Category Archives: Concert

Reporting on my personal concert attendance

First time at the Elbphilharmonie – finally! Xavier de Maistre’s Harp fireworks with William Christie

The Hamburg Elbphilharmonie

Hamburg’s latest addition to the number of beautiful classical venues, the Elbphilharmonie concert hall overlooking the harbor, is a true masterpiece by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron. Completed several years after plan and hugely over budget, most of Hamburg’s population has already forgiven all the bad planning (and their tax euros gone) seeing this beauty finally come alive.

I was lucky enough to buy tickets more than 6 months ago, because since the official opening tickets are basically only available through the black market. Huge media coverage including the New York Times didn’t really help. Well, at least we now have a classical venue that is most likely sold out for years, many other places would be happy to have such a problem, with ageing population and less people interested in classical music.

DSCF5302 Weihnachten 2016

The Elbphilharmonie Plaza

I had been to what is called the “Plaza” (see above), basically the publicly accessible space between the only brick harbor warehouse and the  new steel and glass construction on top, which houses not only the concert hall, but also a hotel, several restaurants, and even some private apartments. If you’re in Hamburg, check it out, the views and the architecture are spectacular. It is located within the fully new part of town call Hafencity, which on its own is already worth a visit.

This time, last Sunday, was my first time in the actual large hall. I had heard wonders about the supposedly fabulous acoustics and had seen pictures from the inside. But actually being in there is just amazing.

I’ve previously been to other beautiful concert halls, like the Berlin Philharmonie that inspired this new layout of the audience sitting all around the orchestra, the KKL in Lucerne, or the Disney Concert hall in LA, but this beats them all.

Elbphilharmonie interior Grosser Saal (c) 2017 Musicophile

Inside the Elbphilharmonie: Grosser Saal

The only issue I have withthis venue is that most walls  look like they’ve been covered in egg cartons. And actually, they kind of are, an acoustic measure to optimize the sound experience.

William Christie – Les Arts Florissants – Xavier de Maistre 

I went to see a rather atypical ensemble for this hall: William Christie’s Baroque Ensemble Les Arts Florissants. This great period ensemble is well known for their baroque performances, I had seen them once before at the Barbican Hall (a much less beautiful venue) in London in a great performance of Purcell’s Didon and Aeneas.

Xavier de Maistre, William Christie, Les Arts Florissants Elbphilharmonie March 26, 2017 (c) Musicophile

Xavier de Maistre, William Christie, and Les Arts Florissants at Elbphilharmonie

Here they went into a repertoire a little bit later than their typical fare, as they were playing Harp concertos from the time of Marie-Antoinette, as in their recently released album.

So we got exposed to some lesser known composers such as Johann Baptist Krumpholz and Johann David Hermann (the literature for harp concertos isn’t very large).

The concert opened with a lively played Kleine Nachtmusik (Little Night Music), one of the most well known Mozart pieces. It is not my favorite and I had never heard it play live, but it was a refreshing opener.

Krumpholz concerto wasn’t really my cup of tea, so I spent the 2nd half of the part before the break admiring the beautiful venue.

After the break and a glass of Cremant de Loire, Christie started with Haydn.  And to answer my own question: no you don’t have to be Italian to conduct Haydn, being an American living in France will do just well. The performance of symphony no. 85, La Reine, was impressive, and made the small ensemble sound at times nearly like a full Beethoven orchestra.

And then things were wrapped up with de Maistre back on stage and Herman’s harp concerto, a much more convincing piece to my ears than Krumpholz.

All in all, a hugely enjoyable evening. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on Elbphilharmonie tickets, go for it!

GoGo Penguin Live At Moods, Zürich – May 8, 2016 – A Review

Jazz has a problem. An age problem. I go to many Jazz concerts, and unfortunately, the typical spectator at such a concert is male, middle-aged at least, and grey haired.

I guess the times of Jazz being the music of the cool kids is over since the 1960’s, and overall this genre has been niched too much as intellectual, and has very little presence in the mainstream media and the public mind. Women and younger people are often clear minorities at this kind of concert.

