Shai Maestro Trio – Live At Moods – What A Night

Shai Maestro

I’ve been a fan of Shai Maestro since his very first solo album, see also this very early blog post of mine: This Avishai Cohen Alumni Will Go Places. I even put his debut album in My 25 Essential Jazz albums.

His most recent album I had more trouble with, most likely I just didn’t get it.

But when I saw he was playing again at Moods in Zurich (exactly 2 years after his first concert there, which I also saw), and I happened to be in town, I knew I had to see him.

And I’m extremely glad I did.

Shai Maestro Trio – Live At Moods Zürich – March 17, 2017

 

The concert was obviously mainly focused on his latest album, the Stone Skipper.

And as much as I didn’t get it when listening to the album, everything became extremely clear when listening to it live.

Shai Maestro during the concert mentioned that they don’t have a set playlist. They just have a common list of songs, but basically are guided by the mood of the evening.

Shai Maestro on piano live at Moods March 17, 2017 (c) Musicophile

Shai Maestro

I guess the mood at Moods must have been good, because we got an amazing performance.

What sets this trio, that includes Jorge Roeder on bass, and Ziv Ravitz on drums, apart, is how much complexity they can blend into something that sounds so effortless.

Most jazz consists of simple 4/4 rythms. Not so here, the rythmic complexities that Ravitz pulls off and that his colleagues are following so easily, are so impressive, that when occasionally he switches to a regular 4/4 beat people start laughing because it sounds so simple in comparison.

Jorge Roeger with Shai Maestro Live at Moods March 17 2017 (c) Musicophile

Jorge Roeder

Same goes fro the melodic complexities of Maestro. But unlike with some Jazz musicians, complexity is never a self-serving intellectual exercise, but always serves the mood of the piece, and is actually quite accessible even to non Jazz musicians.

Jorge Roeder, as a typical bass player, never puts himself at the forefront, but what an artist he is as well. The synergy between these three outstanding musicians it amazing.

Ziv Ravitz with Shai Maestro Live At Moods Mar 17 2017 (c) Musicophile

Ziv Ravitz

 

Maestro probably will never play standards (he jokingly said “I won’t play Autumn Leaves”), but this trio really creates their very own world, and a world you don’t want to leave again.

The audience agreed, and got the band to play 3 encores, and probably would have stayed for another 5 if possible.

So if you love Jazz, or even if you don’t, check out his website and his tour calendar, and do yourself a favor of experiencing this trio live.

I’ve been to many concerts in my life, this was one of the most memorable experiences I had.

Sorry for the many superlatives in this review, but I was simply blown away.

My rating: 5 stars

Rémi Geniet Plays Beethoven Sonatas – A Review

Beethoven’s piano sonatas

I haven’t written about Beethoven’s piano sonatas yet on this blog, except for mentioning Igor Levit’s beautiful rendition of the late piano sonatas here.

Why? No idea. It is such a massive body of work, 32 sonatas, no really weak stuff in there, the late sonatas being particularly challenging. How do you attack such a mountain, or more precisely mountain range?

Rémi Geniet

Rémi Geniet, a young French pianist, must have asked himself the same question. His answer is an album that covers 4 sonatas from the very early op. 2 to the very late op. 110.

Who is Rémi Geniet? A young (born 1992) French pianist, who released a beautiful Bach album two years ago that was highly praised. He also won several competitions including the Horowitz International Competition in Kiew.

Geniet Plays Beethoven Sonatas

Rémi Geniet Beethoven Piano Sonatas Mirare 2017 24/96

From Bach to Beethoven. A small step? Well not really, actually anything but.  But Geniet manages this challenge beautifully.

You get a mix from Beerhovens sonata cycle, as mentioned above from the very early sonata no. 2 to the penultimate sonata no. 31.

The really famous sonata here is the “Moonshine“, no. 14, probably the piano piece that even non classical listeners will have heard at some point. Attacking such an earworm is obviously tricky, we all have some form of reference in our head. And what references, from Schnabel, to Arrau, to Brendel, or more recently Paul Lewis or Ronald Brautigam.

