Category Archives: Music

A Very Unlikely But Fascinating Combination: Country Folk in Hebrew by Jane Bordeaux

Very atypical

This really usually isn’t my kind of music. Up to the point I even had to create a new category for it in my category list (on the right if you’re reading this on a PC; below if you’re reading this on a smaller mobile device).

The genesis of this was a business trip to Tel Aviv some months ago. I ended up attending a meeting there, that as part of the entertainment program featured a local band.

According to the meeting organizer, this was really the latest hot sh..t in town. He explained it to me “take American country or folk. And then put lyrics in Hebrew over it”.

You’re probably having the same frown on your face now that I had when I heard the story for the first time.

Later on during the event three people came on stage. A young, quite shy girl with an Ukulele (no kidding), another young guy with guitar, and a third slightly Hipster-type guy with an acoustic double bass. I really didn’t expect much.

And then the shy young girl started singing. And my jaw dropped. These guys are GOOD!

Jane Bordeaux

The name of the band is about as unlikely as the rest of the story. I have strictly no idea how they came up with that name. Their website doesn’t talk about it. But they must be a bit self-concious as the website ironically asks “How the hell did that happen?”. 

I’m not going to repeat the story here, but I really just want to point you to this funny, engaging, and intelligent music.

Obviously, I didn’t understand any of the lyrics (my Hebrew is a bit rusty…) beyond Whisky (one of the song titles), but I had a kind soul sitting next to me do a live translation, and what transpired is that they seem to think about the lyrics as much as about the music.

What you also should be checking out is their first music video, which is just beautiful. see below.

 

And then came the final song during that event, where at least I understood the lyrics. The video below wasn’t filmed at the event I attended, but the performance was of quite similar intensity:

 

 

I actually don’t like that Beatles song (nor, heresy am I a particular Beatles fan, but that’s another topic).

However, this little trio, especially the lead singer, Doron Talmon, has such an aura and presence, that they pulled off even this repetitive annoying song (don’t stone me) in such a way that I was simply impressed.

You really should check out their first album, titled simply Jane Bordeaux, it has a lot of little gems on there. And while the majority of their concerts seem to be in Israel, if you’re lucky enough to catch them at one of their rare concerts abroad, don’t hesitate.

Jane Bordeaux Jane Bordeaux album

My rating: 4 stars

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

Quatuor Ebène Plays Mozart & Beethoven – Tonhalle Zürich – June 11, 2017 – A Review

Quatuor Ebène

About a year ago I wrote about Quatuor Ebènes outstanding Schubert recording with Gautier Capuçon. For me, it was the album that should have won the Gramphone awards in 2016 in their category.

My first encounter with this young French quartet was even before that, with their excellent recordings of quartets by Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn.

They really are among the best string quartets out there in 2017, and this is not for a lack of competition.

So I was very pleased when I saw that they’d be coming to Zurich on a day where I’d be close by, yesterday, June 11, 2017

Tonhalle Zürich

A quick word about the Tonhalle Zürich. I’m actually not such a great fan of that venue (Luzern’s modern KKL is much nicer for my taste), but that said, both the big and small concert hall are have their end of 19th century luxury baroque style, and the 1930s incorporation of the old concert halls into the Zurich congress center is an interesting contrast of style.

Quatuor Ebene Tonhalle

Detail of Tonhalle Zürich Lobby

 

Between the two halls, I quite prefer the smaller one use for chamber music. I’ve had a number of fantastic concerts in here, including the great Quatuor Mosaiques with Haydn.

As a side note, the Tonhalle and the Kongresshaus will be renovated soon, and Zurich is currently preparing the Maag Music Hall in Zurich’s industrial “Kreis 5”, far away from the fancy shores of Lake Zurich, where the Tonhalle is a direct neighbor to the posh Hotel Baur Au Lac, to a completely different environment.

Maag Music Hall

Maag Music Hall back in January 2017

 

Quatuor Ebène at Tonhalle Zürich, June 11, 2017

But back to the good old Tonhalle.

Quatuor Ebène, dressed in black,  as the name (ebony) implies, started with Mozart.

