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.

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.

Adam Baldych & Helge Lien Trio: Brothers – A Review

Finally, another jazz review

As the subtitle of my blog indicates, I write about Classical Music and Jazz.

I really don’t have a strong preference between the two genres, I love them both very much. However, I’m not sure how much of an overlap there is between the following of the two genres among the readers of my blog. Please comment below and let me know if you prefer one style over the other, or if you like both like me.

In the beginning of my blog, I usually tried to alternate between Jazz and Classical for my blog posts. Recently, there has been a significantly higher percentage of classical on my blog. This is not because my preferences have changed, but rather because I prefer to review recent new releases, and not be reviewer no. 2173 to tell you that Kind Of Blue is a pretty decent album (it is by the way…)

And recently, the number of Jazz releases I like hasn’t been that big. And given that this blog is my personal one, I feel no obligation to write a bad review of an album I just don’t care about.

That’s why the average review score on my blog is somewhere between 4 and 5 stars, it’s just much more fun writing about stuff that is really good.

When I give lower reviews like the one that follows, it is typically about artists I care about, that often in the pre-streaming days I would have bought just for the name.

To wrap up this long intro: if you like Jazz and have been disappointed a bit by my blog recently, don’t dispair, I haven’t forgotten about this genre. I just can’t guarantee a 50/50 distribution of genres right now. The easiest solution is to subscribe to my blog, check out the headline, like this you can easily get alerted when a new post comes out.

Helge Lien

Helge Lien is one of these names. So far I’ve loved all his trio albums very much, see my review of his latest albums here and here. So I was very pleased to see that after Guzuguzu, Helge now released another album, on the German label ACT.

And as expected, I like very much what Helge does here.

So where is the obvious BUT?

Adam Baldych / Helge Lien Trio / Tore Brunborg – Brothers (ACT 2017)

Adam Baldych Helge Lien Trio Brothers Tore Brunborg 24 88 ACT 2017

Well, here it comes; It is the sound of Adam Baldych’s violin. Don’t get me wrong, Baldych is a fantastic musician. I can really appreciate his artistry here.

But I simply cannot get used to the sound of his violin in this context. It doesn’t fit.

So, this review, as usual on my blog, will be a very personal one.

There are tracks I really love, like the appropriately named Love, you get the full beauty of Helge’s trio, and Baldych decides to go pizzicato, during most of the track, i.e. plucking the strings, not using his bow.

But when he uses his bow all the time, I tend to switch off. A typical example is Faith, I simply can’t listen to the entire track.

Or take Cohen’s Hallelujah, a song I love even in the slightly cheesy Jeff Buckley version. If you’d take the violin out of this track, absolutely, like this, sorry, not my cup of tea.

Another solo addition to this album is the Norvegian saxophone player Tore Brunborg, that I knew from collaborations with Tord Gustavsen (Extended Circles) or Manu Katché.

Unfortunately, on this album he very much reminds me of Jan Garbarek. And I must admit, with a few important exceptions, that is a very particular sound I’m also not that fond of. So take a track like One or Brothers, which combine the two, and no way I won’t press the “skip” button before the track is over.

So, in a nutshell, great musicians, but not for me. You should still check it out, the playing is very good.

My rating: 3 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prostudiomasters)

 

Mare Nostrum II – Paolo Fresu, Richard Galliano, Jan Lundgren

Who says the European Union doesn’t work?

On this album, we have an Italian (from Sardinia), a French, and a Swede, playing together. Isn’t this what the European Union was all about, before it became a bureaucracy?

I’ve already seen Paolo Fresu and Richard Galliano live. The former in a beautiful duo concert with Ralph Towner on Guitar (as recorded on the beautiful ECM album Chiaroscuro); and Galliano many years ago in a fantastic gig with Michel Portal on clarinet (check out their common album Blow Up to get an idea). Lundgren I only know from some albums I own (and like).

The three already played together on the first album, Mare Nostrum, which  was released in 2007. Now, many years later we get the successor album:

Mare Nostrum II (ACT 2016)

Mare Nostrum is Latin for “our sea” and was the Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea.

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

We surely have a rather unusual combination of instruments here. Fresu often plays a Miles Davis-style dampened trumpet, which matches Galliano’s accordeon surprisingly well. Lundgren on piano plays his usually meditative style.