How does he compare against such great names of the piano? Well, actually, quite well.
Take the first movement. This, if done badly, can drown in kitsch. No kitsch here, you get  simplicty, very clean playing , no “fuzz”. But actually, this makes the entire experience nevertheless extremely intense.

He takes extremely technically challengingthird movement (Presto agitato) breathtakingly fast, but with extreme precision. Again, this is truly impressive.

All this really comes without neglecting musical substance. Take for example the sonata no. 31. Beethoven’s late sonatas, like his late string quartets, are works of extreme intellectual substance. You simply cannot gloss over them. Pianists typically only tackle them later in the career. But here, similar to Levit mentioned above, Geniet just goes for it, and very successfully.

Overall rating: 4 stars (at certain moments of playing I’d give a 5 star, but there is so much competition out there in the Beethoven space, that it is hard to consistently outperform all the piano legends).

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (HDtracks)

Gene Harris Quartet: Listen Here – So Enjoyable

Does good music need to be intellectually stimulating?

Well, personally I’d say yes, this for me is one of the key differentiators of the music I really like and that I write about on my blog, from what regularly tops the charts these days.

I guess most people like their music a bit simpler (I know this sounds condescending, but isn’t really meant this way), but for me, a certain level of complexity usually is a must for me to truly enjoy music.

That said, every once in a while, it is hugely enjoyable to have an album that is just right, but doesn’t overdo it from a complexity point of view. You can do a Goldberg or Diabelli variations every day.

Gene Harris Quartet: Listen Here (Concord 1989)

The Gene Harris Quartet Listen Here Concord SACD Ron Eschete Ray Brown Jeff Hamilton

Listen here is such an album. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t Jazz for simpletons, but it is straightforward mainstream Jazz.

But it does one thing right: it swings like crazy, and if you can listen to this without tapping your foot I’d be hugely surprised. Well, look at the cast: we’re actually talking about the Ray Brown trio of the 1990s here. Ray Brown, the bassist legend that grew up with the Oscar Peterson trio, at the time had surrounded himself with the brilliant pianist, Gene Harris, and the outstanding Jeff Hamilton (this guy can swing). I’ve already mentioned the Ray Brown Album Live At The Loa in my 25 Essential Jazz Albums, and have reviewed Jeff Hamilton’s excellent album Live here . So if you liked these two recommendations, this one is a no brainer.

We’re adding here the guitarist Ron Eschete, who switches between acoustic and electric guitars, and overall blends in so well, you could often think you’re listening to a piano trio album.

You get a nice mixture of standards and original compositions. And to add a cherry to the cake, Concord Jazz was known for their good sound quality of their recordings, so if you can find it, I suggest you get the 2003 SACD release of this album (its unfortunately out of stock, and not yet available as DSD download to my knowledge).

Talking about finding this album, I’m unclear about who owns Concord’s catalogue these days, but some of their albums are still quite hard to find even electronically.

I’ve added some links below, but for example, Qobuz, my personal favorite streaming provider (no affiliation) doesn’t even have the album. If you’re on Apple Music, you’re better off.

In any case, if you like swinging, melodic mainstream jazz that is just there to be enjoyed, it is worth going through the slight trouble of finding this little gem.

My rating: 4 stars  (I’m still a bit torn, this could even potentially be 5 stars, maybe I’ll change my mind eventually)

You can find it here (Amazon) and here (Apple Music)

 

Bologna 1666: Beautiful Baroque Music by Julia Schröder

Baroque Music

Let me start by saying, if you haven’t realized it yet from reading my blog, that I’m a huge fan of Baroque music. There is something about this era that fascinates me musically.

Obviously, there are the Big Names Bach, Händel, Scarlatti, Rameau, Vivaldi.

But beyond these big names there are many other composers that simply aren’t as much on our (or at least mine) radar screen yet.

The following album explores some of these names.

Bologna 1666 – Julia Schröder – Kammerorchester Basel (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 2017)

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So what exactly went on in 1666 in Bologna? Well, beyond the fact that the city was one of the cultural centers of Europe at the time, the Accademia Filarmonica was founded, one of the earliest musical schools in European history. Note that the Academy is still active to this day. The most famous pulis of this school were probably Corelli, and the legendary Farinelli.

