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)

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)

My Top 5 Jazz Albums of 2016

My Top 5 Jazz Albums of 2016

Following my Top 5 Classical albums of 2016, here’s my take on Jazz this year.

2016 was tricky with regards to Jazz albums. Actually, usually I build these top 5 lists simply from my 5 star reviews. The thing is, in 2016 I only had one single 5 star Jazz album, GoGoPenguin’s latest release. All others are “only” 4 stars, but still I can wholeheartedly recommend all of them!

 

Brad Mehldau Trio: Blues And Ballads

Brad Mehldau Trio Blues and Ballads 24 88 Nonesuch 2016

I mentioned it before, I’m not always a fan of Brad Mehldau.

I have The Art Of The Trio vol. 3 in my 25 essential Jazz albums and find it to be a true gem of piano jazz, but run away from many of his more recent releases (YMMV).

This one again is really to my taste, he goes back to his roots, and does it well!

See my initial review here.

GoGoPenguin – ManMade Object

GoGo Penguin Man Made Object 24/44 Blue Note 2016

As mentioned above, the only 5 star album in this list. As you can see in my initial review, this is probably the true successor to Esbjörn Svenssons trio, bringing the Jazz trio into the age of Electronica.

Keith Jarrett – A Multitude of Angels

Keith Jarrett A Multitude Of Angels Modena Ferrara Torino Genova Solo Concerts ECM 2016

A new Keith Jarrett solo album is always an event, even if in this case we’re talking about previously unreleased material from 20 years ago. As you can see in my recent review, I really like it.

Paolo Fresu Richard Galliano Jan Lundgren: Mare Nostrum II

Paolo Fresu Richard Galliano Jan Lundgren Mare Nostrum II (24/88) ACT Music

Check out my review here. Essentially, if you like the accordion, get this. If you don’t like the accordion, at least check it out. It is worth it.

 

Thierry Maillard – Il Canto Delle Montagne

Thierry Maillard Andre Ceccarelli Dominique di Piazza Il Canto Delle Montagne 24/88 2016 Ilona Records

See my review here, beautiful trio jazz from France.

Your turn now.

As you can see, I was struggling  a bit to find truly oustanding Jazz albums this year. I’m sure there’s stuff I must have missed. Please do point me to albums that I may not have seen or heard that you’d recommend in 2016!

 

You can find the albums here:

Brad Mehldau:  here (Qobuz) and here (Nonesuch’s own online store)

Keith Jarrett: here (Qobuz) or here (Amazon)

Paolo Fresu et al:here (Qobuz)

Thierry Maillard: here (Qobuz)

 

Shai Maestro: The Stone Skipper – Not Really A Review

Shai Maestro

Let me start by saying that I think that Shai Maestro is one of the most talented Jazz pianists out there. I’ve been a fan since I saw him live for the first time some years ago for his debut album, which I’ve reviewed here with 5 stars, and I’ve also listed him in Musicophile’s 25 Essential Jazz Albums.

With this introduction, it is very clear that there will be a “But” coming. And yes, unfortunately there is.

Artists Want To Evolve

I understand that artists want to evolve, explore new territories, be creative. This is why they are great artists. Think of Miles Davis dismissing his early stuff as old in the later years, he famously said “It’s not about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change.”. 

The same goes for painters, or any other creative force. If you look at the different periods of Picasso, you’d hardly guess it was always the same artist. Similarly, I was very much surprised how unexciting Van Gogh’s early work was, and how much of his most admired paintings are from the last few years of this live. If these artists hadn’t evolved, humanity would have missed a lot.

However, what about the people who like a certain style of the artist? Sometimes this can be probably extremely frustrating for the artist, for example can you imagine an Eagles concert without Hotel California?  Other artists just move on and probably lose some of their initial audience when they evolve to a new style.

The Stone Skipper (Sound Surveyor Music 2016)

After this long introduction, you’ve probably guessed that I’m not too happy with the evolution that Shai Maestro, together with his core trio of Jorge Roeder et Ziv Ravitz, has taken on this album.

