Speaking about the skills and talent of German-born pianist Benny Lackner, someone once said that he doesn’t have to be afraid of any comparisons to composers like Keith Jarrett or Brad Mehldau, and that “he has found his place in the upper league of Jazz Piano Trios“. Of course, this looks like an important and bold statement, which in any case reinforces an objective reality: the music composed by Lackner and played by the pianist with his bandmates is absolutely profound and engaging.
I can’t judge today whether the comparison between Lackner and the two above mentioned masters of “Jazz Trio” is correct or not. What I can say, for sure, is that the direction undertaken by Lackner to reach the top seems the right one one. Jarreth and Mehldau (who’s been one of Lackner’s mentors, by the way) have contributed to the development of this genre of Jazz with a depth and a resonance that perhaps is still unsurpassed; Lackner’s musical production, in any case, can be definitely considered within the most precious and exciting things we heard in the last few years.
Drake is the new album from the Benny Lackner Trio, and since the first time I started listening to it there has been one special thing which amazed me more everything else, and this is the adoption of an extremely essential musical language, at times minimal, which is incredibly far from those mere demonstrations of technique and virtuosity that too often we hear in modern Jazz. In this sense, Lackner has found a extremely personal code for breaking the rules of standard Piano Trio music. The modernity and innovation of Lackner ‘s style, to some extent, are the characteristics that bring him closer to the giants of Jazz that were mentioned before.
Drake offers to the listeners a very elegant, sober, and extremely delicate collection of Jazz music blended with contemporary electronic elements. The piano is at the centre of every composition, but we would make a great mistake by relegating the two supporting musicians (bassist Jerome Regard and drummer Matthieu Chazarenc) to the role of pure accompaniment. The two are in fact the architects of those rarefied and magical atmospheres that we find in all the tracks of the LP.
The rhythms in Drake are moderately slow. All the chords, and sometimes the single notes, seem to arrive after a profound phase of reflection on the harmonic and melodic effect they will produce on the song. There is little sense of spontaneousness, and we don’t feel either the immediacy of the typical Jazz improvisation process, which is however compensated by a persistent attention to maintaining a constant sonic balance throughout the pieces.
The result is a music that, at least from an objective point of view, should appear cold, almost mathematical, but that actually evokes continuous streams of emotions. That’s the magic and uniqueness of Lackner’s music, which, in the end, is absolutely enjoyable to listen to.
My overall rating for the LP is 8/10. This is one of the best Jazz albums among those I’ve listened so far in 2019. It’s not easy to indicate which are my favourite pieces because it’s the overall level of quality of the LP which makes the difference. Anyway, there are a bunch of songs which evoked the strongest emotions: Tears, It’s Gonna Happen,Yorke and the opening track I Told You so.
Drake is available on iTunes and it can be streamed also from Spotify. The album is now featured in The JAZZ MUSIC Radar, which is the playlist collecting the best Jazz songs released since the beginning of the year.
My personal statistics say that in the case of World Music it’s not so common to find records that are really worthy of attention, compared to other genres of music. But when we manage to come across a valid and meaningful album, we are usually in front of an extraordinary work of art, gifted by impressive quality and intensity. This is the reason why the list of records that I’m presenting in this article is particularly important.
In the following I’m presenting four albums of World Music that I selected among all those released in the firsts part of the year, specifically between the beginning of 2019 and the middle of March. Four artists, four different ways to intepret world music, but the same deep research for the maximum quality of the musical expression.
Enjoy this digest and don’t forget to come back periodically to check for updates.
“Bosque Magico – Tu Tiempo”, by Bosque Magico
In music, as well as in many other art forms, the fusion of different styles and cultures often produces the most surprising and spectacular results. This is certainly the case of Bosque Magico, the new project founded by German guitarist Ralf Siedhoff together with the Ukrainian oboist Mykyta Sierov. Two languages, approximately 2000 km of separation, but the two artists managed to meet on the musical level.
The music of Bosque Magico is absolutely elegant, delicate, varied and exciting. The presence of the oboe is certainly the most particular element: we are used to listening to this instrument in the context of classical rather than world music. The songs of the album range between quite different genres and styles: we have in fact influences from Indian music, flamenco, pop and jazz. For recording the LP, Siedhoof and Sierov were also supported by a group of skilled musicians: percussionists Karthik Mani (from India) and Ernesto Martinez (from Spain), drummer Magnus Dauner (from Germany), flamenco guitarist Manuel Delgado and his daughter Carmela on and bandoneon.
In short: this is a record that contains many innovative elements and it also presents multiple cultural elements fused together in an excellent manner. Not to be missed!
“Reminiscence”, by Aukai
Among the most interesting releases we had in the first weeks of the year there is an album that although originally included in the category of electro-acoustic records, it still features so many components of world music that it’s absolutely possible to mention it here. This is called Reminiscence, and it’s the new album produced by Aukai, which is the acoustic ambient project founded by American composer and instrumentalist Markus Sieber.
