ECM Now Available For Streaming – And A Review of Manu Katchés Album Neighbourhood

ECM Records

ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music) is one of the most legendary Jazz (and classical) labels out there. Founded by Manfred Eicher back in 1969, it really has been able to tailor a very specific profile.

Having world class artists like Keith Jarrett obviously helped, but today you could really argue that ECM has a kind of “house” sound. The immediately recognizable abstract, typically dark album covers make ECM very distinctive.

And we are not only talking about Jazz, the album has done some fantastic classical (and contemporary classical) recordings as well, e.g. with the fantastic Andras Schiff.

You will find quite a number of ECM albums on my blog (just enter ECM in the free text search on the sidebar), or check out my 25 Essential Jazz albums, which features 2 ECM albums.

Streaming

I personally see the major arrival of streaming with two different viewpoints.

From a consumer perspective, the possibility to access music for a “flat rate” in an unlimited way is just fantastic. The big platforms such as Spotify offer more than 30M titles. Remember the old days when there were record stores, and having more than 250 albums was considered a huge library (not surprising, given that one would have spent typically more than $3,000-5,000 to assemble such a physical treasure). Today, $120 per year gets you full access. I’ve personally joined the streaming bandwagon quite late, only about 2 years ago (around the time when I started this blog).

Streaming for me now is a fantastic tool to discover new music. All new albums just show up online, and you can sample as much as you want.

Now, what are the downsides?

First of all, streaming really made the concept of an “album” pretty redundant. Admittedly, the iTunes story that for the first time allowed the purchase of individual “songs” (which is by the way a completely inappropriate name for a piece of classical music, I prefer the term “Track”), but basically, since Spotify the album has often been replaced by individualized playlists.

True, the concept of a “mix tape” (remember those) pre-dates the idea of a playlist, but these were pretty hard work to get done.

Now, is the demise of the album a bad thing? Maybe not. In Jazz, suprisingly, the album still seems to be highly relevant, and in classical music the “album” concept never made a lot of sense anyhow, forcing the record companies to sometimes randomly bundle classical works just to fill the 70+ minutes of capacity. I have more versions e.g. of the Academic Festival Overture that I care for, as this was (to this day, see here) a typical “filler” piece.

Secondly, streaming typically means compressed sound quality. The MP3 standard invented to squeeze more music into less memory space is also pretty much universal now these days for streaming, which means quite a lot of musical information simply gets thrown out. This doesn’t matter if you listen with $5 Apple earbuds, but if you have a good music system, you will be missing out. To this day, there are only two streaming services, Qobuz (France) and TIDAL (US), that stream in lossless CD quality or even higher (MQA for Tidal, up to 24/192 for Qobuz). Unfortunately, except for some hifi nerds like me, nobody cares about this any more, therefore, both TIDAL and Qobuz still are losing money.

Thirdly, and much more important, it is still very much unclear how artists are supposed to live of streaming. Artists, depending on the streaming service, get amounts in the cent range of even less per play. That may be ok if you’re called Beyonce or Taylor Swift, but for a small Jazz or classical artist, the revenues generated here are literally just peanuts, and much less attractive than selling albums.

Therefore, on top of my spend for the streaming service of choice (Qobuz in my case), I also tend to purchase those albums that I really care about to support the artist, and you really should do as well, if you want the artist to survice and continue to create the beautiful music we all crave.

In summary, I can understand why ECM (like some other labels, e.g. Hyperion) decided for years not to make their content available for streaming. Well, they’ve finally changed their mind, citing as the main reason the fact that the first priority is that the music should be heard.

Well, we can all agree on that, but let’s not forget, artists need to make a living!

Manu Katché: Neighbourhood (ECM 2005)

After this very long parenthesis, let’s use this occasion to dig a bit into the ECM back catalogue.

And let’s start with an excellent Jazz album by French drummer Manu Katché, Neighbourhood.Manu Catch Neighbourhood ECM 2005 24/96,

Katché (with origins in France and the Ivory Coast) actually isn’t your typical Jazz drummer. He is an outstanding studio musician that has played a lot of pop/rock as well.

The first time I ever saw him was admittedly in a much more “low-brow” context, when I was watching Nouvelle Star, the French version of Pop IdolAmerican Idol on French television.

But this album is 100% Jazz. You would have thought so when you look at the line-up: Tomasz Stanko! Jan Garbarek! Marcin Wasilewski! Slawomir Kurkiewicz! (for one of my favorite albums of the two latter, check out my post about My Top 10 Jazz Covers of Pop Songs).

