenging music and lyrics. From the critical Peace Prize to the cool grooving Bad Blood and the beauty of Heaven, this is one great record. Check it out!

Bafana Nhlapo / Ngikhumbule khaya – South African singer and percussionist Nhlapo, delivers, with a little help from his Norwegian friends, an album of great world music with some jazz included. Great horn sections and great grooves are what help the songs and his voice to be as powerful as they are – Nhlapo is a mix of Abdullah Ibrahim, Fela Kuti and Youssou N’Dour. Difficult to pick a track here as a starter – listen to it all and enjoy!!

Zadza / Momentum – Zadza is a French piano trio featuring Nicolas Granelet on piano, rhodes, machines; Dominique Benete on bass and effects and Alban Guyonnet on African percussion and effects. The compositions are really interesting and keeping the listener captured – especially in the two long pieces The Change and Momentum Part I – with great grooves and changes and beautiful little melodies. The effects are used to maximise drama in the composition, but it is all about the great playing by all three musicians as a unit. They make this one of the most exciting and different piano trios around.


Book recommendation:

Fred Hersch / Good Things Happen Slowly – A great read! It was actually difficult to put this one down …too much going on and too much I didn’t know. As Hersch was born in the same year as I was, I can relate to a few things he is describing. I do like some of his records, but have never been too much into his music – I enjoyed some of the solo recordings and lately the album with Julian Lage and the Trio album Sunday Night at the Village Vanguard tremendously, but never got deeper. His story is interesting in many ways and on many levels (from the musicians point of view, the gay man’s experiences and the health issues he dealt with and how they all affected each other) and it is well told – the highs as well as the many lows through which he fought his way.  But in the end it is all about the music, the will to create, and the desire to perform, no matter what! Captivating and educational at the same time.

jazz around the world

Despite the problem jazz is facing in terms of how to access new music – as streaming isn’t yet the way for the jazz fan to listen to his/her music and CD shops are disappearing fast around the world – there seems to be a wave of new talent and newly recorded music coming from all corners of the world. I listened to a few of them and will introduce some interesting recordings to my readers this time, as I haven’t seen any live shows lately, simply enjoying the summer in Spain.

Adam Palma “Palm-Istry”. Palma is a virtuoso guitar player from Poland, who is endorsed by Tommy Emmanuel – and rightly so! This is wonderful guitar music on the highest level and Palma’s compositions are beautiful and musically interesting. Amazing his Hendrix medley featuring Little Wing/Hey Joe/The Wind Cries Mary and his version of Django Reinhardt’s Nuages. One for the quiet moments.

Juan Sebastian Trio “Tribute”. Spanish pianist Juan Sebastian Vazques is one of the shining talents of the Spanish jazz scene. Playing solo, with his trio or with his friend Theo Croker, he always makes his statement musically – elegant original compositions by Vazquez are the content of this engaging trio recording. Centre piece is the composition tribute, with its beautiful little melody and Spanish feel to it – the song is on the album in two versions – once as a trio and the second is with Jorge Pardo on flute. Juan Sebastian is definitely worth checking out and to have an eye on for the future….

Café Drechsler “and now…boogie!” Austrian Trio Café Drechsler had disappeared for a few years and now decided to get back together and have some fun: and on ‘boogie’ sax player Ulrich Drechsler, bassist Oliver Steger and drummer AleX Deutsch are having just that! Cool grooves, powerful improvisations and togetherness make this a really outstanding record. Any bet you can’t hold your legs still! Great the rap by FlowinImmO over the groove of ‘Fake News’ or the slowly flowing Silent Pearls, that ends the record. Fascinating!

Ambrose Akinmusire “A Rift In Decorum”. This live recording by trumpet star Akinmusire is the result of a few nights at the Village Vanguard in New York and shows all the amazing abilities of this young musician – song writing, improvising and leading a great group of musicians to play at the top of their game. 2 discs of powerful ensemble play and incredible soli by all members of the band, which, beside Ambrose, are Sam Harris on the piano, Harish Raghavan on bass and Justin Brown on drums. This is ’sit down with a glass of wine and close my eyes’ music as it needs focus and concentration to enjoy the incredible communication between the musicians and their expressions of unity. Deep and rewarding!

Vein “Vein plays Ravel”. Swiss piano trio Vein is slowly building a reputation in Europe and I am sure this new disc will speed this process up a bit … Vein are Michael Arbenz on piano, Thomas Lähns on bass and Florian Arbenz on drums and they have previously released albums with guests like Dave Liebman and Greg Osby and on the Ravel album they got Andy Sheppard as a soloist for ‘Bolero’ (which has some very cool horn arrangements and is of course the centre piece of the album) and Mouvement de Menuet, the rest is trio. Sheppard sounds amazing and fits into their arrangements perfectly. For the many jazz fans who haven’t heard of Vein yet, this one is a good starting point.

Avishai Cohen “Cross My Palm With Silver”. The second ECM album by trumpet player Cohen is the logical sequence to his first outing on the label and highlights his and his group’s abilities to create beautiful and haunting atmospheres and wonderful improvisations. There is fluidity to their performance that is seldom found and as a band they are really tight. Beside Cohen the record features Yonathan Avishai on piano, Barak Mori on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. Excellent.

There’s more to come … I just need to find the time to properly listen to all the music on my desk …. No complains there!!!


Dee Dee Bridgewater will release next month a fabulous R&B based album entitled “Memphis …Yes, I’m Ready” – which is a trip back to her home town and the music she grew up with. Dee Dee pure and simply amazing!

Late August will see the release of the first Okeh album by trumpet player Markus Stockhausen “Far Into The Stars”. Stockhausen and his band Quadrivium creating hauntingly beautiful music of a rare quality. One that should not be missed