Reminiscence has the capacity to capture the listener’s attention with the elegance and the gentleness of its songs, which are relaxing but also engaging and moving. This album is ideal for every moment when you don’t want anything else than enjoying beautiful instrumental music, and let your mind travel.
I’ve published a dedicated review of the LP, you can read it from here.
“Elephantine”, by Maurice Louca
Another album that has caught my attention in the last months is Elephantine, the newest LP released by Egyptian musician and composer Maurice Louca, who is known also for being a member (and co-founder) of a number of formations such as Bikya, Alif and Dwarves. Elephantine was introduced by Louca as his most ambitious project to date, and in effect the LP sees him guiding a 12-piece ensemble.
The disk seems to be the result of two different compositional processes. On the one hand, we have a series of experimental songs mostly relying on the improvisational skills of the musicians. These songs are on the border between world music and pure experimentation and, to be truly honest, these are not among my favourites tracks the album. Then, there are other “classical” world music songs which are still based on the elaboration of an initial sequence of notes, but where the improvisation is kept more controlled and the development of the piece is made through the progressive introduction of different instruments. In these cases, in my opinion, the album reaches the highest, and impressive, levels of quality level. The opening track of the album, named The Leper, is representative of this second kind of songs, and it’s also one of the best pieces of the whole LP.
“Black Blank”, by Laurent Assoulen
Today, we’re very much used to listen to musical hybrids, and that between Jazz and World music is actually one of the most common ones. Nevertheless, when we enjoy a new album which manages to make us travel so naturally between different genres of music, it’s always a very nice and exciting experience.
Laurent Assoulen is a talented French pianist, but what impresses of his work is not much his technique, but rather the fact that he’s a great lover of fascinating melodies, ethnic sounds and popular tunes. And what he does with his ensemble is basically to share with us these beautiful themes by transforming them into catchy but still intriguing and poetic Jazz songs.
Assoulen’s new album, called Black Blank, features a number of pieces that reflect the modern canons of contemporary Jazz, but there are also many other songs where the pianist ventures into the field of World music, mixing the typical dynamics of Jazz with deeply suggestive ethnic sounds and melodies.
I’ve published a short review of the LP, you can read it from here.
If you liked this selection of albums, you will love THE VOYAGER, the playlist that I’m curating on Spotify with the best of World Music. Almost five hours of the most exciting and fascinating music from all over the world.
The first time I had the pleasure to listen to the music played by French pianist Laurent Assoulen, the thing that impressed me the most was not his technique or virtuosity, but rather his clear passion for fascinating melodies, ethnic sounds and popular tunes. What he does in most of his compositions is basically to start from a beautiful and catchy motif, and then manipulate and elaborate into an intriguing Jazz piece.
Assoulen’s new album, named Black Blank, can be divided into two main groups of songs. On the one hand, we have a number of pieces that reflect the modern canons of contemporary Jazz, still with a special emphasis on melody and catchiness. These songs are all extremely sweet, serene and seem perfect to accompany many moments of our days. Someone could lack something in terms of harmonic complexity and improvisation, but this is balanced an accentuated weight of the melodic component.
The second group of songs is the one where Assoulen ventures into the field of World music, mixing the typical dynamics of Jazz with deeply suggestive ethnic sounds and melodies. These two categories of songs alternate along the LP, making the listening experience extremely dynamic and lively.
I’m giving this album a rating of 6/10. Black Blank is the perfect LP for all those moments in which we want to enjoy elegant and fascinating melodies, and leaving our mind free to travel into distant regions of the world.
My favourite songs of the LP are: Every Day is a New Life, Col Chic, Far Away and Waking up in Africa.
Black Blank can be streamed from Spotify, and a couple of songs from the LP are now featured on two of the playlists that are curated by the blog: The Voyager (special selections in World Music) and The JAZZ MUSIC Radar (the best jazz songs of 2019). Enjoy, and follow them!
With this article, I inaugurate a new series of posts dedicated to the magical world of Vocal Jazz. You’ll find here a periodic selection of the best LPs that I had the opportunity to hear, and that I’m recommending to my readers. But, most important, you’ll have the possibility to enjoy some of the most beautiful and talented contemporary singers.
The first episode of the VOCAL JAZZ radar features six albums that I’ve picked one by one during the last two months. For each of these albums I wrote only a few introductory notes because in this case, more than any other article, I would like to leave as much space as possible to the music and these fantastic voices.
Enjoy this selection of albums, and stay tuned for the future episodes of the radar!
