Yesterday, today

Theo Croker at the Bogui Jazz Club in Madrid: two nights of straight, but modern jazz – old standards played for an audience of our times, by a group of talented young musicians, who understand that there is no today without yesterday and that you can only move the music we call Jazz forward, if you know what happened before you. Young rising trumpet star Theo Croker made his name touring for over a year with Dee Dee Bridgewater as her musical director and arranger and then took his own group out to tour his two OKeh albums in the last years. On a break between gigs with his own band, he took the opportunity to perform a few dates in Spain with his friend and pianist Juan Sebastian Vazquez and his trio, featuring bassist Francisco Manuel Lopez and drummer Daniel Garcia Bruno.

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The Trio started of each of the two sets we saw on July 8th with music from its latest release ‘tribute’, a session worth checking out for composition and performance. After these strong introductions into each set, Theo came on and they played some Miles, Gershwin, Shorter and the title track of the Juan Sebastian Trio album, as well as the Croker composition Meditations, from his Escape Velocity album – all performed to the highest standards, especially from Croker and Vazquez, who showed inspired and melodic improvisation skills. Played acoustic, the Croker tune, on the album in a more modern sound bed, showed what a great composition it is and held its place beside the other great standards the group performed. Celia Krill, a local jazz singer, joined the band for two beautiful songs, one of them you can hear as well on the Trio album by Juan Sebastian.

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The musicians had a lot of fun and Theo obviously enjoyed playing the standards, something he isn’t doing very often, as he usually tours with his own band and their brew of modern and hip jazz, which I can only recommend if anyone get the chance to hear them. Theo Croker is surely an artist for today, having his roots in the music’s past and leading jazz into the future.

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Guitar Masters

Summer in Europe – Jazz Festival and main touring season for artists from all around the world – bringing a bunch of great bands to Madrid as well – lots to check out in the coming weeks … first was Lee Ritenour with Dave Grusin and Tom Kennedy on bass and Wesley Ritenour on drums – a rare club concert of two music legends and a master class in elegant guitar playing. And elegant is the right word for Ritenours style of playing – even when he rocks (and did he rock sometimes that night!) it is with style … and a smile on his face, watching his son and Kennedy pushing him into further explosive soli. Keyboarder Grusin is the perfect partner for Ritenour, but as well a great pianist in his own right, which his incredible solo performance over one of his film themes showed – a packed Clamores club as silent as it can be, only to jump at the end into roaring applause. Ritenour is the rare beast of a musician who is at home in all possible styles .. from smooth to swinging jazz, into rock and a touch of Brasil – it all makes sense and comes natural … and elegant! After not having seen Lee for a while it was great to hear Captain Fingers again and catch up a bit between the two shows, one of which had a short live broadcast on local TV station Tele Madrid!!

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The day after Lee, on July 4th, young American guitar player Julian Lage stopped by in the same club and had a sold out show. This time he showcased a new trio, featuring Chris Lightcap on bass and Eric Doob on drums – both great musicians and fitting sidemen for this extremely talented young artist. Personally I think Lage is the best of his generation – he can simply do anything and can add something personal and individual to everything he does – he has an amazing technique, but what he does with it, that makes him special: his flow of ideas is surprising and never ending and his expression one of joy and deep-felt emotions, expressed in a groovy melodic way. The repertoire for this show came from his latest album Arclight and some new compositions, which will be on his next recording, due to be released in February next year. After 2 hours of playing he went to sign some CDs and shared some time with his many fans – a lot of them surely guitar players … the instruments on their backs giving that away! Julian is the outstanding young guitar player for me: for now and tomorrow.

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Meanwhile everyone in the jazz world will have heard about or read about the group HUDSON – the new jazz super group featuring Jack de Johnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski and John Scofield. Usually I am not a fan of superlatives in advance of any music being heard, but here it is actually true – the album HUDSON is an instant classic and has tons of great moments to offer to the listener. This is musicianship on the highest level and I surely hope to get a chance to see these guys live one day, but the record is already amazing – whether it is own compositions or covers – this is just incredible and each musician is showing again and again why they belong to the best on their respective instruments. A beautiful sequenced record with a finale that reminds me a bit of Jim Pepper’s music – powerful and emotional American Indian influences in a song of sheer beauty. My top album of the year so far … and one that will be difficult to beat!