Therefore I was very happy to see that I was able to attend a Jazz concert where not only the musicians where all in their early thirties, but the average age of the audience must have been not more than 25! Also both genders were pretty much equally represented. A very refreshing sight.

So who was able to pull these younger crowds into Moods, the best Jazz club in Zurich?

GoGo Penguin Live At Moods

Well, obviously we’re talking about GoGo Penguin. I’ve already praised their recent release Man Made Object previously, and was very happy to have such a musically rewarding weekend after seeing Michael Wollny’s trio just the day before.

So, how did it go?

Well, first of all, I was impressed. The trio sound of GoGo Penguin is very much influenced by Electronica, so I imagined a fair share of  Logic Pro or Ableton computer wizardry going on on the album.

Well, I obviously was mistaken. While they had their sound engineer with them, and I saw a Macbook connected to the mixing console, the ludicrous speed you here on their albums is nothing but exactly the same what they are pulling off live!

GoGo Pengui Live At Moods May 8 2016 1

Bassist Nick Blacka pictured above was just impressive. Although I was sitting in the first row, I could sometimes barely follow his fingers, they were that fast. And he made generous use of the bow, which is always a nice change.

GoGo Pengui Live At Moods May 8 2016 2

Chris Illingworth on piano sounded at times like a reborn Esbjörn Svensson, but this is probably one of the best compliments you can make to any Jazz pianist.

The real hero of the evening however was Rob Turner on drums.

GoGo Pengui LIve At Moods May 8 2016

The way he kept the beats of amazing syncopating complexity and even crazier speeds was just breathtaking. His pulsating bass drum was of drum machine precision, and was one of the key factors why this evening was so absorbing musically.

Obviously, this is not very traditional Jazz. There was some improvisation, but the music lived much more of the groove and in many moments sounded way more like Drum-and-Bass than Dave Brubeck.

But this is really what we need. Miles Davis famously said “It’s not about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change.

EST really gets the credit for having started to modernize the Jazz trio. But here we truly have a worthy successor!

This is the kind of change I’d love to see more of!

Check out their concert schedule and if they come anywhere near you, you just have to go!

P.S. To close, some impressions of the Schiffbau buildin, where Moods is located, a former ship yard and industrial site, beautifully converted into a complex for theater, dining, and Jazz. Worth checking out if you’re ever in Zurich

 

All pictures (c) Musicophilesblog 2016

Michael Wollny Trio Live at Kaserne Basel – May 7, 2016 – A Review

Michael Wollny

I already wrote Wollny twice. Most recently about his most recent release, Nachtfahrten, which I really liked, and I have one of his live albums in my list of the 25 Essential Jazz Albums.

He is probably one of the most creative jazz pianists out there these days. Unfortunately, in spite of being extremely popular in his home country, he’s still not as well known in the rest of the world. I really hope this will change.

A Jazz Piano Trio Concert Weekend

I hadn’t really planned on being in Switzerland this weekend, but in the end, concert-wise, it turned out rather a great place to be. I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Michael Wollny’s Trio Live yesterday in Basel, and will be seeing GoGo Penguin live tonight in Zurich (see my review of their latest album here).

Michael Wollny Trio Live At Jazz Festival Basel, July 7, 2016 – Nachtfahrten

I must admit, I initially had some hesitations about a live concert of his most recent album Nachtfahrten. Although I liked it a lot, it is an overall rather quiet, nocturnal album, and I wasn’t sure if this is music that would be well adapted to a live concert.

I shouldn’t have worried. While he played several songs of Nachtfahrten, only the title track, which he played as a great encore, was as slow and meditative as the album.

During pretty much the entire rest of the concert, the trio was truly on fire. Wollny was in great shape, you could really see how physical this was for him (I was lucky to be all the way up front in third row, so had an excellent view). This is a musician that truly lives his music.

