He recommended Omer Klein´s latest album Sleepwalkers. I must admit I had never heard the name before. Not sure if that’s a good or a bad sign, given how much I care about this kind of music, but probably it just speaks to the fact that we’re truly living in the Golden Age of the Piano Trio with so many fantastic artists out there.
Omer Klein is yet another pianist coming out of Israel, like so many other excellent Jazz musicians (how does such a small country do that?).
Anyhow when I noticed that Klein was scheduled for last Sunday and I happened to be in Switzerland that weekend, I knew what I had to do.
Omer Klein Trio Live At Moods – January 18, 2018
Moods remains my favorite Jazz club in Switzerland. Just the right size, good acoustics, nice drinks, and an excellent program.
So, what did we get?
Let me start by say that what I thought from my original listening to Sleepwalkers confirmed itself. As you know if you read my blog on a regular basis, I’m a sucker for melodies. Omer Klein´s trio is much more focused on rhythms and modal changes than on melodies.
So initially, for the first moments, I was a bit skeptical.
However, I was very quickly won over by the sheer musical power this trio had to offer. The technical abilities of all three musicians, including Haggai Cohen Milo on bass, were just outstanding. Nothing ever seemed complicated to them, they played with so much ease and fun the most complex passages, I was just blown away.
But let’s be clear, this was never technical ability for the sake of it, this was always just driven by the music. All three musicians are clearly passionate about what they are doing, and were visibly having fun during the concert.
In a way, the real driving force behind most songs was the spectacular Amir Bresler on drums. His drive and groove was just fantastics (hence the slightly cheesy title of this blog post borrowed from Austin Powers).
Very interestingly, this trio didn’t follow the typical format of Jazz concerts, where after the intro the musicians get to solo. They played constantly in a very intertwined way (only in the very last song, Bressler got to show off a bit). Songs typically lasted 8-10 minutes and more, and were never boring in any way. Also, there wasn’t´a single standard in the entire concert, only originals.
Overall, an excellent concert. The audience was amazed, and so was I.
If you get a chance to see them live, please do. They are exceptional musicians.
And if they don’t play near you, luckily this concert was recorded and will be put onto the Moods.digital streaming website. This is a subscription well worth having, as you can access all concerts since early 2017 at Moods, recorded in excellent audio and video. I´ll publish a link later when it becomes available.
Why streaming is a good thing – at least for the consumers
It´s amazing how our listening habits have changed in so little time since streaming arrived. I was personally late to the game, only started less than two years ago (about the time when I started this blog).
In the not so “old days”, one had to go to a record store and listen to new music there. That was an adventure on its own, and if you had a good CD (or vinyl) dealer, you even got some great advice.
Well, we can safely assume that CD stores will mostly go the way of video rental stores, with few exceptions. You may like this trend or not, but for me, streaming has opened up new worlds.
You basically get every single new album, the day it is out, directly onto your computer, in CD quality or even better. And this for a relatively modest fee, about the price of 1-2 CDs. I’ve discovered so much new music like this, stuff that I wouldn’t otherwise have explored.
So from a customer perspective there is a real gain. From a musician perspective, things are obviously different, as musicians only make very little money from streaming if you’re not Beyonce. I assume for this reason, many smaller labels, like ECM, Chandos, or Hyperion didn’t allow streaming until now.
It looks like things are changing again, as labels do realize that streaming may be a tricky business model, but if you’re not on it, you’re out of mind for too many music lovers. ECM came first recently, Chandos just started, and I hope Hyperion will follow.
It is just that especially for classical music there is no decent way to sample music before you buy now that CD stores are gone, and the 30 seconds snippets from Amazon may work for Bruno Mars, but not for a 50 minute classical piece.
Which lead to me often ignoring recordings, like this particular one. I’ve mentioned it previously in my post about the 2017 Gramophone award nominations. To quote myself “I have only heard it once on the radio (again, also Chandos doesn´t stream), and liked it, but wasn´t blown away. Not interesting enough for me to spend money blindly on it“. There you go. I’ve simply ignored a truly great recording just because of their lack of streaming.
But please, fellow music lovers, remember, no musician can live off streaming only. So, please, if you like something, buy the album, or go to their concert. We want these great musicians to be able to live off what they are doing!
No. 15 is the last one, and to me pretty much on par with the two others as well as the outstanding String Quintet (see here and here for my favorite versions).
No. 15 is a true masterpiece, and longer than most of Schubert´s symphonies. My initial versions of this were the great Alban Berg Quartet and the Quartetto Italiano.
The Doric String Quartet is a young UK-based quartet, with Alex Redington and Jonathan Stone on violin, Hélène Clément viola, and John Myerscough on cello. The quartet has won a number of prices and awards yet, including several high praises by Gramophone.
And as already mentioned above, my superficial listening on the radio simply wasn’t enough to make up my mind. The playing is truly excellent, showing all the passion that late Schubert requires, but at the same time the attention to detail that shows all the little nuances that Schubert is so good at hiding in the music. This is truly breathtaking.
Did I mention you also get the Quartettsatz, a one movement quartet from Schubert? We won’t say no to this!