It starts extremely strong, with November 99, my favorite song of the album. Wasilewski starts a dreamy piano improvisation, when Katché joins him, followed by Kurkiewicz on bass. You immediately get in the fantastic slow groove that makes this song so hypnotic. I can listen to this song over and over again, and never get tired. Stanko (trumpet) and Garbarek (saxophone) don’t even feature on this song, it is a pure trio performance (maybe that’s why I like it so much…).

The horns only get to join in track number 2, Number One. You’ll immediately recognize the signature Garbarek sound (e.g. from the great Keith Jarrett album My Song, see also here). Stanko joins later. And again, in this song, Katchés nearly hypnotic drive is really what makes this album so special.

Another favorite of mine is the ballad February Sun, where Stanko sounds better than Chet Baker.

Overall, a highly enjoyable album. Check it out (and buy it if you like it!)

My rating: 4 stars (the opening track is 5 stars to me)

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

Piano Night (Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic VII) – So Much Fun – A Review

Three Great Pianists

Wow. An album that combines three very talented Jazz pianists.

I’ve shared my admiration for the German pianist Michael Wollny several times (see here, here, and here for example), and have also mentioned him in my 25 Essential Jazz albums.

I’ve also already written about the Finnish pianist Iiro Rantala previously (see my review of Anyone with a Heart here).

Leszek Mozdzer from Poland is the only artist I haven’t written about yet, but his album Komeda is very much worth checking out.

As regular readers of my blog will have seen, I was quite a regular visitor at the Berlin Philharmonic concert hall, but I’m quite sad I missed this particular pan-European concert evening that was recorded live in 2016.

 

Leszek Mozdzer, Iiro Rantala, Michael Wollny – Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic VII – Piano Night (ACT 2017)

Leszek Modzdzer Iiro Rantala Michael Wollny Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic VIII Piano Night 24/48 ACT 2017

Let me start with the highlight of this album: Chick Corea´s La Fiesta, from his legendary Return to Forever album. I’m very sure Corea would endorse this fantastically energetic live version. There is one Fender Rhodes electric piano involved, similar to the sound of Corea´s famous 1970s band. It is hard to tell just from listening who plays the Fender, but the booklet makes it clear: the three actually take turns!

Highlight number two is another Jazz standard, Gershwin´s Summertime, in a fantastic version.

But don’t expect the other songs to be of any lower level, from the very first second you’ll get absorbed by three outstanding musicians who clearly have a lot of fun together. Some of the previous tracks are originals. Rantala contributes Freedom, and Mozdzer She Said She Was A Painter.

If you like energetic piano jazz, this album is highly recommended.

My rating: 4 stars

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

If you don’t like downloads, you’ll need to go with the 180g vinyl pressing, as this album is not available as a regular CD.

Ray Brown – 3 Dimensional – Swinging Like Crazy

Ray Brown

I only recently noticed that the Jazz giant Ray Brown doesn’t have his own blog entry yet.

What a miss!

To be fair, I’ve written about several records featuring him already, like Gene Harris’ Listen Here (a 1989 album), Oscar Peterson’s Night Train and Plays The Cole Porter Song Book (from 1962 and 1959 respectively), which also shows how long this genius has been active. I was very lucky to see him live once with his trio, back in the early 1990s about when the album below came out.

I even listed one of his albums with his own trio, Summer Wind, Live at the Loa in my 25 Essential Jazz albums.

Ray Brown really made the Oscar Peterson trio special. Obviously, Peterson is a genius himself, but only the extreme synergy with Brown made his trio work so outstanding. I personally don’t think his later work with other bassists like Nils Henning Ørsted Pedersen was ever the same level of fun as his first and main trio.

But still, no dedicated blog entry. Let me rectify this on a sunny autumn saturday morning, where the sunny mood of this great album is just the perfect fit for my mood.

Ray Brown Trio: 3 Dimensional (Concord Jazz 1992)

Ray Brown Trio 3 Dimensional Concord Jazz 1992

This album was released on Concord Jazz, a small Jazz label formed by Jazz Enthousiast Carl Jefferson. Unfortunately, soon after this album was produced, in 1994, Jefferson passed away and this great little label was sold.

Probably due to these changes in ownership, to this day, it is a bit trickier to find this album, I’ve given you two leads below. It is worth seeking out. The late 1980s and early 1990s Concord Jazz albums are really well recorded, and typically musicall they are simply a lot of fun.

Who do we get on this album? Well, you get the “typical” Ray Brown trio of this time, with Jeff Hamilton on drums and Gene Harris on the piano. This is probably the trio that get’s closest in fun and energy to the original Oscar Peterson trio with Brown, and Ed Thigpen on drums.