Michael Wollny Trio Christian Weber Eric Schaefer Live At Kaserne Basel July 07 2016

A special compliment needs to go to Eric Schäfer on drums. He put so much energy into his solos, that at some point a piece of his drum kit got catapulted into the audience. And the way he kept the groove really was essential to the spellbinding atmosphere of this concert.

Michael Wollny Trio Christian Weber Eric Schaefer Live At Kaserne Basel July 07 2016

Christian Weber, the local Swiss addition to the trio, was in great shape as well. The interplay between him and Wollny was just outstanding.

Michael Wollny Trio Christian Weber Eric Schaefer Live At Kaserne Basel July 07 2016

The trio also played several songs from the previous album, Weltentraum. Actually, the concert was special in a way that the trio didn’t only play individual songs, but actually one song merged into an improvisation seamlessly blending over into the next song. The audience barely got any occasion to clap (so when they did, the applause was over enthusiastic).

Michael Wollny Trio Christian Weber Eric Schaefer Live At Kaserne Basel July 07 2016

If you ever get the possibility to see these amazing artists live, don’t miss it. His Weltentraum Live Album gives you a good idea what to expect.

Luckily, this concert got recorded by Swiss radio (to be played somewhere in summer), so I hopefully will be able to relive this great experience again. And maybe this even makes it into an album. Fingers crossed.

 

Bänz Öster & The Rainmakers Live in Willisau – Ukuzinikela

Live Concerts

Last year I clearly haven’t been attending enough live concerts. I have the clear intention of changing this for 2016.

During a recent trip to Hamburg, a friend of mine took me to see a Jazz artist I must admit I hadn’t heard of before, the Swiss bass player Bänz Öster, at the relatively recently established Cascadas Jazz Club in downtown Hamburg.

I had checked out a quick Youtube excerpt of this artist, but was pretty unsure to what I would be expecting. Well, I was very positively surprised.

Bänz Öster and The Rainmakers

Let me write first of all about the other three musicians. Obviously, Jazz is these days a rather international affair, but this was truly an interesting mixture. We had Ganesh Geymeyer on saxophone. He is Swiss as well, but coming from the French speaking part around Lake Geneva.

And then we go to a completely different continent, that at least in my mind wasn’t strongly linked to Jazz, Africa. I was obviously proven wrong. We had a great drum experience from Ayanda Sikade. But the true hero of the evening for me was Afrika Mkhize on piano. This really encouraged me to find out more about the South African Jazz scene.

So what did we get from this quartet? Exciting, interesting and melodic Jazz that often reminded me of Coltrane’s quartet recordings in his best days, but didn’t rely on standards, during the concerts we mostly got recent compositions, many of them written by the musicians themselves.

After such a great evening, I obviously had to immediately buy their new CD which was just released and was available at the concert.

Bänz Öster & The Rainmakers Live in Willisau – Ukuzinikela (Enja 2016)

Bänz Öster & The Rainmakers Live In Willis Ukuzinikela Afrika Mkhize Ganesh Geymeier Amanda Sikade Enja 2016

This live album, in spite of having quite a different track list than the live concert I saw in Hamburg (it was released just now, but already recorded in 2014), truly replicates the pleasure I had listening to these four musicians.

As this is a live concert, the musicians really take their time, the tracks are often more than 10 minutes giving ample solo time. My favorite track of this album is Hungersnot (famine), which after a long two minute intro where Bänz and Geymeyer play unisono, turns into a fascinating groove, thanks especially due to the miracles that Mkhize does on the piano. I’ve said it before, I’m a big fan of him now, he has amazing technical capabilities (the speed is incredible), but he doesn’t have to overdo it, it just flows naturally.

Overall, a live album that is absolutely worth discovering!

Here is a kind of “making of” video for the album:

 

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz)

 

Sarah McKenzie at Moods in Zurich (October 12) – What A Concert

Summer Time

As much as I love summer, the one downside of it is that all your music venues close down, and you have to move to obscure places in the middle of nowhere and be there at the right time to catch all these summer festivals.