“Come Home”, by Rigmor Gustafsson
Rigmor Elisabeth Gustafsson is a Swedish jazz singer who has achieved large notoriety and even a number of prestigious awards, such as the Swedish Royal Musical Academy’s Jazz Award and a Swedish Grammy. She’s not only an acclaimed interpreter but she’s also the author of many of her songs. In her impressive career, she has already released nine albums in her own name, which all show an incessant desire to try new paths.
In her new LP, called Come Home, the singer interprets both original songs and covers. In both cases, the quality of the final result is a combination of her profound and characteristic voice, and the beautiful music played by the supporting trio, which consists of pianist Jonas Östholm, bassist Martin Höper and drummer Chris Montgomery.
My favourite songs of the LP are The Light Years, Twist in my Sobriety, and the final piece Come Home. The album is available for streaming from Spotify.
“First Instinct”, by Leala Cyr
The story of Leala Cyr tells of a musician who had started her career as a trumpet player, but who at one point discovered she had incredible singing skills. Today she is performing professionally across the globe, and in her new LP, named First Instinct, she showcases all of her capabilities as both musician and vocalist.
The album is excellent for both what concerns the quality of the music, and of course for the beautiful and shiny voice of the singer. My favourite songs of the LP are Give Me, Summertime, and the title track First Istinct. Cyr’s new album can be streamed from Spotify.
“Smolder”, by Kristen Lee Sergeant
American singer Kristen Lee Sergeant debuted in 2016 with her first record, Inside Out, which already achieved important mentions by Jazz critics for her particular style of “dramatic” singing. When we listen to her songs, in fact, we quickly recognize that she is theatrically trained: in her performances, it’s possible to appreciate a capacity of interpretation of the lyrics that goes well beyond the technical vocal aspect.
Smolder, Sergeant’s new release, showcases once again her particular style of singing but also her skills as a songwriter, arranger and also creative improviser. My favourite songs on the album are the single Balm/Burn and the impressive cover of These Foolish Things. The album can be streamed from Spotify.
“Sisters in Jazz”, Cæcilie Norby
Danish singer Cæcilie Norby has gained an important reputation in the world of vocal jazz and in her career she has already released many successful records where famous songs belonging to different genres have been reinterpreted through her particular voice (in this regard, it’s worth remembering that for about ten years she was also the singer of a rock band, the Frontline).
For her latest release, Sisters in Jazz, the singer has called for the support of an ensemble of all female musicians from several countries and generations: Italian pianist Rita Marcotulli, Czech saxophonist Nicole Johänntgen, Norwegian trumpet player Hildegunn Øiseth, Polish drummer Dorota Pietrowska and German bassist Lisa Wulff. Together, they play both song-classics by Betty Carter, Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone or Abbey Lincoln, alongside with a few original compositions by Cæcilie Norby. My favourite songs of the album are Love Has Gone Away, First Conversation and Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. The LP can be streamed from Spotify.
“Vintage”, by Beth Goldwater
Beth Goldwater is a singer and songwriter who grew up and settled down in the Philadelphia area. Her new album of Jazz standards, called Vintage, is a natural continuation of the work she did in her previous LP Seduisánte.
My favourite covers among those featured in Goldwater’s new album are Pheraps Pheraps Pheraps, Fly to the Moon, and the evergreens My Funny Valentine and What a Wonderful World. The album can be streamed on Spotify.
“Louder Every Minute”, by Susan Hanlon
Susan Hanlon is a singer & voice teacher in the Dallas area. Susan earned her M.A in Voice at The University of North Texas. Her graduate studies centred around vocal pedagogy and commercial vocal techniques.
Louder Every Minute, Susan’s new album, features original tunes in combination with arrangements of pop and jazz standards. My favourite songs of her new LP are Let Go, Blindsided, and You Take My Breath Away, and Wild Oranges & Butterflies. The album can be streamed on Spotify.
If you liked this selection of artists, you will love the playlist VOCAL JAZZ, which features the best singers of the last couple of years. More than 70 songs for many hours of crystalline beauty.
With the current rate of release of good albums, it’s necessary to have frequent updates of the JAZZ MUSIC Radar. This third episode of the radar features a selection of albums that were released principally after the first days of February. As already said before, the list of records that you’ll find below is fairly representative of what’s happening in contemporary Jazz but it’s not intended to report every and single release that occurred in the period of interest, but rather to recommend a group of albums and artists that got my attention because of their quality and originality.
Before starting with the review of the new albums, let’s remember what we discussed in the previous episodes:
Episode 1: Jose Carra, Kevin Reveyrand, Sean Hicke, and Melon Shades.
Episode 2: Christian Li / Mike Bono, Andrew Lawrence, Mark Lockheart, Wandering Monster, Graham Costello’s STRATA, Manu Katché, Paolo Fresu / Richard Galliano / Jan Lundgren
Let’s see the artists that emerged in the last few weeks, and stay tuned for future updates!
