Category Archives: ****

This is stuff I like, would purchase, and listen to repeatedly. This is most likely going to be the rating you see from me most often, as I usually cannot be bothered to review 1-3 stars albums in detail, and 5 stars, well they are exceptional and rare!

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).

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)

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)

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).

 

UPDATE April 2, 2017: In its April 2017 issue, Classica agrees, calling it a “CHOC”, i.e. 5 stars, and praising it immensely.

 

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Cannonball Adderley Live

Cannonball Adderley

So far, I’ve written only about one album (see my review of “Know What I Mean here) by the great alto saxonphonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley.

This is a bit of a sin as I really like him. I recognize that Parker and Coltrane were the more creative and influential artists, but in real life I listen to Adderley albums quite regularly, and more often than the first two giants. So watch this spot for more on him.

Mercy Mercy Mercy! Live At “The Club” (Capitol 1966)

So what triggered me writing about this particular album? Well, quite simply, I heard it on the radio. In this case it was Radio Swiss Jazza music only channel run by the Swiss public radio, which unlike it’s classical counterpart, actually often plays really good music.

Who else do we have at this live gig at Club de Lisa in Chicago? Let’s start with Nat Adderley on Cornet, his brother. They often played together and are very complementary.

Then on piano we have Joe Zawinul, the Austrian pianist & keyboarder, who had joined Adderley earlier, but became much more famous later playing with Miles Davis on Bitches Brew, and with Wayne Shorter on the fusion band Weather Report.

To finish the quintet’s line up, on drums we have Victor Gaskin, and on  bass Roy McCurdy.

The Cannonball Adderley Quintet Mercy, Mercy, Mercy Live at "The Club" Capitol / Blue Note 1966

So what do we get on this album?

This is 1966, so just the end of the hardbop era before things started moving on towards Free Jazz and Fusion. None of that here, this is still 100% solid hard bop. What you get, is essentially Fun and Games, as the first two titles are called.

Honestly, I probably wouldn’t even mention this album which is nothing but solid, non-outstanding hard bop (with a lot of energy though), if it didn’t include the title track, Mercy Mercy Mercy, written by Joe Zawinul earlier this year, and which became a chart hit (yes, in the 1960s Jazz tracks still could be come chart hits), and has been covered a lot since.

What is so special about this track, no. 3? It’s 5:10 of pure drive, but laid back. Not sure how they pull of this contradiction in terms, but I guess it is Joe Zawinul on his Wurlitzer e-piano is the one who really kills here. The Adderley brothers get to play occasionally, but fundamentally this truly is a Zawinul song through and through.

Check it out:

 

My rating: 4 stars (with Mercy Mercy Mercy deserving 5 stars on its own).

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