Well, I unfortunately was mainly at the wrong place at the wrong time, so no concert for me since I started this blog by writing about Keith Jarrett’s solo concert back end of May (wow that’s way too long without a concert).

So I’m very happy to have the venues around me open again, and definitely will be going more regularly back to listen to live music.

Sarah McKenzie

I’ve previously already praised Sarah McKenzie’s new album on Impulse, so I was really looking forward to seeing here live. Business dinners made me miss her several concerts at the Duc des Lombards in Paris last week, so I was very happy to be able to see her at Moods, Zurich’s best Jazz club, on Monday (Oct 12).

And wow, what a concert that was. Let me first talk about her excellent band, with Jo Caleb on guitar, Pierre Boussaguet on bass, and Marco Valeri on drums. I’m not sure if these guys are a regular combo, but the interactivity between them was great. Marco Valeri by the way also plays on the Impulse album mentioned above.

Now you’re going to ask: what, no piano? No, just no extra pianist needed! I had read that Sarah plays the piano herself, but what I didn’t know from the studio produce album is just how well she does this. It’s impressive but she’s swinging and grooving like crazy.

And then you have her voice. The voice isn’t as technically impressive as some of her female Jazz singer contemporaries, but again, what is so amazing is how MUSICAL this entire performance was, you can really feel this is 100% her. It is truly unique, you’ll recognize her immediately. And this is really what makes her special, this full dedication to nothing but music (and having visibly a lot of fun doing just that).

And then there are her song-writing abilities. On We Could Be Lovers you already got some of her own compositions, but her concert was at least half of her own songs, like a very fun tango, or a calypso-style composition inspired by Sonny Rollins St. Thomas. She also played a great Jazz cover of Joni’ Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi.

And thankfully we also got to hear Moon River, only guitar and voice, which pretty much left me speechless.

She’s still on tour in Europe, tomorrow (Oct 15) at Ronnie Scott’s in London, if you’re anywhere near one of her concerts, don’t miss it!

My prediction is that Sarah McKenzie will become one of the major Jazz singers of the 21st century, she’s that good.

Keith Jarrett live in Lucerne May 22, 2015

So, first entry. I had created this blog some time ago, thinking I’ll probably never write anything. The subtitle, from Jarrett to Brahms, I created with the site some time ago. Now I attended yesterday my first ever Keith Jarrett solo concert, so do I really have an excuse not to write about it? Why would you want to read this? No idea, I’m basically writing this for myself. I do love music, and I care about it very much and like sharing it, so if you share my passion, and maybe at least partially my taste, it maybe worth reading anyhow.

So back to the officially named “Kunst- und Kulturzentrum Luzern”, better known by its acronym, KKL. It is a beautiful building in on the shore of lake Lucerne, created by the French architect Jean Nouvel. In spite of heaving a leaky roof (google it if you want to find out more), it is a beautiful space, with loads of glass and steel. Inside you have a museum, some restaurants and cafés, a nice open roof top terrace with an amazing view over the old town and the lake, and most importantly, the main concert hall. It is a beautiful affair, and has excellent acoustics. It is mainly known for hosting the famous Lucerne Festival, but beyond classical you can attend contemporary music and the occasional Jazz concert here as well. They even go into mainstream by having some orchestra play the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean and other stuff (why somebody would want to hear THAT in concert, escapes me, but I digress).

So back to me being in front of this beautiful building. You should know that being disorganized and traveling a lot for work I wasn’t part of the crowd who bought ALL of the tickets in the 48h after they became available. I went nevertheless, trying my luck on the grey market. And lucky I was (well if you consider overpaying 25% over the already pretty ludicrous (Switzerland is a rich country) list price of the ticket.) Note that normally I would have ethically objected to supporting the grey market on this kind of stuff, but for such a rare bird as a Keith Jarrett solo concert, my conscience quickly shut up.

