Walking The Line – without Johnny – but with Oscar Peterson!

Happy New Year!

Let me start by wishing all of my readers an excellent and successful 2018!

Oscar Peterson has been one of my earliest Jazz influences, actually, he was on the first Jazz CD I ever bought around the age of 18 (The Oscar Peterson Trio Plays, from 1964, note that the first jazz album I ever bought was on vinyl just some weeks earlier, Keith Jarrett´s My Song). Before that, I thought that Jazz was annoying and chaotic, how wrong I was!

So you can see, my love of the piano trio format dates back many years.

I’ve written about Oscar Peterson three times previously, about two albums from his legendary trio with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen (Night Train and Plays The Cole Porter Songbook), but have also already mentioned his later work in Germany (Exclusively For My Friends) in my 25 Essential Jazz albums with several different bassist and drummers.

Walking The Line (MPS 1970)

The Oscar Peterson Trio Walking The Line Anniversary Edition Remastered 24 88 MPS 1970

Walking The Line is another album from the collaboration with MPS and the German producer Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer.

With Peterson, we have George Mraz on bass and Ray Price on drums here. The change in personnel really doesn’t impact this album in any way, this is pure Peterson Swing!

Like with many Peterson albums, we do get some standards. The most famous songs here are Teach Me Tonight and All Of You, but the albums starting song from Cole Porter,  Love, you’ll probably also have heard before.

What you may not have heard as much (unless you are from France or you are big fan of the original Thomas Crown Affair) is Michel Legrand´s song The Windmills Of Your Mind.

Michel Legrand is one of the greatest song composers I’m aware of, all the way up there with the giants like Cole Porter. I’ve previously mentioned him in my review of Bill Evans You Must Believe In Spring. I’m very glad he gets featured here as well.

Overall, this is not a must have album, but if you like Peterson, you really won’t regret the purchase. To quote another famous song title, it don’t mean a thing if it ain´t got that swing. Well this album clearly does!

My rating: 4 stars

You’ll find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prostudiomasters)

 

My Top 5 Jazz Albums of 2017

Following my Top 5 Classical Albums of 2017 published some days ago, let me now write about my favorite Jazz albums.

2017 hasn’t been particularly impressive for me in terms of quantity of new Jazz albums that I really loved. I found myself more and more writing about classical music, or older recordings.

Not sure if this reflects a general slowdown of new Jazz releases or simply that my taste is rather particular. In any case, I also checked for reference some of the other top 2017 lists for Jazz, and didn’t find anything particularly exciting that I had missed.

But maybe you disagree? Let me know?

So here we go, here is my list for 2017. Note that while my Top 5 Classical list only had 5 star ratings, I also had to include two 4 star albums in here, just to make the numbers.

If you’ve been following my blog for a bit, you won’t be surprised to see a large number of piano trio albums here, my favorite genre.

You’ll find download links to each album in the original reviews of the albums that are linked.

 

Cecile McLorin Salvant: Dreams and Daggers

Cecile McLorin Salvant Dreams and Daggers 24 96 MackAvenue 2017

Well, let’s start strong anyhow: I’ve already postulated early on that Cécile McLorin Salvant could be the THE Jazz singer of the 21st century. It didn’t take rocket science nor a truffle dog to find this, in spite of her young age, she’s received praise from all over the world, including a Grammy nomination in 2014.

Dreams and Daggers is another masterpiece, with a nice mix of standards and originals, and a must have for any Jazz lover.

You´ll find my original review here.

 

Helge Lien: Guzuguzu

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I’ve been a great fan of Helge Lien for years, since I discovered Hello Troll. Guzuguzu really confirms that he’s one of the most talented Jazz trio artists out there. As I wrote in my review, it combines “Scandinavian lyricism combined with often extremely complex rhythms”. I think there´s nothing much to add here.

See my original review here.

 

Triosence: Hidden Beauty

Triosence: Hidden Beauty (24/96) Okeh 2017

Don’t get deterred by the cover art. Germany´s Triosence is one of the stars of Jazz trio based heavily on beautiful melodies and harmonies. Some would argue this is not Jazz, I don’t even bother to argue, as I simply like it very much.

You’ll find my original review here.

 

Tingvall Trio: Cirklar

Tingvall Trio Cirklar 24/96 2017 Skip Records

Tingvall Trio is another German group if you count there home base in Hamburg, but actually are much more international if you look at the members of the trio.

Cirklar is very good, if not their best album ever, but if you like their style (and they have a very strong regional following), you should really check this out.

You’ll find my original review here.

 

Shai Maestro Live at Moods

Shai Maestro on piano live at Moods March 17, 2017 (c) Musicophile
Shai Maestro Live At Moods March 17, 2017 (c) Musicophile)

 

My last album actually isn’t an album at all. It is the captured videostream of an outstanding concert I attended this March at Moods Zurich, the best Jazz club in town.

You’ll find my original writeup of Shai Maestro´s concert here, and it was truly an outstanding concert.

But for once, you don’t have to take my word for it. Moods has recently installed what they call Moods.digital, basically a platform video streaming and archiving all concerts at Moods.

And I was really lucky, the technology just went live shortly before this concert. So with a subscription fee (you can cancel anytime if you don’t like it) you can now watch the entire back catalog of recorded concerts at moods with outstanding video and very good audio quality. Check out my article about it here. And no, I’m not getting sponsored for writing this.

What do you think?

My list is obviously very biased, very personal, but such is my entire blog.

Did I miss anything? I´d very much like to hear about your personal favorites for 2017.

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)