Quatuor Ebène at Tonhalle Kleiner Saal Jun 11, 2017

Quatuor Ebène

But not with your Kleine Nachtmusik “Happy Mozart”, but with a romantic Sturm and Drang Mozart, the Mozart of Don Giovanni, sharing the same key, d-minor, somehow transporting Mozart directly into the 19th century. There is a lot of chiaroscuro, changing from shadows to the light in this work.

They have recorded this on their 2011 Mozart album, but this live interpretation went beyond what they recorded, there was an enormous passion in the room.

The move to Beethoven felt like a logical next step, with a very intimate connection to the Mozart.

They started with the latest of the “middle quartets”, op. 95, also known as Quartetto Serioso. Unlike some other nicknames like e.g. Moonshine, it appears that this name is genuinely by Beethoven.

It is not the most accessible of the middle quartets, it’s “seriousness” making it one of the most drastic works he’s ever written. This work mentally belongs much more to the late quartets.

Quatuor Ebene put all their energy into this and played as if their lives depended on it. The passion was tangible in the room.

After the break we returned to get the opus magnum of the evening. Just one number later in the list of Beethoven’s string quartets, no. 12 to be precise, op. 127. This work not only has the length of a symphony (and I’m talking Beethoven symphony), but also the power. Who would have thought that only 4 strings can fill a room with so much power?

But there wasn’t only power. The more than 16 minutes long Adagio was all subtleness, which transported the audience out of this world for the moment.

After the final movement, the Swiss audience simply didn’t want to stop clapping, clearly expecting an encore.

At the end, the four musicians came back out, without their instruments this time, explaining in a very friendly way that they felt that after such a work as op. 127, which they compared to the chamber equivalent of Beethoven’s Ode To Joy, there simply wasn’t any music they could play that wouldn’t be out of place.

I couldn’t have said it better.

What a concert. Magnificent

 

Sarah McKenzie Live in Berlin – May 5, 2017

Better late than never

This will be a post about all the things I’ve recently been late at.

Well not all the things, but at least two of them. One is recognizing the 2nd anniversary of my blog!

On May 22, 2015, I’ve published my first post here. We’re now a bit more than two years and 194 posts later, and I’m still doing it.

And really, what keeps me motivated doing this, beyond my passion for good music, is your feedback. I’ve heard from so many of you individually, so many encouraging comments, and appreciative notes, I just have to say a big THANK YOU!

The second thing I’m really late at is a review of the concert of Sarah McKenzie I saw about a month ago now.

Sarah McKenzie Live at Passionskirche Berlin

I’ve written about her three times already (here, here, and here) and I remain a great fan of this young Australian singer. So when I had the opportunity to see her live in Berlin, I grabbed it.

And I’m very glad I did. My review of her last album was a bit mixed. There was nothing wrong with the music per se, I just felt the album was a bit overproduced, a bit sterile.

Obviously, live you get a completely different experience.

Let me get the negative points out of the way first.

  • Never do a Jazz concert in a church

The Passionskirche in Kreuzberg is a beautiful building and room, but why on earth somebody would want to do a Jazz concert in there really is beyond me. The acoustics are really bad, and the long reverb half killed the excellent swing of the band. Well at least, for the first time in my life I had a beer (they sold drinks before the concert) in a church. An interesting experience.

  • No pictures please

Unfortunately, the organizers didn’t want me to take any pictures, although I had brought my little Fuji X100T. That’s really a pity, as I believe a concert report with some pictures of the event is much more interesting for the reader. So sorry guys, text only.

But as of now starts the positive part: It really was a fantastic concert.

Her band was as good as ever, and we got a really great mix of standards and her own compositions. So the program switched between the good old classics of  I’m old fashioned to her new Paris in the Rain. 

What were my highlights? Well, as always, Moon River, in a duet with guitar only. Pierre Boussaguet on bass, who managed to even improvise a Bach Cello Suite into his bass solo. A blues, where the entire band was just swinging like crazy.

And, maybe my personal favorite, Sarah has now added You Must Believe In Spring to her repertoire. I´ve written here how much I love this Michel Legrand Song that was made famous in the Jazz world by Bill Evans. It was fantastic hearing her perform this gem.

In a nutshell: Sarah Mckenzie is still on tour, including her very first time at the legendary Montreux Jazz festival in July. Here are her tour dates, make sure you check her out when you can, she is just amazing!