“Steps”, by Salieri Govoni Negrelli Trio
I’m happy to start the new issue of the radar with an album coming from Italy, which is the second album in the discography of the Jazz ensemble Salieri Govoni Negrelli Trio, which consists of Jacopo Salieri (piano), Nicola Govoni (double bass), and Fausto Negrelli (drums). Their brand new release, named Steps, offers a nice and intriguing version of contemporary Jazz which takes influences and inspirations from many giants of today scene, from GoGoPenguin to Avishai Cohen.
Steps fits in that wide category of albums that consider the accessibility of Jazz as one of the key objectives to be pursued. And this goal here is fully achieved. In fact, the songs of Steps are full of enjoyable melodies, punctuated and groovy rhythms, and also quite linear progressions of chords. Improvisation is present but relegated to a secondary role. The cohesion among the instruments, the harmonic development and the rhythmic intensity are definitely more important for the three Italian musicians. Of course, such a “mainstream” approach to jazz brings with it the risk that music may become a little predictable, with very few surprises. Indeed, there are some tracks on the record that are destined to slip away from the listener’s memory (I can mention Along the River). Other pieces are decidedly more stimulating and manage in being, at the same time, extremely melodic and interesting to explore from the point of view of the harmonic constructs and counterpoint (the title track is a good example).
My overall opinion is positive. We all need a bunch of good records to be put in the stereo every now and then to fill the walls of our house with catchy and enjoyable songs: we’re not always in the mood to focus our attention on conceptual architectures of sounds or atonal melodies. Coming back to the specific case of Steps, here the balance between the most interesting songs and the less successful ones is in favour of the first, also because in the latter we can still appreciate a nice balance of sounds, strengthened by a remarkable production.
“The Alaska Sessions”, by Accidental Tourists (Burger, Erskine, Magnusson)
One of the most beautiful releases of the last few weeks was without any doubt the new record by Markus Burger‘s project Accidental Tourists. For his latest record, named The Alaska Sessions, Burger asked the collaboration of two of the most renowned musicians of the American jazz scene: acclaimed drummer Peter Erskine and bassist Bob Magnusson.
The Alaska Sessions features a collection of beautiful songs that were initially written by Burger during a series of trips he made in Alaska and then interpreted by the trio during an intense two-day recording session in Los Angeles. The LP is absolutely, and objectively, a great album to listen to. The three musicians managed to convey that sense of “classic” and universal amazement that only the wildest and most uncontaminated nature can give to a man. Starting from Burger’s nature-inspired and valuable material, Erskine and Magnusson did much more than just supporting the leader, they enriched all the pieces with significant and remarkable contributions.
The Alaska Sessions was included in the category of the Best New Music, and you can read here the full review of the album.
“The Addition of Strangeness”, by Doron Segal
The Addition of Strangeness, which is the debut LP from Israeli jazz pianist Doron Segal, is one of those records that can demonstrate to the sceptical ones how modern Jazz, when played by brilliant musicians, can really tell about the world where we live today, and not of something that exists only in our memories. The music offered by Segal follows the path that was initiated by other brilliant musicians like Shai Maestro and Tigran Hamaysan, which sees the combination of timeless and beautiful melodies with alterations and influences coming from many different sources of inspiration, spanning from folk to rock.
This was one of the best debut albums that I had the opportunity to enjoy since the beginning of the year. Doron Segal is a new promise of the international jazz scene and his music is at the same time modern, relatively accessible, but full of interesting details.
I have published a dedicated review of the LP, you can access it from here.
“And Then Comes the Night”, by Mats Eilertsen
An album like And Then Comes the Night is totally built upon atmospheres. The music wrote by Norwegian bassist Mats Eilertsen for his new LP leverages the contrasts and the combinations that are created by the instruments to arouse strong emotions in the listener, and you will end up venturing into foggy and partly haunting musical landscapes.
Eilertsen is supported for this release by Dutch jazz pianist Harmen Fraanje and renowned and prolific Norwegian drummer Thomas Strønen. The three interpreters alternate (short) moments in which they follow the same melody, with longer phases in which they diverge along different directions, with each musician following his own spark of inspiration. The three, however, always manage to keep the individual improvisations almost consistent with the general atmosphere of the songs.
And Then Comes the Night is a very special record, extremely atmospheric, in which part of the charm comes from the music, and part from the silence.
“Imaginary Friends”, by Ralph Alessi
I couldn’t imagine closing this review of the most relevant events in Jazz without mentioning the new record by American jazz trumpeter Ralph Alessi. Imaginary Friends, his latest effort, develops mainly around the duet between Alessi’s trumpet and the saxophone of his friend and longtime music partner Ravi Coltrane.
Alessi and Coltrane are the two undisputed protagonists of the album, and they basically polarize the attention on all the songs of the LP, which however benefit also of the precious support from pianist Andy Milne, drummer Mark Ferber, and bassist Drew Gress.