My rating: 5 stars
As mentioned previously, Gramophone agrees, this was and Editor´s Choice, and shortlisted for the 2017 Gramophone Awards. Germany´s Fono Forum also gives 5 stars.
You can find it here (Qobuz, who at the time of writing has a special offer on all Chandos), and here (Chandos own online store)
As most of you, I have made a couple of New Years resolutions. Among them was, not suprisingly, exercise more and eat healthier. Well, 7 days in and, while improving, I’m far from where I want to be (although slightly better than last year).
Another resolution was to go to more concerts. There are so many fantastic concerts out there, and I have the privilege of often being in places that offer excellent musical performances on a regular basis. Berlin is a case in point, where I happened to be quite a bit recently.
So, I guess starting with my first concert on January 6 is a good starting point for the last resolution. Let’s see how I continue from here.
A lot of firsts
This concert was a lot of “firsts” for me. First concert of the year, first time I’m listening to a concert performance of any of the three composers on the program (more about that later), first time I see Alina Igrabimova and Cedric Tiberghien in concert, first time the two are actually mentioned on this blog (beyond a small side note in passing), and first time a Berlin´s new Pierre Boulez Saal.
Pierre Boulez Saal
The Pierre Boulez Saal is the latest of the classical music venues in Berlin. It was built as part of the Barenboim-Said academy. It formally opened in March of 2017. It was planned by architecture legend Frank Gehry as a Salle Modulable, i.e. with a lot of flexibility.
Entering the building, I really like the architecture of the overall hallway, with a nice mix of traditional and modern elements over the several floors.
However, entering the Boulez Saal itself, I was a bit underwhelmed. Being a big Frank Gehry fan, I kind of expected more. It kind of reminds me of a smaller Roman amphitheater, just more wood, less stone.
And honestly, who designed the patterns covering the seats? This weird mix of blue and red reminds me of some of the public transport seats in Europe that use complex patterns to deter graffiti. I don’t expect the typically 50+ classical music audience to be big into graffiti, so no idea what went on here.
But well, I shouldn’t be too negative, the acoustics were quite nice, you have excellent visibility from pretty much all seats, and to really honor the concept of a roundish concert hall, the piano was turned during the break having the artists face the other way in the second half of the concert.
Anyhow, there is quite an intriguing concept behind the hall, and it is hard to take pictures in there (and unfortunately forbidden during the concert, so no pictures from the artists here…), therefore I suggest you check out this video:
Alina Ibragimova and Cedric Tiberghien
Two young, brilliant artists that I’ve never mentioned on my blog in 2+ years. How come? I actually like both.
The reason is more or less technical. Both mainly record for Hyperion, and Hyperion doesn’t allow streaming. As mosts of my initial reviews are typically based on streaming (I like to sample before I buy), I haven’t really formally reviewed any of their recordings yet. However, the samples I was able to listen to were, plus the raving reviews everywhere, really made me curious.
32 year old Ibragimova has some highly praised albums, including her Bach solo sonatas, Ysaye´s solo sonatas, the Beethoven and Mozart sonatas with Tiberghien, and a really enjoyable recording of the Bach violin concertos. Tiberghien is not only her regular duo partner, but has also done some very nice solo recordings that are worth checking out.
So I was very enthusiastic to be able to see both of them live.
Ibragimova and Tiberghien At Boulez Saal playing Ysaye, Vierne, and Franck – January 6, 2018
And actually, to be fair, the first one isn’t even French but Belgian, Eugene Ysaye. I had heard about him, but never the Poème élégiaque that started the performance. As rare as it is for me, it is actually very refreshing hearing a piece of classical music performed for the very first time. You have a much more open reception.
And I was blown away. This relatively short piece was inspired by Shakespeare´s Romeo and Juliet, and you could certainly hear all the passion of this inspiration in there. Ibragimova played with a wonderful intensity, and Tiberghien was the perfect partner, never overshadowing, which the powerful sound of a Steinway can easily do.
Next came a composer I literally had to google. Louis Vierne. You may say Louis who? Turns out he’s relatively well known in France, but his reputation beyond the French borders is still very low. So I had no idea what to expect.
A violin sonata from a composer mainly known as an organist? Again, I was very positively surprised. My personal highlight was the second movement, Andante. I was literally mesmerized by the beauty of it. Isn’t it enjoyable that there is still so much beautiful music to be discovered?
After the break, we got my personal highlight of the evening, César Frank´s A-Major sonata. This piece I was much more familiar with, both from historic recordings with Heifetz, and from Isabelle Faust´s recent album on Franck and Chausson.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a Faust fanboy. But what Ibragimova and Tiberghien did last night was even significantly better than Faust´s excellent recorded performance. Given that this was a live event, the performers took quite some liberties on timing, but only to the benefit of this music. The audience, like me, was extremely enthusiastic.
As an encore, we got a beautiful work of one of Vierne´s pupils, Lili Boulanger, the less-well known sister of Nadia Boulanger, who unfortunately passed away at the young age of 24. The Nocturne was again of outstanding beauty.
Overall, an evening of extreme emotional intensity and passion
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)
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.