 

a world full of music

Antonio Lizana, saxophonist and singer, just released his new album Oriente, which includes 11 songs of his unique jazz and flamenco mix and he presented 6 of the new songs in a short showcase at the Casa Arabe in Madrid. The evening, held outdoors, included as well painting (live to the music) and food – one specially created tapa for each song of the album. Lizana is a great flamenco singer and jazz sax player and when he improvises he is truly a jazz man and when he sings he is truly flamenco – combining both worlds without losing the strengths of each of them is remarkable and rewarding for the listener. This is the third album by Antonio and musically he is more leaning to Arab influences … but still in Flamenco terms and the jazz idiom. The song Fronteras being a good example of that, and so is Vengo Perdio. All in all a really good album, a great show and some good tapas! What more can one ask for?

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Ganavya is not only are very charming and bright young woman, but as well one amazing singer and she proved that again when performing in Madrid recently with her Spanish band featuring Albert Sanz on piano, Pablo Martin Caminero on bass and Borja Barrueta on drums and on three songs Rajna Swaminathan on a small hand drum! Songs from her forthcoming first album (to be finally released in the fall) made most of the repertoire of the night, but as well some new songs … like a gorgeous version of Blackbird and a touching and intense duo with pianist Sanz on Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman, to which she wrote her own lyrics. Mesmerizing! Whenever you get a chance to hear this young singer .. please don’t miss her … there is some magic happening!!

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Some music I am listening to at the moment: 

Bill Frisell / Thomas Morgan – Small Town

Sublime duo conversations between guitar and bass over themes by Paul Motian, Lee Konitz and others. Each listen is rewarding and leads to more discoveries in their expressions.

The Great Harry Hillman – TILT

This Swiss band featuring Nils Fischer on reeds, David Koch on guitars and effects, Samuel Huwyler on bass and Dominic Mahnig on drums delivers a very cool record with great music and lots of variety – from ambient sounds to hard hitting, grooving jazz, this disc contains it all and it makes sense, as The Great Harry Hillman has its own sound.  A discovery.

Silvia Perez Cruz – Vestida de nit

The new album of Spain’s most exciting current artist is another stepping stone in her career – a great song selection from various composers/writers and some originals to a very touching version of Leonard Cohens Hallelujah, make this record standing out. Her own songs Ai, ai ai and Loca are incredible and so is the rest … can’t stop listening ….an artist the world will discover!

Looking back …. Leon Thomas – Anthology

Just his version of The Creator has a Master Plan on this album is worth listening to  … and the rest is pretty awesome as well … Song for my Father, It’s my life I’m fighting for …. What a control of his voice, what a beautiful sound. Unforgettable when I saw him with Santana in 1973 … always great to listen back and so keep moving forward.

Pianists and other music

Over the last weeks I saw two very different pianists – a young one, still developing and showing great promise and a more experienced and settled one. Let’s start with the young one: Guy Mintus, whom I had meet at the Montreux Academy earlier this year, as he had been in the piano competition final there the year before – a young man of immense talent, who performed a self-booked gig in Madrid and presented some of his own compositions and some standards, solo on the piano, just using the occasional loop to add some clapping or vocal bits to the piano improvisations. His own pieces are full of beautiful little melodies and surprising changes and allow the listener to fall into the music easily – his improvisations on known themes like All Of You are full of ideas and understanding and are going to the essence of the song. He did start occasionally to sing as well, something he is experimenting with since a few months, but for me isn’t half as good as his piano playing – which I believe, with the right focus, will make him a musician to watch out in the future.

 

Luciano Supervielle is an accomplished pianist, keyboarder, who has performed with Jorge Drexler and is a prominent member of Bajofondo (formerly known as Bajofondo Tango Club) and he as well performed solo in Madrid  a few days ago … piano, keyboards, samples, beats and turntables were at his disposal to create partly solo pieces that could be modern classical music – with beautiful melodies and simplicity and partly grooving modern  tracks with cool beats and tasteful selected samples and piano work – even including the powerful Perfume, from the first Bajofondo Tango Club album – a great version that got the audience going!!!The show was truly amazing – his use of all the tools he had always enhanced the song, which was performed perfectly on the great sounding piano in the Café Berlin. Luciano is slowly stepping out of the shadow of Bajofondo and building himself a reputation as a composer and performer.

 

Some new CDs I am listening to at the moment:  I just love what Belgian pianist Jef Neve is doing and his new album Spirit Control is no exception – this time he is using strings and horns to enhance his compositions and is creating hauntingly beautiful and captivating music that defies categories. Freefall is a touching piano/vocal duo recording by singer Anna Lauvergnac and her music partner of many years Claus Raible. Spontaneous captured in the studio, these songs are all about musical communication, understanding and challenging each other within the songs, getting the best out of each musician that way and at the same time bring the standards of these recordings to life. Definitely worth to check out.