What do we get on this album? There are several pieces by Giovanni Paolo Colonna, a name I must admit I hadn’t heard before, but this gentleman actually was one of the founders of the Academy. You get a bit of Torelli (not to be confused with Corelli obviously), and other “smaller” artists like Zavateri, Perti, or Laurenti that the world has forgotten about beyond some music scholars.

Is it worth checking out? Absolutely, yes! Quite often I’m pretty disappointed with music by e.g. lesser known composers (e.g. Ferdinand Ries), but here really there isn’t a disappointment. If at all, I actually prefer many of the pieces to let’s say the average Vivaldi violin concerto, and there is a lot to discover.

Julia Schröder

And how’s the playing? Well, it really is the highlight of the album. The Kammerorchester Basel is one of the best period chamber ensembles that we have in Europe right now (and let me count Switzerland as European for this purpose), their Beethoven cycle with Antonini was quite spectacular.

I had heard the name of Julia Schröder before, but this is the first time I actually heard one of her albums. She is a professor at Freiburg University (not very far down the Rhine from Basel), and her brilliant, nuanced, and tasteful playing of the lead violin is quite magical here.

Overall, this is not a must have album if you’re just starting out with your classical music collection (although I don’t think you’d be disappointed), but if you’re considering adding yet another Beethoven cycle or other classical warhorse to your existing classical music collection, I’d rather go for this new and exciting discovery.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (HDtracks)

Sarah McKenzie – Paris In The Rain – A Review (more or less)

I’ve previously praised the young Australian singer Sarah McKenzie for her last album on Impulse, We Could Be Lovers, have seen her perform live, and mentioned her in my Top 10 Jazz Covers of Pop songs. I was even able to exchange a couple of friendly words with her during the above mentioned concert.

So in a nutshell, I really like her. Hence, when I saw on Facebook that she is about to release a new album, I gotvery excited.

(Side note: following artists I like is one of the few useful purposes for me of Facebook. Why is it that in my generation the only people that regularly post updates are the ones you don’t care about? There seems to be some form of inverse correlation between posting activity and content value, with some rare exceptions)

Paris In the Rain (Impulse 2017)

So, now the album has been out for weeks, and I’m only just about now writing about it.

Sarah McKenzie Paris In The Rain Impulse 2017 (24/96)

Why is that? Well, not because I didn’t listen to it enough. The thing is, I was really trying to like it, but in a way something was just a bit wrong. And I spent the last month trying to put my finger on it.

Is it the singing? Absolutely not, that’s beautiful as ever.

Is it the songs? No, we get standards, like Tea For Two, beautiful ballads, like Little Girl Blue, own compositions such as Paris in the Rain, see below (she also has 4 other own compositions on the album!).

 

 

Is it the musicians? Again, not really. Actually, they do play extremely well. Sarah and Impulse were able to assemble some great musicians here: Mark Whitfield und Romero Lubambo on guitar, Warren Wolf on the vibraphone, Reuben Rogers on bass, Gregory Hutchinson on drums.

The horns are excellent too, from Dominick Farinacci on the trumpet, Jamie Baum on the flute, to Scott Robinson and Ralph Moore on saxphone.

So what is it? It was only when I read that this album was produced again (like the previous one) by Brian Bacchus, when the penny dropped. It is just a bit too perfect! That may sound a bit silly, but the album could use a little bit of “dirtiness” to my ears.

Bacchus, while not a household name, has worked with some of the greatest names in Jazz (e.g. John Scofield). However, he also produced Norah Jones and Gregory Porter. Not that I’m comparing this album to Norah Jones, unlike her this is 100% Jazz, but you get the total perfection of a Norah Jones album. This really doesn’t fully replicate the full energy I felt when I saw her live. I’d really love it if her next album will be a live one!

So why I strongly encourage you to check out this album, I’d even more recommend you see her live. As mentioned, she’s on facebook, and here’s her website that has the tour dates.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find the album here (Qobuz) and here (Prostudiomasters).

Rafal Blechacz Plays Bach – Beautifully!

Where’s the Jazz gone?

