Category Archives: Piano Trio

Probably my preferred form of Jazz, from Art Tatum to Shai Maestro.

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.

Il Canto Delle Montagne – Beautiful Trio Jazz by Thierry Maillard

Streaming

I mentioned before that I subscribe to a streaming subscription. This truly is an amazing music discovery tool. It’s like having a huge record shop (remember those) in your own house and on the go 24/7.

I was late to the game and started streaming less than 18 month ago. How stupid of me.

Well obviously, there’s the issue that artists don’t make enough money from streaming. That’s why I, even if I don’t have to, I end up buying albums from the relevant artists I really like anyhow, and everybody should do the same, or even better, go to see them live if you can.

That said, for browsing and discovering new stuff there is simply nothing better.

Thierry Maillard: Il Canto Delle Montagne

The other day I was going through Qobuz “Nouveautés” on my Iphone (I use their app in French, the translations can occasionally be a bit clunky, although they are getting more international these days). I have the genres set to “Classique “and “Jazz”, so new albums in both categories show up here.

More out of boredom I clicked on a relatively ugly cover, a picture of a mountain scene with the Italian title “Il Canto Delle Montagne”. Even my quite poor Italian tells me this means “The Song of the Mountains” in a pretty ugly font (see below). I was expecting something either very rural or very esoteric.

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

Then I started playing. And noticed I got a really nice piano trio. I clicked on the album cover to enlarge and finally noticed in small white letters that we’re talking about Thierry Maillard’s latest album.

I knew this French pianist from his 2013 album Beyond the Ocean, which I really liked. OK, so moving from the sea to the mountains now.

Now what should you expect from this album? Well, the easiest is to click on the Youtube link below to get an idea, but basically this is very melodic trio jazz, in the way I realyl like it. André Ceccarelli is a French drum legend, who’s played a lot of jazz but also with pop artists like Sting or Tina Turner. He is one of the best drummers France has to offer.

I must admit I didn’t know Dominique Di Piazza, the French bassist, but it turns out he played with John McLaughlin in the past. He doesn’t limit himself to the traditional upright double bass, but goes into electric bass playing quite a bit.

Therefore, very experienced personnel here, and it shows. They pay a lot of attention to each other, and therefore each of the 16 tracks, are worth discovering. We’re not getting a lot of standards, but originals. Some background reading about the album tells me it was essentially composed after the Bataclan terrorist attacks in Paris. However, there’s no terror in here, just beauty.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz)

Reis/Demuth/Wiltgen: Places in Between – A Review

The Jazz Piano Trio

As regular readers know, I’m always on the lookout for new piano trios, as it is one of my favorite art forms.

The trio I’ll be writing below isn’t new to me, I already discovered them with their previous album, which was simply titled Reis/Demuth/Wiltgen and released on the French label Laborie Jazz.

Reis/Demuth/Wiltgen 

The naming of the band isn’t very complicated to explain, as we have Michel Reis on piano, Marc Demuth on bass, and Paul Wiltgen on drums.

All three come from Luxembourg, the small place in the middle of Europe known to most people as a tax haven, and somehow next to Brussels and Strasbourg host to some of the EU institutions. Beyond those clichés it’s actually a beautiful little place.

I really liked their first debut album on Laborie, so I was very curious to hear their latest release, which came out some weeks ago in August.

Places In Between (Double Moon Records 2016)

Reis-Demuth-Wiltgen Places in Between Double Moon 2016

So how do I like it? Well to be honest, I liked their previous album better, I found it more inspiring.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a well done jazz trio album. You can really feel that the three musicians are well connected, this isn’t some collection of stars just put together for one album.

So what’s my issue with it? I guess it’s probably the songs. All are “nice”, but I don’t know, they leave me hungry for more.

More of what? If only I knew. I guess this won’t be the most useful music review I’ve ever written, as I keep rambling without giving you anything concrete. There are nice moments, e.g. the melodic developments on Joule’s Last Glimpse, the light swing of The Story of You and Me,  or the excellent drive of Paul Wiltgen on Shai. 

And it is really hard to put my finger on it as there’s really nothing wrong with the album.

I’ll just leave it at that and recommend their 2013 album instead, and wait if the new album grows on me. It has happened before.

 

Reis/Demuth/Wiltgen Laborie Jazz 2013

My rating: 3 stars (could eventually turn into 4 stars, let’s see) for Places In Between, and 4 stars for Reis/Demuth/Wiltgen.

You can download Places In Between here (Qobuz), and the former album here (Qobuz too)

Recommended: Julia Hülsmann Trio – Imprint

The Jazz Piano Trio

I’ve said it before, we really do live in the Golden Age of the Jazz Piano trio (actually, I’ve even started a discussion thread on this prior to starting this blog, see here (http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f15-music-general/are-we-living-golden-age-jazz-piano-trio-18603/)

Women in Jazz?

