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.