 

Alexandre Kantorow – A La Russe – Outstanding!

A quick comment on classical reviews

I’ve mentioned this several times before, reviewing classical music is a very subjective business. See examples here and here of cases where professional reviewers disagree a lot about the quality of a recording.

Therefore, it is even more impressive if you find reviews where nearly everybody agrees. Those are the recordings you should truly check out, as these are actually rather rare.

One of these outstanding recordings is the recent Arkadi Volodos recording of Brahms. This album got a “Choc” (i.e. 5 stars) from Classica AND an Album of the Month by Gramophone.

What is even more impressive is that not only these two agree, but 5 other classical reviewers (not counting me) do as well. Classica publishes every month an overview of what the leading critics in the French media (France 3, Le Figaro, Radio Classique, France Musique, and Le Monde) think of a number of recent albums on a scale from “X” (didn’t like at all) to “three hearts” (liked passionately). I check this overview every month, and it is really extremely rare to find that all reviewers give three hearts.

Well, for the Volodos recording, three hearts from all of them. The only outlier I’m aware off is Andrew Clements from the Guardian.

In a nutshell, we have a strong contender here for the piano album of the year (a bit early after only 5 months, but mark my words, I’ll get back to this later).

Why am I writing all this in a review of a completely different album?

Well, a because I just read the overview in the latest Classica, but also because the album I’ll be writing about now is to me the only serious contender for best piano album of the year (again, so far).

 

Alexandre Kantorow – A La Russe (BIS 2017)

I first heard about Kantorow, son of the conductor Jean-Jacques Kantorow, from a recent email by Robert von Bahr, the owner of the Swedish independent classical label BIS.

I’m on his mailing list, and on a monthly basis, you’ll get a note about BIS’s most recent releases. Obviously, this being the owner, you have to take his promotional talk with a grain of salt, but actually he has a rather refreshing open style, and more often than not, he can even be sometimes being quite critical of his own releases.

So when I received an email with the following text “I have absolutely no qualms in saying, nay, screaming, that we in ALEXANDRE KANTOROW have a super talent, indeed someone destined for a world career that is now starting (….) Alexandre Kantorow is a genius, and we are going to record as much with him as he can give us“, I at least got curious.

Well, Robert wasn’t overpromising. This album is truly spectacular, and really is so far the only real challenger for Arkadi Volodos this year.

Alexandre Kantorow A La Russe BIS 2017 (24/96)

What do you get? Well, as the title indicates, Russian composers. A sonata by Rachmaninov, some lesser known pieces by Tchaikovsky, and Balakirev’s Islamey.

But to me the absolute highlight of this album is the piano transcriptions of parts of L’Oiseau du Feu (Firebird) by Igor Stravinsky. I’m not a big fan of Stravinsky in general, his music doesn’t speak to me that much.

But here, I cannot be but mesmerized by the mixture of extreme virtuosity and outstanding musicality.

This is a must have album.

My review: 5 stars

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

Triosence`s latest album: Hidden Beauty – A Review

Triosence

I’ve mentioned several times before, I’m a big fan of the German trio Triosence.

I’ve reviewed their 2013 album Turning Points here, and have even put them into my 25 Essential Jazz albums.

Actually, I can easily recommend most of their albums so far, be it First Enchantment, Away For A While, or the beautiful live album One Summer Night (Live).

Why is this trio not better known, in spite of having been together since 1999?

Well, for a start, they are from Germany, not NYC. To make matters worse, they only seem to be touring in Germany, from small provincial town to another, and don’t seem to show up at the bigger Jazz festivals like many of their peers. Now, obviously this may be a chicken and egg situation, you’re not that well know, you don’t get invited, or vice versa. No idea.

Hidden Beauty (Sony Music/Okeh 2017)

Triosence: Hidden Beauty (24/96) Okeh 2017

This album was recorded at the famous location of Schloss Elmau in Southern Germany in the summer of 2016. The trio around Bernhard Schüler on piano really stick to their roots here, and give us melodically interesting, lyrical to groovy piano trio jazz.