Are we living in the Golden Age for female Jazz musicians? Probably not yet. Traditionally, in Jazz women were pretty much set to the role of singer. If they could play the piano, even better (e.g. Nina Simone, Diana Krall, or more recently Sarah McKenzie), all fine, but go find a female instrumentalist, and you’ll have a much harder time. Carla Bley, Hiromi, Maria Schneider, and that’s were my list (from memory) ends.

Hold on, there is one more (actually 2-3 more, watch this space for future articles):

Julia Hülsmann

Julia Hülsmann, German, is one of these exceptions (and actually, has studies with Maria Schneider in the past).

Her regular trio is featuring two other excellent musicians, Mark Muellbauer on bass and Heinrich Köbberling on drums.

I discovered her during the release concert of her album Imprint at Moods in Zurich, back in 2011, and this album to this day remains my favorite one of her.

Since then I’ve also seen her play live with Theo Bleckmann music from her latest release of Kurt Weill music (to be reviewed another time) at Nochtspeicher in Hamburg.

Julia Hülsmann Trio: Imprint (ECM 2011)

Julia Hülsmann Trio Imprint ECM 2011

Imprint is her second album on ECM after the equally exciting The End Of Summer. 

My favorite tracks are Grand Canyon, with a great rhythmic drive,  Zahlen bitte, which starts with a great drum solo by Köbberling, and Ulmenwall. The album is typical ECM house style, very lyrical, and very well recorded.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz), and here (HDtracks)

Recommended: Ted Rosenthal Trio – My Funny Valentine – A Review

This album was flagged to me some time ago by fellow music lover Melvin, and I must admit it is really nice.

I’ve been collecting piano trio albums for quite a while now, and this was a great new discovery for me.

Ted Rosenthal Trio: My Funny Valentine (Venus 2008)

Ted Rosenthal Trio My Funny Valentine 2008

NYC based Ted Rosenthal plays here with George Mraz and Al Foster.

This album reminds me a lot of Oscar Peterson, and actually, George Mraz at some point has played with Oscar.

This album is all about relaxed swing, some may think it is a bit too “straight”, but if you like this kind of style (e.g. Oscar Peterson’s Night Train) you should really give it a go.

Beyond Mraz, Al Foster really is the driving force behind this album. This drum legend, who has played with all of the great Jazz names from (Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, etc. etc., it’s nearly easier to list who he hasn’t played with).

Already the starting track is really nice: You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To, a standard I have on more than 10 albums, including Keith Jarrett (it’s on At The Blue Note), this could easily become one of my favorite versions.

Another highlight follows: the title track, My Funny Valentine, a beautiful ballad of nearly 7 minutes.

And you’ll find another great classic near the end of the album: Summertime, in a truly enjoyable version.

Recommended!

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz, as 16/44 download) and here (Acoustic Sounds, the original SACD)

Brad Mehldau Trio: Blues and Ballads – A Review

Brad Mehldau

I have an ambiguous relationship to Brad Mehldau’s music. On the one hand, I’ve featured him both in my 25 Essential Jazz albums, and My Top 10 Jazz Covers of Pop Songs, which means there is stuff he’s done I really love and would rate 5 star.

I also liked his recent 10 Years Solo Live album which I have yet to review, and had a ticket for one of his recent solo concerts (which unfortunately I couldn’t attend as a gastric flu had knocked me out).

On the other hand, there are albums I just loathe, and give them a solid two stars (really not my cup of tea), e.g. Largo.

Nevertheless, I’ve been following him quite closely, you just never know what you get next.

Blues and Ballads (Nonesuch 2016)

So obviously, the moment the new trio album came out (just some days ago), I started streaming it.

So, are we in two or five star territory here?

Brad Mehldau Trio Blues and Ballads 24 88 Nonesuch 2016

Actually, neither nor.

My first impression here is “quite nice”. And not in the indirect sense that the word nice these days is quite regularly used, I actually kind of like it.

There are some beautiful ballads, several of them 9 or 10 minutes long (something I  often appreciate, as it gives the music more time to develop).

Some of my favorite tracks are the two last ones on the album And I Love Her, and My Valentine. These two alone, for my particular taste, make the album worth checking out.

On the other hand, when we go to the first part of the album title, the Blues part, I’m less convinced. There are tracks I personally could easily live without, e.g. Cheryl, where to my ears the trio tries to sound like Monk but doesn’t really succeed.

Another really enjoyable track is the Jon Brion cover Little Person, confirming again that Mehldau plays an important role in bringing the contemporary Pop repertoire into Jazz.  

 

So overall, a slightly mixed bag, but I still like the good tracks of the album enough to recommend the entire thing. Will I buy this (which I do for my personal favorites and to support the artist) or stick to streaming? Time will tell, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up clicking on the buy button eventually.

In any case, give it a try!

My rating: 4 stars (this is one more of the cases where I was hesitating to give 3.5 stars, but I don’t want to stray away from my own rating scale, and the good songs on this album are really worth it).

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Nonesuch’s own online store)