Yes, I know, I’ve been writing an awful lot about classical music since the new year, and Jazz has suffered a bit. This has a multitude of reasons: reader requests (for my essential 25 classical albums), concert visits (see my report on Alondra de la Parra here), or exciting new releases, such as the one I’ll be writing about in this post.

I simply haven’t seen that many exciting new Jazz releases recently. However, I have some in the making, including Sarah McKenzie’s latest album, so if you’re more into Jazz than Classical and follow my blog, don’t dispair, I’ll get back to it.

Bach: Again?

Yes, I know, I write an awful lot about Bach. If you look at the stats (you can find them in the large categories menu on the side) of my posts about different composers, he leads by far with 25 posts as of today (mid February 2017), even ahead of my beloved Johannes Brahms (with 17 posts so far).

Why is this? Well, I think I’ve written before, you can never have enough Bach. He is probably the most important composer of all times, at least to me. Maybe I should rename my blog title after all.

Rafal Blechacz

I’ve written about Blechacz several times already, first about his amazing Chopin Preludes, then mentioning him both in My Top 10 Classical Pianists, and more recently, even adding his Preludes to my 25 Essential Classical albums.

Maybe that is a bit too much praise for a 31 year old pianist who has only recorded a small handful of albums so far, one of which I didn’t even like (his 2013 recording of the Chopin Polonaises). And then again, maybe it isn’t. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him live once and was really impressed.

So in a way it was a big bet putting him (together with Benjamin Grosvenor, another outstanding young talent) into my Top 10 pianists, while leaving out geniuses like Horowitz or Richter.

Well, luckily, we now have one more piece of supporting evidence with his latest release on Deutsche Grammophon.

Johann Sebastian Bach – Rafal Blechacz

Johann Sebastian Bach - Rafal Blechacz - Deutsche Grammophon 2017 24/96

 

The title of the album couldn’t be simpler: Johann Sebastian Bach. A clear statement.

You get an interesting mix of the Italian Concerto BWV971, partitas no. 1 and 3, and some smaller pieces including the ear worm piano arrangement of the Cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, better known for my English speaking readers under Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring.

So how does Blechacz (winner of the legendary Chopin competition) move from Chopin, the master of the romantic piano, to Bach, back to completely different music, that was composed for instruments that were very far from the modern Steinway?

Actually, suprisingly well. And if you think about it, it is not that surprising at all. Chopin was heavily influenced by Bach. Note the title “Preludes”, which is taken straight from the baroque repertoire, and is clearly inspired by the Well-Tempered Clavier.

Let’s put this new album against some tough competition:

My favorite version of the Italian Concerto is by another of my Top 10 classical pianists, Murray Perahia, on his 2003 SACD, and Blechacz really doesn’t need to hide here. What differentiates Blechacz I guess is his very individual touch, always gentle, even when he plays loudly. I wouldn’t replace Perahia by Blechacz, but I could very easily live with both versions, having their individual quality. Side note: Two other versions of this concerto I can recommend are by Claire-Marie Le Guay on her beautiful Bach album, and if you prefer to listen to this on a harpsichord, go for the brilliant Pierre Hantaï.

On the partitas, my preferred versions are again Perahia, but also Igor Levit’s beautiful recording (both on Sony). Claire-Marie Le Guay also has recorded partita no. 1 on the above mentioned album. Can Blechacz add new insights? Well, maybe not insights, but a different viewpoint. He has a beautiful playfulness, making this a really individual take on Bach. I find it very enjoyable.

And closing the album with Myra Hess’ arrangement of the Bach cantata is a beautiful round-up to a new addition to the Bach universe.

Is this album essential? Maybe not. Is this album immensely enjoyable? Absolutely yes!

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prostudiomasters, currently offering a 20% discount for the week that I’m writing this).

 

Bravo, Maestro? – No! Brava, Maestra! Alondra de la Parra at Tonhalle Zürich

Two premieres

Yesterday, I had two personal premieres:

I heard the Stravinsky’s Pulcinella suite for the first time live (and probably for the first time conciously, I have it on a Günter Wand album but never paid much attention).