The album is mainly based on improvisation, and the aspect that I liked the most of these songs is given by the suspended and at times dark atmospheres that are created by the musicians. Compared to Alessi’s previous release (2016’s Quiver), the songs of Imaginary Friends seem to me relatively less immediate and dramatic, but the album as a whole is still deep and full of many details to savour with calm and tranquillity.
All the new releases in Jazz are collected in The JAZZ MUSIC Radar, the playlist on Spotify which features all the artists and the best songs that are mentioned in this series of articles. Listen to it, follow it, and spread the word!
Accidental Tourists is the jazz music project led by German pianist and composer Markus Burger, who is supported, on every release, by others acclaimed and talented musicians. For his latest record, named The Alaska Sessions, Burger asked the collaboration of two of the most renowned musicians of the American jazz scene: acclaimed drummer Peter Erskine and bassist Bob Magnusson. As some already said, this ensemble basically combined European elegance with an “American drive”.
The Alaska Sessions features a collection of beautiful songs that were initially written by Burger during a series of trips he made in Alaska and then interpreted by the trio during an intense two-day recording session in Los Angeles. “Interpreted” is really the right word to use because each song uses Borg’s input melodies as the starting point for precious and fascinating improvisations by the three artists. The result is a kind of jazz that keeps always a strong melodic baseline, with lots of classical and chamber-music influences, but at the same leaves the musicians free to explore all the harmonic, rhythmic and melodic boundaries of the central motif.
The song The Beginning of a Love Affair, as an example, has at least two different levels of listening: one is that of the piece in the foreground, which is a beautiful ballad played by Burger on his piano and that could very well be isolated from the rest of the music, and considered as a piece in itself, for how it is poetic and exciting; at a deeper level of listening we can focus our attention to the animated counterpoint that’s established between the piano and the beautiful Magnusson’s bass lines.
In this specific song, the drums appear to have a supporting role, but the situation is reversed for example in the next song, Kaleidoscope, where the rhythmic component is really the backbone of the song, with a persistent rhythmic motif that is as effective as it is immediate and original. In Skeys, the duet between the piano and the drums polarizes the listener’s attention, but still, we have one of the most impressive bass solos of the entire record.
In general terms, The Alaska Sessions is absolutely, and objectively, a great album to listen to. The first thing that impressed me was the quality of the sounds. Each instrument is reproduced with a sound which is at the same time crystal clear and extremely rich of thousands of shades and nuances. The sound engineers in this case really did an outstanding job: the three instruments were recorded and balanced in a way that switching from the global harmony to the individual instruments is extremely simple and always effective.
On the musical side, I have already said that the album benefits from a selection of fascinating melodies. These manage to convey that sense of “classic” and universal amazement that only the wildest and most uncontaminated nature can give to a man. Starting from this valuable material, Erskine and Magnusson did much more than just supporting the leader, they enriched all the pieces with significant and remarkable contributions. My overall rating for the LP is 8.5/10.
My favourite songs are the opening track Perpetuum Mobile, the poignant and moving The Beginning of a Love Affair, Kaleidoscope, and Pure Imagination.
Songs from The Alaska Sessions have been included in two of the playlists that I’m curating on Spotify. One is THE JAZZ MUSIC RADAR, which features the best and latest releases of 2019. The second playlist is ABSOLUTE BEAUTY, which is my personal selection of the most charming, delicate and classical-inspired pieces. Check these out.
One of the things that I like the most about contemporary Jazz is how it’s deeply rooted in the musical culture of our times. This is one of the facts that unfortunately is often missed by all those casual listeners who see Jazz as an “ancient” genre, anchored to old-fashioned styles of music. An album like The Addition of Strangeness, which is the debut LP from Israeli jazz pianist Doron Segal, is one of those records that can demonstrate to the sceptical ones how modern Jazz, when played by brilliant musicians, can really tell about the world where we live today, and not of something that exists only in our memories.
The music offered by Segal follows the path that was initiated by other brilliant musicians like Shai Maestro and Tigran Hamaysan, which sees the combination of timeless and beautiful melodies with alterations and influences coming from many different sources of inspiration, spanning from folk to rock. And it’s not by chance, therefore, that we have in the LP a poetical interpretation of Soundgarden‘s Black Hole Sun.
Segal’s debut highlights the technical skills but also the musical sensibility of the pianist, as well as the value of the two supporting musicians: Tom Berkmann on bass and Daniel Dor on drums. Dor is really one of my favourite drummers, one of the best of his generation, and I’m lucky to have seen him play live a few years ago together with Avishai Cohen. In effect, the duets between drums and piano are among the most exciting moments of the album. The very beginning of the LP, in this sense, is revealing: the song Wrong Channels begins with the piano playing a simple chord progression, while the drums incrementally increase in intensity and, at some point, unleash a complex rhythm that could be taken from jungle electronic, or dubstep. Brilliant. Check by yourself in this video.