However, I´m not as excited about this new release as I was when I discovered Turning Points and Away For A While. I have a hard time putting my finger on it, maybe unlike on these other two albums there isn´t a single track that absorbs me fully.

That said, this remains very high quality trio jazz and is absolutely worth checking out.

I haven´t had the pleasure to seem them live, if you ever find yourself in Germany during one of their concerts, I´d strongly encourage you to go. I hope I´ll eventually get to see them myself.

My rating: 4 stars

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

A great recording of Bach’s Orchestral Suites by Zefiro

Bach’s Orchestral Suites

I’ve only written once about the Orchestral Suites by Johann Sebastian Bach before, in my 25 Essential Classical Albums. In that brief article, I’ve called them the “pop” music of classical. I still stand by this label, but really don’t mean this in any negative way.

One (or at least me) cannot only listen to advanced intellectually challenging music all day long. You sometimes want stuff that is just enjoyable, including some all time favorites.

The Orchestral Suites, or Overtures, are just that. I can probably (badly) whistle every single note of the well known melodies.

I bet you can too, at least for the second movement of BWV1068. No idea what I’m talking about? Does “Air on a g-string” ring a bell? If not, go to 6:59 in the YouTube Clip below, and I’m sure you’ll go “ahh, that one”.

 

Yes, that one. Played at numerous weddings and other occasions. Do you now get what I mean by “pop” music?

That said, I can listen to this again, again and again.

Zefiro

Zefiro is an Italian baroque ensemble that I must admit I had never heard of before it popped up among in Gramophone´s April 2017 issue as album of the month.

They are lead by oboist Alfredo Bernadini. I had to check out their website to see that they have already done an impressive number of recordings. I´m surprised I´d never conciously seen them mentioned anywhere so far. I really need to check out more of their recordings.

 

Bach: Overtures – Zefiro (Outthere Music 2017)

Johann Sebastian Bach: Overtures - Zefiro - Alessandro Bernadini - Arcana - 2017 (24/96)

I actually was not particularly interested when I skimmed through Gramophone’s April issue about a month ago. So, yet another recording of the Orchestral suites? It took me a while to really take notice, as I was very happy with the Freiburger Barockorchester recording mentioned in my 25 Essential albums.

But thanks to streaming, I figured, let´s give it a try at least. And I´m glad I did. This is not a recording that will kick the Freiburgers off their throne, but is very good on its own rights.

The playing is engaging, passionate, and transparent. On top of this great playing, you get two reconstructed movements that you won´t find anywhere else.

This really is a very enjoyable album throughout and I highly suggest you check it out.

My rating: 4 stars

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

Helge Lien’s New Album Guzuguzu – Fantastic

It’s been a while – sorry

This must have been the longest time between blog posts ever, and I don’t feel good about this.

My only excuse is work (my day job), I’m traveling more than ever including some intercontinential trips (actually, I’m writing this from an airport lounge) and free time was pretty much down to zero.
It doesn’t look like it’s going to get better any time soon, but I still hope I’ll be able to write my weekly blog post (there is more than enough material and notes in my Evernote account).

Helge Lien

I’m a big fan of Norvegian pianist Helge Lien. His trio albums Natsukashii and Hello Troll feature regularly in my playlists, and I’ve given a 4 star review to his previous album Badgers and Other Beings.

So when his latest trio album came out, I was naturally very interested, as a matter of fact, I bought it in less than a day after it came out (I still buy albums, digitally, in spite of also subscribing to streaming, to ensure that artists make at least some money from their art).

Guzuguzu (Ozella Music 2017)

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I really didn’t have to hesitate a long time because the album is truly outstanding.

It is probably my favorite since Hello Troll. You get Scandinavian lyricism combined with often extremely complex rhythms. And even peaceful ballads like Shitoshito (Raining Quietly) get their share of chordal shifts and interesting rhythmic breaks.

Lien plays with his usual companions, Frode Berg on bass, and Per Oddvar Johansen on drums, and you can really hear the intimate connections between the musicians all the time, they truly melt into one common instrument.

Add to this that the recording quality of this album is outstanding, as produced again with recording Engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug at the brilliant Oslo Rainbow studio, this album really cannot be recommended higher if you like Scandinavian trio jazz, or actually trio jazz in general.

My rating: 5 stars

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