And, more importantly, I was at my first live concert with a female conductor. This is a pretty sad fact given that we’re in the year 2017 and I attend classical concerts on a regular basis. But let’s look at the odds: right now there are only three female conductors I’d be able to spontaneously come up with: Simone Young in Hamburg, Marin Alsop, and closer to my heart, Emmanuelle Haïm. Can you come up with any other names? Wikipedia gives you a slightly (but really only slightly) longer lists with other names I’ve never heard of.

I actually had heard the name of Alondra de la Parra once before, on the radio. But that was  all I knew about this young Mexican conductor (who was born in NYC).

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Alondra de la Parra (Source: http://www.alondradelaparra.com)

So I was very curious to hear her, given that the Tonhalle Orchester had given her the opportunity of three consecutive concerts.

A little parenthesis on the Tonhalle-Orchester:  The only recently appointed current conductor, Lionel Bringuier, will soon be history. I’ve only heard him once with the Tonhalle, but really wasn’t convinced, so I’m not very sad about the change.

David Zinman did great things with the orchestra previously (even though it is still a bit short of being on par with the really big guys), and so I’m very much looking forward to whoever will be replacing him. Paavo Järvi has been mentioned, and given my affection for him, I’d be applauding.

But if de la Parra get’s 3 evenings, I’m just wondering, could she also be in the mix?

Alondra de La Parra Tonhalle Zürich February 2,2017

Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite

Well, this one will be quite quick, as I simply don’t have any reference to judge the performance from. All I can say is I was surprised I really liked the piece. I have a very difficult relationship with Stravinsky, I hate Le Sacre, I can listen to Petrouchka about once every 5 years, preferable in the piano version.

It’s generally just not my cup of tea. But this piece warrants further study.

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 9 – Jan Lisiecki

Beyond Mrs de la Palla, Jan Lisiecki was the other motivation for me (plus being near Zurich anyhow that particular day) to go to see this concert.

He got very good reviews for his Chopin and Mozart, and so I was very curious to see this very young artist (22 years old) from Canada live. The first thing that’s a bit shocking is that he looks even younger than that. He wouldn’t be out of place in any US highschool movie.

Now, how did the two young stars play together? Well, let’s just say it was a really interesting experience. De la Parra lead the Tonhalle with a lot of energy, but overall the playing sounded a tiny bit heavy (maybe I’m also just too much used to historically informed performance these days). On top of that, Lisiecki had a rather firm grip on the Steinway.

Therefore, this well-known concert, which was written by the 21 year old Mozart, sounded a lot like Beethoven, and not even like his first two concertos, which still live the spirit of Mozart, but in parts this could have even been the 4th concerto.

And the 2nd movement got even more interesting, it sounded really much more like a Chopin concerto. Nothing wrong with all this, and it was a very pleasing experience, it is just different from what I’m recently used to hear.

Appropriately enough, Lisiecki gave us a Chopin encore, op. 48 no. 1, if my memory serves me well. This really was quite spectacular. Lisiecki gave it so much energy, especially in the second half, that I was occasionally thinking of being in the Grande Polonaise Brilliante. In any case, should you listen to this performance late at night (which the title Nocturne kind of indicates), you’d be wide awake by all the sheer brilliance. Very enjoyable.

The true highlight came after the break though.

Beethoven: Eroica

I love the Eroica. Actually, it is a mistake that I didn’t mention it in my 25 Essential Classical Albums (a mistake I’ll soon rectify by enlarging the list to 50). But it’s been ages since I last heard it live somewhere.

I was really hoping from some Latin power (mentally I was probably thinking of de la Parra as the female equivalent of Rodrigo, the slightly crazy Mexican conductor in Amazon’s TV series Mozart in the Jungle). 

But I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Boy, how positively surprised I ended up being. I spend the entire Eroica on the edge of my seat by the sheer energy she created. The poor musicians of the Tonhalle Orchester were clearly stretched to their limits, but they were following her with all the energy and passion they got. Wow!

In summary, as much as I’d like to see Paavo Järvi in Zürich, should the Tonhalle Orchester be daring and go for this amazing talent, I’d be all for it!

P.S. After the concert I read the review by the venerable Neue Zürcher Zeitung of the same concert the previous day, and they shared my enthousiasm.