The remaining of the LP is full of many other moments like the one just described. Apparently accessible melodies, but with lots of details to be enjoyed. My overall rating for the album is 7.5/10. The Addition of Strangeness is really a great debut album, not to be missed.
Favourite songs: Wrong Channels, Issues, A Sketch of You, and the two covers Agadat Deshe and Black Hole Sun
The Addition of Strangeness is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify.
Doron Segal’s new album is clearly contributing to THE JAZZ MUSIC RADAR, the playlist which collects the best jazz songs released since the beginning of the year. Enjoy!
There were many important Jazz releases in the last few weeks and there is already enough material to publish a second episode of THE JAZZ MUSIC RADAR. Unfortunately, some of the disks we had been waiting for with particular trepidation proved to be below expectations. We’ll see them in the following.
This issue covers the period between half of January and the first week of February 2019 and features 6 albums selected for their relevance among all those published in this time-frame.
In case you missed the first episode of the radar, you can access it from here. Episode number 1 briefly reviewed the LPs released by Jose Carra, Kevin Reveyrand, Sean Hicke, and Melon Shades.
“Visitors”, by Christian Li and Mike Bono
Visitors is the debut album from a duo of musicians from North America: pianist and composer Christian Li, born in Canada but living in New York City for years, and New York City guitarist Mike Bono. And this was the first record of 2019 that made me experience the thrill and beauty of jazz improvisation.
The combination of piano and guitar is not the most common one in Jazz but the two musicians managed to create together something very special. As a matter of fact, Visitors brings with it the energy and the emotions of a group of talented musicians who are thrilled and delighted in playing music which moves without strict borders.
I’ve published a dedicated review for the LP, you can access it from here.
“Trialogue”, by Andrew Lawrence
Andrew Lawrence is considered one of the best pianists in Chicago, and one of the emerging figure of American Jazz. That’s basically the reason why Lawrence is now trying, with his new album, to show everyone the reason for this growing fame. Lawrence has released in January 2019 an interesting record named Trialogue, where he’s supported by bassist Patrick Mulcahy and drummer Greg Artry.
The album, as one could expect, is all polarized on Lawrence’s skills on piano and keyboards, with the other two musicians who did, however, an excellent job in supporting the leader with precise and clean rhythmic sequences. The focus on the piano is testified by the fact that we must actually wait until the seventh track of the LP to hear the first bass solo and the fourteenth for a proper drums solo.
Musically speaking, the record offers a valuable selection of modern contemporary jazz songs. The sixteen tracks of the LP present a nice combination of good musical ideas and interesting improvisations, clearly dominated by the piano. In its essence, the album is certainly an important stage in Lawrence’s career, who demonstrates with Visitors his skills as a pianist but also good prospects as a composer for jazz ensembles.
“Days on Earth”, by Mark Lockheart
Among the most interesting releases of the last few weeks, I want to mention the LP named Days on Earth, recorded by British jazz tenor saxophonist Mark Lockheart together with other renowned musicians of the UK scene: Liam Noble (piano), John Parricelli (guitar), Tom Herbert (bass), Alice Leggett (alto saxophone), and Seb Rochford (drums).
One of the most characteristic aspects of this LP is the presence of an orchestra of 30 members, which immediately makes it clear that Days on Earth is much more than just a “standard” Jazz album. And in fact, the songs of the album present an extremely articulated musical architecture, that very often veers from Jazz towards contemporary classical music. On the other hand, throughout his impressive career, Lockheart has always enjoyed experimenting with influences spanning across multiple genres. Here, in his new album, Lockheart has made a sort of recap of many different phases of his previous production, using the orchestration as the linking element between the different moments of the record.
Days on Earth is a disc full of interesting ideas, that requires for the listener to keep an open mind and also an appreciation for all the details of which the record is full.
“Wandering Monster”, by Wandering Monster
Another representative of British Jazz who released a new album in the second half or January 2019 is Sam Quintana. Despite being a renowned bass player in the UK JAzz scene, for his latest project Quintana preferred to make a step back and give all the attention to his new ensemble, named Wandering Monster, where he’s playing together with Ben Powling on tenor saxophone, Calvin Travers on guitar, Tom Higham on drums and Aleks Podraza on piano and keyboards.
The band’s self-titled LP showcases an excellent balance between the accessibility of the songs and a still present spirit of improvisation, with a couple of pieces that rich the highest peaks of value.
We remain in the UK, where there is a talented drummer who’s trying to merge together the worlds of jazz and rock. His name is Graham Costello, and Obelisk is the second album recorded by his project called STRATA.