Then I am listening as well to  some older CDs – kind of hearing back stuff I like and haven’t heard for a while … Julius Hemphill’s The Hard Blues from his album Reflections … so much power, so much energy and deep musical expressions. That track is just incredible. And as well the Nobuyoshi Ino & Lester Bowie album DUET with the masterful bass/trumpet version of Sting’s Moon Over Bourbon Street – a track I revisit frequently for many years.. and the rest of the album is pretty cool as well.

jazzahead 2017

This year’s event in Bremen was the 12th edition of jazzahead and had the most exhibitors and visitors and, as always, it was good to see old and new friends, having meetings and chats about the state of the jazz business and discuss promising talent and exciting new releases. Jazz industry people from all over the world came to Bremen this year and made it a truly global event. But the showcases were, as every year, the main draw and some of them this time were simply spectacular. After long day of meetings and chats I needed some music and decided to check out Eli Degibri, whom I had met during our panel in New York at Jazz Connect – his quartet of himself on saxes, Tom Oren on Piano, Tamir Shmerling on bass and Eviatar Slivinik on drums ran through some originals showcasing the incredible technique Degibri has. Wonderful his sound on the soprano and powerful his soli on this instrument. Glad I had a chance to check him out.

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After some very interesting dinner conversations at the Karsten Jahnke / Enjoy Jazz dinner on Friday, I had to hear the new project by Marilyn Mazur SHAMANIA. I always liked her compositions and her performance and recordings, since the time I saw her first with Miles Davis. Her 40 minute late night set was pure power – 2 percussionists, drums, piano, bass, vocals and horns make up that all female ensemble – great grooves, really good soli by all musicians and fantastic interplay. It got rhythm and space to improvise, nice little melodies and amazing energy. I just loved it – if anyone wants to check this gig out, go to http://concert.arte.tv/de/marilynmazur-shamania-jazzahead-2017 .

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Saturday was less meetings and more music, starting with German pianist Lorenz Kellhuber, whom I had met at the first Montreux Academy and always wanted to see him live – 30 minutes is never enough if the show is good and his was – a great and inspired trio performance of originals and extended improvisations. A very talented young man indeed, perfectly supported by Arne Huber on bass and Gabriel Hahn on drums.

Next up was Gilad Hekselman, a young guitar player who is making waves in the jazz scene and rightly so – his melodic compositions are timeless and beautiful and his playing ranks with the top on his instrument. The trio with Rick Rosato on bass and Jonathan Pinson on drums is tight and shows great understanding and communication. I am sure this is one musician we will hear a lot from in the coming years.

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Camilla Meza I had heard in New York about 2 years ago – a recommendation by a Spanish friend of mine and I did enjoy her show then, but she really has developed amazingly and her set in Bremen was interestingly diverse with great guitar work by her and some astonishing vocals. Her music is reflecting the two cultures she lives in: her Chilean roots and her New York influence. Effortless she moves between these worlds, sometime expressing them together, sometimes keeping them apart. Her guitar playing is very good and reminds me a bit of George Benson the way she sings along to her soli. Her version of ‘Cucurrucucu Paloma’ was unique and very touching – someone to watch for the future.

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I saved the best for last – the Julian Lage Trio, with Julian on guitar, Jorge Roeder on bass and Eric Doob on drums played a perfect and incredible 40 minute set of Julian’s music from his recent release Arclight and from a forthcoming album, to be released in the fall. Julian is growing musically every year and now is one of the most important young musicians in jazz. His compositions are stylish and accessible, even so the trio’s improvisations leave space to wander and let go. His sound is beautiful and clear and his playing doesn’t leave you asking for more. Not even 30 years old yet and he has become the one guitar player everyone is talking about and he deserves it: he is at home in any musical environment, whether it is duos with Bill Frisell or Nels Cline, the trio format or guesting in Eric Harland’s group. Some of the new songs have a slight Americana feel or influence to them, but overall sound really good, which makes me curious about the new album. Can’t wait to see a full gig in July, when he will be back in Europe and listen to the new album later this year.

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Jazzahead 2017 – for three days Bremen became the jazz centre of the world and showed that, even so the jazz record business is having a tough time, the music is alive and kicking!

For the curious ones: if you want to check out any of the above mentioned shows, just go to https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=jazzahead%21+2017

Enjoy!!!