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)
Note that her Rameau album with Alexis Kossenko Le Grand Théatre de l’Amour is also outstanding.
I was also very close to put this into my Top 5 Classical Albums of 2017, I simply didn’t because I simply felt more comfortable writing about repertoire that I’m more familiar with. Consider this a late addition.
I must admit I’m really not a great expert on French music. I like the occasional Rameau, my understanding of Berlioz is pretty much limited to the Symphonie Fantastique, I know a handful of works by Franck, only dabble a bit in Debussy and Ravel, and that’s it.
Half of the names on this album I had barely heard of (Charles Koechlin, Ambroise Thomas), some were fully new to me (Maurice Delage, André Messager), and I’m also only very superficially familiar with the works of Delibes and Massenet, the two big names of French opera (after the obvious Bizet).
So keep this in mind when I write a “review” that it is hard to objectively judge something that you literally hear for the first time and have no reference in mind.
Sabine Deviehle – Mirages – Franz Xaver Roth – Les Siècles – Alexandre Tharaud (Erato 2017)
As mentioned, this is a rather unfamiliar repertoire for me. We start with André Messager, who has an impressive track record managing opera houses (Opéra Comique, Covent Garden, Opéra de Paris), but also did quite a bit of composing. This starts with an aria from his opera Madame Chrysanthème. from 1893. A beautiful melody if there ever was one. And then you get the angelic (sorry for falling into clichés…) voice of Devielhe, and you get immediate bliss.
Next is an extract from Claude Debussy´s Pelleas et Melisandre, one of the two works of the entire album I actually knew. Unfortunately, very short, beautiful nevertheless.
Lakmé is probably Leo Délibes most famous opera, written in 1880. And yes, even if you’ve never heard the name of the composer, you’ll most likely have come across his Flower Duet, which obviously gets featured on this album as well (we get a total of 3 tracks from Lakmé here, spread accross the album). Why am I so confident you know the Flower Duet? Well, it´s one of those pieces that developed a life on its own in movies and commercials. Don’t believe me? Scroll to 1:05 of this Youtube video:
4 consecutive tracks are devoted to Maurice Delage´s Poémes hindous. What? Exactly, no idea. Wikipedia tells me these (composed in 1912) are Delage´s most recorded work. I´ve been collecting classical music for 20+ years now, and I had never heard of the guy. Doesn’t matter, this is beautiful and an excellent discovery!
Another great revelation for me were a number of songs recorded with the great Alexandre Thauraud on piano, from Debussy, Stravinsky, Berlioz, and Koechlin.
Overall, in spite of Devielhe’s outstanding vocal capabilities, this album never turns into impressive self-serving vocal gymnastics, but is a a beautiful window into the French vocal repertoire.
Note to self: I should probably find a replacement adjective for beautiful here, as it pops up wait to often in this review.
Well, if you look up “beautiful” in http://www.thesaurus.com you’ll find, among others, dazzling, delightful, elegant, angelic, bewitching, and radiant. I couldn’t have summarized this album better.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
It´s probably a bit late for Christmas shopping, but if you’re still looking for something to put under the tree (or whatever other holiday you’re celebrating right now, if any), or if you just would like to make yourself a nice present, here’s my selection for 2017. For download links to each album, please follow the link to the original review.
Bach: St. Matthew Passion – John Eliot Gardiner
I may be a bit biased here as I heard Gardiner perform this live as part of the same European tour as when this was recorded, but while I’ve been not always convinced by Gardiner´s recent recordings, I feel this is one that will stand the test of time as a reference.
Brahms: The Symphonies – Andris Nelsons – Boston Symphony Orchestra
Brahms being in the subtitle of my album, he is obviously featured on a regular basis.
Note that this album may not be of universal appeal. This is really not the new lean style of “historically informed”, with lean orchestras, which I actually often really like. This is “old-style” Brahms, big, broad, and romantic. I feel it works especially well for the first symphony, in the big tradition of the Klemperers and Walters of this world (not yet Furtwängler and Toscanini).
In, any case if you answer yes to “Aimez-vous Brahms?”, you need to check this box out.
And yes, 2 out of 5 for the grandmaster from Hamburg. Another Brahms album.
And this time I can get rid of any disclaimer, this is just outstanding in any way. While playing with all his virtuosity power, these little (underrated) gems of Brahms here really get the treatment they deserve.
Mozart: Great Mass in C – Masaaki Suzuki – Bach Collegium Japan
This gets a special treatment by me, because it is probably one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.
Masaaki Suzuki and his Bach Collegium have never produced a bad album to my knowledge. The “worst” you get from this excellent Japanese ensemble is recordings that are a bit too polished and tame to my taste.
But here, none of that. Just beauty! This could well become a new reference recording for this work.
This album again may not be of universal appeal. A slightly more eclectic selection of music, a very young pianist, and a lot of extremes in one album.
I still preferred it to let’s say the extreme perfection of Zimerman´s new Schubert recording (another contender for this list), simply because of the piano performance of Stravinsky´s Firebird. I’m not even a particular fan of Stravinsky in general, but this recording is simply out of this world.