The music in Obelisk is aggressive, strong and hard as a rock. There is no poetry in Costello’s style of Jazz, but rather energy and passion. As it usually happens when the band’s leader (and the sole composer) is a drummer, much of the emphasis is centered around the rhythm. Every song of the album presents and elaborates a basic rhythmic element, which is repeated throughout the song until it becomes obsessive and mesmerizing. Even in the rare moments when the level of intensity is a little attenuated, there is always this continuous pulsation that never stops, with the atmosphere which remains thrilling and charged with electric tension, in preparation for the new explosion of sounds.
I’ve published a review of the album, you can read it from here.
“The Scope”, by Manu Katché
I’m concluding this roundup of albums by mentioning an LP for which I had many good expectations but that left me a bit perplexed. I’m talking of The Scope, the newest record released by world star French drummer Manu Katché.
The Scope is Katché’s most experimental record to date. It offers many elements of interest, but it also demonstrates that one cannot simply try something completely new and achieve success on the first attempt. As a matter of fact, Manu Katché has introduced so many elements from groove, pop, dance, and even reggae, that at this point it’s almost impossible to say which kind of music we have in his new release. Even because the quantity of “synthetic” components has definitely surpassed the amount of “analog” ones, which include his drums.
I’ve published a dedicated review for this album, you can easily reach it from here.
“Mare Nostrum III”, by Paolo Fresu, Richard Galliano, Jan Lundgren
Last, but not least, I cannot forget in this list the third chapter of the famous collaboration among Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu, Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren and French accordionist Richard Galliano. The trio has released in late January the album Mare Nostrum III, a musical project that started as early as twelve years ago.
The style and the approach are almost the same: every song starts with the introduction of a delicate melody, in some cases taken from a popular tune, which the three musicians start to manipulate and elaborate with the experience and the musical sensibility that only one who has played for so many years at the highest levels can have.
I’ve published a dedicated review of the LP, it can be read from here.
Twelve years ago, when for the first time I came across the trio formed by Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu, Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren and French accordionist Richard Galliano, I remained speechless. Their LP, called Mare Nostrum, was all that a fan of good music could dream of: beautiful songs, talented and inspired musicians, and a combination of instruments that was for me quite unusual, and intriguing. I remember very well how that year I literally consumed the CD for how many times I played it in my stereo.
A dozen years later I’m here with a little less hair, a little more weight, and the third chapter of the Mare Nostrum project in my hands (figuratively, I mean, since today it’s less common to play music through a CD). The style and the approach are almost the same: every song starts with the introduction of a delicate melody, in some cases taken from a popular tune, which the three musicians start to manipulate and elaborate with the experience and the musical sensibility that only one who has played for so many years at the highest levels can have.
The magic of my first encounter with the trio, however, did not happen again. I still can’t tell if it’s because the surprise effect is gone, or because the three legends weren’t inspired as in the two previous releases. What I feel in some songs of Mare Nostrum III is as if they were a little tired to do the same thing again and again and, consequently, they started playing with the autopilot, maybe assuming that just the fact of being there and play together should create some kind of alchemy, without special efforts.
Anyway, I’m not saying that Mare Nostrum III is not good. The LP features a lot of beautiful music, with a perfect balance among the instruments, further enriched by a crystalline production. What is missing is the “wow” effect, that combination of factors which leads you to choose that specific disc among the many that you have available.
My overall rating for the LP is 6.5/10. Favorite tracks are the opening track Blues sur Seine, Le Jardin des Fées and Love Theme from “The Getaway”.
The biography of Scottish musician Graham Costello tells of a natural-born talent of the drums who was conquered by two distinct passions: Jazz music and the independent European rock scene. Having experienced both the two, he eventually formed his own band, called STRATA, in which he tried to merge together the two worlds. The ambitious goal perhaps isn’t fully achieved to date, but he’s definitely on the right track.
Obelisk, which is the second album recorded by STRATA, leaves very little space to the listener’s imagination for how intense and rich is the music. There are really really few moments of calm: all the spaces are filled with powerful sincopated rhythms punctuated by Costello’s drums, Mark Hendry’s electric bass and Fergus McCreadie’s piano, on top of which Harry Weir’s saxophone, Liam Shortall’s trombone and Joe Williamson’s guitar follow each other in a trhilling race full of improvisations and distortions.
The music in Obelisk is aggressive, strong and hard as a rock. There is no poetry in Costello’s style of Jazz, but rather energy and passion. As it usually happens when the band’s leader (and the sole composer) is a drummer, much of the emphasis is centered around the rhythm. Every song of the album presents, elaborates and amplifies a basic rhythmic element, which is repeated throughout the song until it becomes obsessive and mesmerizing. Even in the rare moments when the level of intensity is a little attenuated, there is always this continuous pulsation that never stops, with the atmosphere which remains thrilling and charged with electric tension, in preparation for the new explosion of sounds.