Shai Maestro Trio The Stone Skipper 24 96

This review has been in the making for several weeks now, as it pains me to write something negative about a great artist.

You still get the occasional Jazz trio, but quite a lot of the songs are going beyond Jazz. You’ll find a lot of elements inspired by Lo-Fi music, some more ethnic singing, some choral parts, the occasional synthesizer, etc. etc. etc.

Honestly, I’m probably (or actually most assuredly) a bit conservative, but most of this is not my cup of tea.

And this is in spite of the great musicians that Shai has been working here, including the fantastic singers Theo Bleckmann and Gretchen Parlato.

Let me give you some examples. The opening track A Man, Morning, Street, Rain has some typical lo-fi elements, sounding a bit like played from an old Gramophone, including even the cracks of the record. I don’t really sense a direction here.

You’ll find some choral elements in Without Words”, but again, I’m lacking structure, melody here. Or take Kunda kuchka, where you get the ethnic elements. I’m sorry, but I personally find myself skipping through those tracks very quickly.

So unfortunately, I probably really don’t get this album. Note that I’ve read several reviews in France that love this album (Jazz News has called it “Indispensable“), so really take my very personal opinion here with a huge grain of salt. Again, artists need to evolve, whether we like it or not.

My rating: 3 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz), apparently it is not yet formally released in the US (the artist says “coming soon” on his facebook page).

 

Update March 18: I’ve now seen Shai Maestro live playing the songs from this album, and here the music gets it’s true meaning! It really was an amazing concert.

A Multitude Of Angels – A review of the “new” Keith Jarrett solo album recorded by Jarrett himself

Ah, yet another blog post that starts with me complaining that I’m not writing often enough. I guess you don’t care about my excuses, so let me just say I really try to improve the frequency of my writing. So let’s stop whining and get into it.

A New Keith Jarrett Recording?

So, a new Keith Jarrett album! Out of the blue (at least to me)! Very nice surprise obviously for a blog that has Jarrett in the sub-title.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: I personally find the title quite cheesy (although Jarrett is very serious about it in the liner notes), and the cover even more so (which is sad given that I do quite like the general ECM sober cover style).

But let’s face it, you won’t buy this album for the title nor the cover, but for the music.

And we’re talking about A LOT of music. Should you decide to buy this on CD (do people still do this?), you’ll get 5 of them, should you decide to download, you may initially be disappointed to get only 12 files, but you’re still getting 4h57 for your money!

A Multitude Of Angels (ECM 2016)

Keith Jarrett A Multitude Of Angels Modena Ferrara Torino Genova Solo Concerts ECM 2016

So where is this album all over sudden coming from? Well unfortunately it doesn’t comprise any recent concerts, like the one in Lucerne I attended a year and a half ago (I know they were recording that, so I hope it will eventually be released).

In this case, we’re talking about 20 year old material. These are live recordings from four concerts in Northern Italy, as you see from the cover specifically Modena, Ferrara, Torino, and Genova, all in October 1996.

We were lucky, at the time, Jarrett hat a DAT recorder (one of the earliest portable digital recording techniques) and some microphones with him and was taping his own concerts.

In the liner notes, Jarrett explains that he’s listened to these recordings many times and claims them to be “a pinnacle in his career”. Lucky for us, we finally get to share this pleasure.

How do you describe 5 hours of improvised music?

Well to make it short, I don’t even try. Let me just summarize my impressions: These are indeed beautiful recordings. Are these to my ears the pinnacle of Jarrett’s career? I personally wouldn’t go as far. We’re still in the “old days” of Jarrett’s concerts with long 40 min uninterupted playing, very shortly before he had to take a break for health reasons. While there really is a lot to love here, my only point of criticism would be that sometimes I’d have liked a bit more stylistic variability.

So if you’re a first time Jarrett solo concert buyer, and you won’t get the cheap price on Qobuz (see last paragraph), you may want to go for some other concerts first, like the legendary Köln, or Bremen Lausanne. But if you like Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts, this one is clearly one to go for.

My rating: 4 stars.

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