Category Archives: Jazz

Not sure how to define Jazz, especially these days. It will probably become evident over time what I think should fall under Jazz (and what not)

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!

 

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)

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)

4038952000706_600

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)

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).

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)

Jazz Loves Disney – Who Would Have Thought This Actually Is A Great Album?

Verve

Verve obviously is one of the great classic record labels of the Jazz history, where Norman Granz to produce all the classics from Billie Holiday to Ella Fitzgerald to Oscar Peterson.

These days, Verve, as most other traditional Jazz labels, is part of one of the big players, in this case Universal Music. However, in spite of being part of this large multinational company, and some major restructuring, Verve still puts out some beautiful recordings

They also able to pull together artists from other labels to do some great compilations. Interestingly enough, these compilations aren’t best-of’s of previously recorded material, but actually new productions that were done just for these albums. A great example is the beautiful album Autour de Nina, reviewed here.

Walt Disney

Well, I must admit, for my side, I’m not a huge disney fan. OK, I liked the Jungle Book as a kid, but hated Mickey Mouse.

That said, Disney truly cared about music in his movies.

Did you actually know that the Jazz standard Someday My Price Will Come made famous by Miles Davis actually came from Disney’s Snow White? I must admit, I completely forgot about that.

Walt Disney’s movie A Silly Symphony from 1935 is another great example of the usage of classical music in a movie.

Anyway, I wasn’t prepared at all to actually like the following album:

Jazz Loves Disney (Verve 2016)

Jazz Loves Disney 24/44 Verve 2016 Gregory Porter Jamie Cullum Stacey Kent Melody Gardot

Well, first of all, look at the names of the artists here: We’ve got Melody Gardot and Stacey Kent, two of the best current Jazz singers out there, but the other names are equally impressive.

As usual with this kind of album, the production is quite perfectionist. So this could all feel as artificial as being trapped as a character of Arielle, but it actually doesn’t.

It really swings nicely, and really shows a whole new aspect of these songs.

My absolute favorite is The Bear Necessities in a beautiful duet by Raphael Gualazzi and Melody Gardot (yes, Jungle Book again), but there really isn’t a really weak track on this album

Check out these trailers to get an impression:

Check it out!

My rating: 4 stars
You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Acoustic Sounds)