An amazing experience

8pm pretty sharp (this is Switzerland after all), sitting more or less comfortable in my seat in the middle of the first balcony (at least the black market dealer had the kindness of actually choosing one of the best seats available), lights went out, a speaker welcomed us and warned us all to shut up, switch of mobiles, and ABSOLUTELY not to take any pictures of any kind. (It seems that Keith has decided to stop concerts in the past over this) We’re left with one grand piano on the large stage that can easily hold a full Mahler 8th orchestra including Choir, and about 4 microphones (this concert being recorded for ECM, hopefully it will eventually get released). There he comes, wearing his apparently usual outfit of pretty regular pants, shirt, and sunglasses (I assume to protect him from the spotlights). I’m not a religious person at all, but this was pretty close to a catholic mass in a way, with Mr. Jarrett being our high priest. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had smelled incense.

Then it starts, and here my words start to fail me. WHAT AN EXPERIENCE! I’m a regular concert goer and have seen many great artists both in the Jazz and classical fields live, but this was outstanding. Unlike earlier may of his earlier concerts, he now seems to shy away from the 20-30 min long improvisations that fade one into the other, and he goes for smaller pieces, each 3 to less than 10 min long (I certainly didn’t check my watch…), getting up for applause every time. In a way, this is similar to his latest release solo album on ECM, Creation, where the longest piece doesn’t exceed 9:25). What a marvel each of those little gems were! Let me state first of all that I’m a sucker for melodies, being a bit simple minded, and I don’t like it very much when musicians stray to far from that. Jarrett has his occasional moments where he seems to think “who needs tonality” and just improvises on (to illustrate, take Paris/London Testament Part IX). Luckily for me, there were only two “songs” of this nature last night, and actually sitting there as part of the magical experience I didn’t even mind these parts too much. Let me state the obvious: Having been there in person doesn’t make me a very neutral judge. But what I’ve heard last night takes the best elements of the “old” concerts (Bremen/Lausanne, München/Bregenz, Sun Bear), and combines them with the greatest moments of the new concerts (Rio, Carnegie Hall). Again, I’m not religious, but I wouldn’t mind having some higher authority to pray to that ECM releases this recording (apparently, Jarrett has to ok this and is notoriously hard to please).

Jarrett having fun

I don’t have any other data points to compare to, but overall, he seemed to be in an excellent mood. He was joking with the audience, at some point once the applause faded he just said “What next? What now?”, closed the cover of the Steinway keyboard and pretended to play (“You don’t hear a lot?” was his joking comment back to the audience). Later during the concert, he even went up, walked over to a microphone that had been sitting in the dark, and told us a story about how this entire concert was for his Grandmother, and her Hungarian origins. Walking back to the piano, he rhetorically, and smilingly, asked the audience “but why would you care about this?” He even tolerated somebody very loudly coughing about 2 seconds into a new song, stopping but just joking about it (I assume me and half of the audience were afraid at that point he’d throw a tantrum instead).

Overall, the range of styles we got was amazing, from small introvert pieces that played a lot with Counterpoint (you could hear he played a lot of baroque) too much heavier, larger pieces where every finger was busy. We even got a very special tribute to BB King, with a Blues/Boogie Woogie-type improvisation. But the best (again, I’m a sucker for melodies) part came with encore number 3, a short improvisation over “When I fall in love”. I’ve only heard this from him in trio form (e.g. Live at the Blue Note, Whisper now), but never heard it solo. SOOOO BEAUTIFUL (yes I know I sound like an over excited teenager praising Justin Bieber, but what the heck). Even better than my previous encore favorite (beyond the obvious Köln Concert Part IIc), My Song from the Carnegie Hall Concert. Overall, I’m very glad I finally made it to my first live concert.

If you like his music, and there is a concert coming up even on your continent, I urge you to hop on a plane and go there, no matter how expensive the tickets are. It is truly a once in a lifetime experience. And let’s not forget, Mr. Jarrett just turned 70. We all cross fingers he’s doesn’t decide to retire any time soon,   but let’s enjoy it while it lasts. Let me stop here. In a later blog entry, I’ll talk a bit more about the other recorded live solo albums. No idea how often I’ll be able to write, but again, I just presume nobody will ever read this anyhow.