Some words about my favorite songs: Classical in G reminds me in a way of You Look Good To Me from Peterson’s classic We Get Requests, given that it also starts and ends with a Brown playing the bass with a bow. Paradise is slower but extremely groovy.

But my real favorite is probably Gumbo Hump, as the mix of Harris, Hamilton and Brown here really is just fantastic.

My rating: 4 stars

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

Michael Wollny Klangspuren (Live in Hamburg) – A Review

How did I miss this?

There is a live Wollny trio album out there and I only find out about it a year later. How is this possible? My bad.

Especially after I’ve attended his concert in Basel just some weeks after this album was released (see my concert review here).

But well, better late than never.

Michael Wollny Trio In Concert: Klangspuren – Live in Hamburg (ACT 2016)

I’m a big Wollny fan (thanks to an old friend from highschool who initially introduced me to him). See for example my reviews of his album Nachtfahrten, or my mention of one of his previous live albums in my 9 Outstanding Live Jazz albums. His album Weltentraum was also mentioned in my 25 Essential Jazz albums.

Michael Wollny Trio In Concert Klangspuren Live in Hamburg ACT 2016

 

 

 

This album is very close in spirit (and material) to the live concert I saw at Kaserne Basel in 2016. Given that it is to a large extend based on his Nocturne-style album Nachtfahrten, it has a lot of long, quiet, but intense passages. My favorite song is White Moon.

Wollny plays with his usual trio of Christian Weber and Eric Schaefer.

But don’t worry, the lion Wollny is occasionally let out of his cage for one of his more improvising elements.

Looking back at his recent studio albums, I rated Weltentraum a full 5 star, while Nachtfahrten was still nice, but only received a 4 star rating.

When we get to live albums, I´d suggest you get one of the Weltentraum live albums first, but this album is still very much worth having.

Wollny remains one of the most important Jazz pianists of our days.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here.

FYI, If you prefer to buy it as a physical album you also get a collectors edition that includes a DVD.

Yes, Cecile McLorin Salvant could well be the leading Jazz singer of the 21st century: A Review of Dreams and Daggers

Cecile McLorin Salvant

I’ve written several times about Cecile McLorin Salvant already, about her amazing album For The One To Love, which also featured in my Top 5 Vocal Jazz albums for 2015. I also already had the pleasure of hearing her live, an outstanding experience.

This young singer has already received so much praise, including a Grammy and a DownBeats critics poll, that I’m hardly presenting you a scoop here, but a new album by such a great artist really needs a blog post!

Dreams and Daggers (MackAvenue 2017)

Cecile McLorin Salvant Dreams and Daggers 24 96 MackAvenue 2017

A couple of initial comments: this is a live album, recorded in 2016 at the legendary Village Vanguard in New York that has given us outstanding live albums already back in the days of Bill Evans. And the recording quality is excellent, you really only notice the live character of this album from the audience´s enthusiastic clapping and her occasional comments to the public.

Second comment: you get a double album here. Some could argue, is this a bit long? Actually not at all, you actually really don’t want this album to end.

Third comment: this album is formally slightly less innovative than the first two ones, you get more Irving and Gershwin standards, and the playing by Aaron Diehl and his great musicians is relatively mainstream. Some of you will take that as a criticism. Actually, not at all!

Because McLorin Salvant manages to put her very personal spin on even old try familiar standards like Devil May Care or You’re My Thrill.

My favorite track is Somehow I never could believe, which starts out as a sensitive ballad where Aaron Diehl already gets to shine in the long intro, but the real hero is Paul Sikivie on bass. And then you get Cecile´s voice, which on this track sometimes is even close to whispering. Amazingly intense.

A note on the title: You have Dreams, representing pretty much what you’d think it means. But what about the Daggers? Well, according to McLorin Salvant, this is about the songs about more complex topics, like feminism, racial identity, self-doubt, that really force you to listen to the lyrics.

This album is a must have for any jazz lover. The year is not yet over, but I´d be surprised if this album doesn’t end up in my personal top Jazz albums for 2017.

In my very first post about her I asked the question in the title Will Cécile McLorin Salvant Become The Most Important Jazz Singer of Our Century?.

Well we obviously still have 83 years to go in this decade, but she’s clearly up to a very good start here.

My rating: 5 stars

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

Moods.digital – a great new online concert platform

Moods Zurich

It is no secret, I really like Moods, the best Jazz club in the Zurich area and probably one of the best in Switzerland.