 

Rebel Music

I have been a fan of boundary pushing trumpet player Christian Scott for a while now and go and see/hear him whenever I get a chance – so when he came to Madrid again and performed at Clamores, I was there –  he had as usual a great group of young musicians to support him and the powerful mix of old and new tunes and his impressive stage presence and trumpet playing made a full house and enthusiastic audience enjoy the show. Tracks from his new and very modern (including well used electronics) and exciting album ‘Ruler Rebel’ made a big part of the set list, but as well classics and some of his own compositions from earlier records. Great to hear him again, have a little chat after the show and then go home and listen to his new record, which I can truly recommend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A rebel of some kind was Allan Holdsworth, the genius guitarist who passed away on April 15th, at the age of 70 years. I heard him first on the Nucleus album he played (‘Belladonna’, 1972) and then kind of ‘bumped’ into his name on various other recordings I liked – Soft Machine, Gong, Tony Williams, Bill Bruford and so on and then of course I got some of his own recordings, especially the live album ‘All Night Wrong’, 2002 and ‘Flat Tire’, 2001, the music for a non-existent movie! Few musicians have been so influential and still being almost unknown. A very unique voice has been silenced! Rest in Peace.

A few records I can recommend to listen to, as I had immense pleasure doing so:

Rohey – ‘A Million Things’, Jazzland Recordings – soul, jazz, a bit retro, but still fresh .. and what a voice! Just check it out – I don’t want to put into categories – it is simply a great record with amazing music.

Nels Cline – Lovers, Blue Note – this is album was released already last year and it took me some time to get a copy and listen …now I can’t stop – it is such a beautiful album – the arrangements by Michael Leonhart are just perfect to the sound of Cline …  I am glad there are still labels doing such albums.

Jose James –Love in a time of madness, Blue Note – Jose James can do great jazz and beautiful soul and this album combines both, leaning a bit more into the soul side of his. There a bunch of great songs here, at the moment my favourite is I’M YOURS, featuring Oleta Adams, but that might change as I discover new nuances within the songs with every listen.

I am proud to have been involved in Somi’s new album ‘Petite Afrique’ and even more so when reading reviews like below from Janae Price at VICE (the full article can be found here: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/somis-new-music-is-a-pan-african-loveletter-to-harlem)

“ … For more than 15 years, Somi has been mining her global black identity for music that speaks to the vast beauty across the African diaspora. And right now, her voice is more important than ever, considering that every aspect of her person is under siege in America. As woman, she faces a president who boasts about sexual assault. As a black person, she faces a legacy of state violence that dates back to chattel slavery. And as a descendant of immigrants, she faces a country that is on the verge of succumbing to xenophobic paranoia. But from the pain of these struggles, she’s crafted the perfect salve: her sixth album, Petite Afrique. The album’s name is a reference to Harlem, where Somi planted her roots more than a decade ago. Harlem is a source of inspiration because the New York City neighbourhood embodies both the links and fractures that exist between African-Americans and African immigrants living in America. Unfortunately, Harlem’s unique black culture is one that is rapidly disappearing as gentrification takes hold of the city.

On the new album, Somi’s voice is powerful and soars like a modern day Nina Simone. But her lyrics also strike a chord. With blunt references to the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality, the project is a perfect illustration of some of the biggest issues impacting black people today. In this frenzied and fearful political and social climate, Petite Afrique lends a breath of fresh air to those feeling under represented or misunderstood”.

Tommy LiPuma (1936-2017)

Tommy LiPuma was not just one of the best producers of our time; he was a man living music. Ever fibre in his body was swinging – when talking to him it always ended up being about music, as this was what made him tick.

I first met Tommy when Universal bought PolyGram in 1998 and we started merging the two companies and in our case the jazz activities around the world. For me he became kind of a role model, together with Bruce Lundvall – the ultimate music men – one the producer with a passion and love for the music and artists and the other the executive with equal passion and understanding of the creative being. They were the guys to learn from and to look up to.

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When Tommy was running the Verve Music Group and we had meetings (see above – International Marketing Meeting Verve, I think 2006, Tommy 4th from left) it was always a pleasure to hear him talking about music and artists … he let the business talk be done by someone else, his mind was in making great records and he did over all these years. And all the stories he could tell! I never got tired of listening to him and gladly stayed in touch after we both left Universal – before that he did produce for PRA/Emarcy the two studio albums Randy Crawford did with Joe Sample, which I released outside the US.

I was invited to go to Montreux for his 75th birthday celebration – a star studded affair which only he could manage to get on one stage – the performance schedule for that night (see photo below) tells it all. We had a great time there with music and good food and wine, another of his passions.

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A few years ago he called me once  in the middle of the night, guess it was past 1 am, just to tell me to check out this new kid he heard of – which was no-one else than Jacob Collier! Still going strong and hearing new acts … and the last time we spoke, less than a year ago, he advised me to get a DAC player to improve the sound of compressed digital files ….Music and sound were always on his mind and now I can’t wait to hear his last production, the new Diana Krall album.

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Tommy will be with me forever – as he will be with many people for the rest of their lives. He and the music he created with his artists touched many people and will continue to do so for a very long time. May he Rest In Peace.