While these aren’t instruments you’d spontaneously assemble into a trio, this album again (like it’s predecessor) works surprisingly well.

My favorite tracks

I have two favorite tracks on this album.

No. 1 is Aurora.This is music for sitting on the deck of a sailing boat somewhere on the Mediterranean Sea with a nice chilled bottle of Rosé and feeling the warm breeze on your skin (sorry for this cheesy analogy, but I’m currently planning my summer vacation in Sardinia, so my imagination probably runs a bit wild…).

No. 2 is the beautiful cover of Satie’s Gnossienne, one of my favorite tracks by Eric Satie. Who know this simple composition could swing?

The only thing that this album could use is a bit more variety, we’re getting a lot of slow sentimental tracks, but I’d have loved at least one or two more uptempo songs, like Leklat.

But beyond this little complaint, this is beautiful music that is able to transport you elsewhere; and just enjoy the moment.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Highresaudio)

Iiro Rantala String Trio: Anyone With A Heart – Review

A String Trio Playing Jazz? Seriously?

Yes I know, this is a very unusual combination. You get Iiro Rantala from Finland, formerly with the Trio Töykeät, Adam Baldych on Violin, and Asja Valcic on Cello.

But don’t get scared, this is worth exploring!

Iro Rantala String Trio: Anyone With A Heart (ACT 2014)

Well, first of all, is this Jazz? Honestly, no idea. Rantala has studied not only Jazz, but also classical music, and is a proclaimed Bach fan. In any case, it is fascinating music, all composed by Rantala himself.

Iiro Rantala String Trio Anyone With A Heart Adam Baldych Asja Valcic Act 2014

 

One of my favorite tracks is Freedom, inspired by Jonathan Franzen’s novel (which I never really liked by the way). Here he dampens the piano to get a very particular sound. The strings even have oriental elements in their playing. All this is driven by a constant groove, that pulls you in and lets you sit on the edge of your chair. Here’s a video of Rantala performing a solo version of Freedom in his own place, to give you an idea what to expect:

 

My other favorite is the ballad Alone, that prominently features the beautiful sound of Valcic’s cello.

Again, this track probably isn’t what you’d call typical Jazz. I couldn’t care less. This is music that escapes traditional categories and genres, but is beautifully played by musicians who are in it with all their heart.

This is worth exploring if you’re looking for something different.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prostudiomasters)

Eeriness or How To Summarize Michael Wollny’s New Release in One Word

Michael Wollny

I’ve already praised his latest live album in my 25 essential Jazz albums. Michael Wollny, 37, is certainly one of the greatest talents in Jazz Germany has to offer these days.

So I was very glad when I was pointed to his latest album he just released, Nachtfahrten (literally, night rides or night drives).

Really, you’re going to say, my last post was about Chopin’s Nocturnes, and here comes another one about music of (or for) the night? Well, this wasn’t on purpose.

Nachtfahrten

In any case, when you listen to this album, think much more Debussy’s nocturnes, or Scriabin, than Chopin. There is none of the peacefulness of the Chopin around, the word that comes to mind listening to this new album is the beautiful English word “eery”, actually, you never feel fully safe listening to this album.

Michael Wollny Nachtfahrten Christian Weber Eric Schaefer ACT 2015

Where does this eeriness come from? Well, very slow tempi, dark harmonics, a very light touch by Eric Schaefer on drums, but all this doesn’t even come close to describing the feelings you’ll get from this album.

The track titles like Nachtmahr, a rather unusual German translation of nightmare,  Feu Follet, French for will-o’-the-wisp, Marion (named after Marion Crane, the blonde victim of the Psycho shower scene), or Metzengerstein, the name of Edgar Allen Poe’s first novel, don’t really help. Well, you get the idea.

There are some slightly lighter titles like Ellen, which is one of the few occasions where the trio gets to show that they are able to swing really well, but even these don’t break the overall dark mood of the album.

Several journalists have asked the question whether this is Jazz, Pop, or contemporary classical. Well, honestly, who cares. It is impressive music, full of a strange and irritating energy, that will draw you into the music. This is anything but background music for a cocktail party. It needs your full attention (and dimmed lights).

My rating: 4 stars

Two videos to give you an example, one with Michael commenting on the album, unfortunately in German only.

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