I´ve written about some of the concerts there in the past, which allowed me to discover some truly outstanding artists, from Julia Hülsmann via GogoPenguin to Sarah McKenzie.

Moods has recently been closed for a while. Partially this was to renovate the club, but another major reason was to make the club “digital”.

moods.digital

What is Moods.digital? To quote their website, “the facility features 10 full HD mobile cameras plus state-of-the-art broadcast studio“. In a nutshell, since March 2017 concerts are being recorded in high definition, and are now available for streaming, be it live during the event, or offline for later consumption. The site offers a number of different subscription options.

The video quality is truly impressive, comparable to professional televised concerts. Audio is also pretty good, and the overall experience really works. Audio quality actually gets quite a bit better with the recent introduction of the Sennheiser AMBEO 3D technology for the most recent concerts, which is optimised for headphone listening.

Shai Maestro Live at Moods – March 17 – 2017

I´ve written about this concert experience here. To quote myself: “I’ve been to many concerts in my life, this was one of the most memorable experiences I had.”

Well, now you have the opportunity of seeing and hearing what I saw, by simply following this link. What do you think? Did I exaggerate? Having seen the concert again now, I still love it, but look very much forward to your opinions.

 

Here´s the link to Mood.digital. You will find one of the recent concerts online that isn´t behind the paywall, check it out: James Taylor at Moods

Adam Baldych & Helge Lien Trio: Brothers – A Review

Finally, another jazz review

As the subtitle of my blog indicates, I write about Classical Music and Jazz.

I really don’t have a strong preference between the two genres, I love them both very much. However, I’m not sure how much of an overlap there is between the following of the two genres among the readers of my blog. Please comment below and let me know if you prefer one style over the other, or if you like both like me.

In the beginning of my blog, I usually tried to alternate between Jazz and Classical for my blog posts. Recently, there has been a significantly higher percentage of classical on my blog. This is not because my preferences have changed, but rather because I prefer to review recent new releases, and not be reviewer no. 2173 to tell you that Kind Of Blue is a pretty decent album (it is by the way…)

And recently, the number of Jazz releases I like hasn’t been that big. And given that this blog is my personal one, I feel no obligation to write a bad review of an album I just don’t care about.

That’s why the average review score on my blog is somewhere between 4 and 5 stars, it’s just much more fun writing about stuff that is really good.

When I give lower reviews like the one that follows, it is typically about artists I care about, that often in the pre-streaming days I would have bought just for the name.

To wrap up this long intro: if you like Jazz and have been disappointed a bit by my blog recently, don’t dispair, I haven’t forgotten about this genre. I just can’t guarantee a 50/50 distribution of genres right now. The easiest solution is to subscribe to my blog, check out the headline, like this you can easily get alerted when a new post comes out.

Helge Lien

Helge Lien is one of these names. So far I’ve loved all his trio albums very much, see my review of his latest albums here and here. So I was very pleased to see that after Guzuguzu, Helge now released another album, on the German label ACT.

And as expected, I like very much what Helge does here.

So where is the obvious BUT?

Adam Baldych / Helge Lien Trio / Tore Brunborg – Brothers (ACT 2017)

Adam Baldych Helge Lien Trio Brothers Tore Brunborg 24 88 ACT 2017

Well, here it comes; It is the sound of Adam Baldych’s violin. Don’t get me wrong, Baldych is a fantastic musician. I can really appreciate his artistry here.

But I simply cannot get used to the sound of his violin in this context. It doesn’t fit.

So, this review, as usual on my blog, will be a very personal one.

There are tracks I really love, like the appropriately named Love, you get the full beauty of Helge’s trio, and Baldych decides to go pizzicato, during most of the track, i.e. plucking the strings, not using his bow.

But when he uses his bow all the time, I tend to switch off. A typical example is Faith, I simply can’t listen to the entire track.

Or take Cohen’s Hallelujah, a song I love even in the slightly cheesy Jeff Buckley version. If you’d take the violin out of this track, absolutely, like this, sorry, not my cup of tea.

Another solo addition to this album is the Norvegian saxophone player Tore Brunborg, that I knew from collaborations with Tord Gustavsen (Extended Circles) or Manu Katché.

Unfortunately, on this album he very much reminds me of Jan Garbarek. And I must admit, with a few important exceptions, that is a very particular sound I’m also not that fond of. So take a track like One or Brothers, which combine the two, and no way I won’t press the “skip” button before the track is over.

So, in a nutshell, great musicians, but not for me. You should still check it out, the playing is very good.

My rating: 3 stars

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