It’s clear that the kind of Jazz played by Costello and his bandmates is very particular, and this somehow reflects the self-confidence that has been achieved by the leader. As I mentioned at the beginning, however, this fusion between Jazz and underground rock has yet to be refined, since at this moment the “energetic” component prevails over everything else. The mechanims by which the songs of the LP are developed is practically the same from the beginning to the end of the record, and the effect is that we finish the listening a little exhausted.
My overall judgment is an encouraging 6.5/10. I appreciated the courage and the capacity of Graham Costello to impose such a particular style of Jazz. Now it’s time to refine it and complete the mission. The first couple of tracks are those which really impressed me as soon as I started listening to the album, even because the rest of the LP tends to be a sort of reworking and expansion of what we heard in the first songs.
The kind of experimental approach to music that’s carried out by French drummer and songwriter Manu Katché may be seen, from a certain point of view, similar to what I’m trying to do in this blog: to move with relative ease among different genres in order to recognize and highlight those universal features that transform notes and harmonies into good music, regardless of whether it’s rock, jazz, metal, pop or electronic. There is a substantial difference, however: what I do is basically to listen to huge amounts of music and select the best for my readers; while Mune Katché writes the music, and then he plays it. That’s the reason why I feel great admiration for the French artist. Anyway, with all the differences, I still believe that in the end his objectives and mine remain essentially the same: overcoming the fragile barriers that exist between different styles, and genres, while searching for the very essence of music.
Because of his peculiar approach to Jazz, all the albums released so far by Manu Katché have always shown many different influences from rock, pop and soul. But what he did for his new album, The Scope, goes absolutely beyond what every fan of him could have ever imagined.
In the ninth album of his discography, Manu Katché has introduced so many elements from groove, pop, dance, and even reggae, that at this point it’s almost impossible to say which kind of music we have in The Scope. Even beacuse the quantity of “synthetic” components has definitely surpassed the amount of “analogue” ones, which include his drums.
What’s my feeling about this work? Mixed. And this is not because of Katché’s desire to experiment with new styles, something which at least in principle is very good, and which he alreadys did in the past.
Let’s start from the positive aspects. First, if we consider how many different things have been put all together in the LP, it’s remarkable that the touch and the signature sound of Manu Katché is always recognizable in all the ten tracks of the record. This is an evidence of what level of stylistic coherence he has reached at this point of his career: he has really developed an immediately identifiable and exciting style. Second, listening to Katché when he plays the drums is always fantastic. By the way, one doesn’t become by chance one of the most famous drummers on Earth.
On the negative side, it’s evident that Katché’s journey into the world of electronic music has brought him venturing lands and territories where he lacks some experience. In these situations, passion and curiosity may for sure help, but only up to some point. Playing something completely new, in its essence, puts you at the level of a novice, and a song like Tricky 98, just to mention the most blatant example, is honestly embarassing for an arstist of his caliber. I really wish I had never listened to it.
In summary: the new album by Manu Katché is the artist’s most experimental record to date. It offers many element of interest, but it also demonstrates that one cannot simply try something completely new and achieve success on the first attempt.
His approach to experimentation is estimable and I totally agree with the idea of going forward and try new ideas. However, I believe that when one puts his hands on something different, the criteria for self-assessment should be more stringent than in normal conditions.
After comparing all positives and negatives aspects, my overall rating for the album is 6/10. Favourite songs are: Don’t U Worry and Overlooking.
Sam Quintana is a renowned bass player within the English Jazz scene, but for his latest project he preferred to make a step back and give all the attention to the band, implying that each one of the musicians who was invited to play and to manipulate his material worked as a member of a single group, and not just as a supporter. And listening to Wandering Monster, which is the self-titled debut LP of this new formation, we really get the feeling that it’s the outcome of the action of a cohese ensemble of skilled musicians: in addition to Sam Quintana on double bass we have Ben Powling on tenor saxophone, Calvin Travers on guitar, Tom Higham on drums and Aleks Podraza on piano and keyboards.
From a musical point of view, Wandering Monster have managed to reach an excellent balance between melodicity and accessibility of their songs and a still present spirit of improvisation, which at times is unleashed and left free to overturn the baseline motifs of the songs. The six tracks on the LP alternate between thrilling and explosive rushes (such as The Rush Begins), and slower and gentler moments (like Sweethear). The first ones, in my opinion, are those where the album reaches the highest peaks.
The most intense and fastest pieces are also those where we can feel the stronger influences from other genres of music, something that has always characterized the style of Sam Quintana, who actually played in a few rock and metal bands before dedicating himself to Jazz. The bass loop in Tuco, just to make an example, is so groovy and exciting that it could have been used by many rock bands to build up a completely different kind of song.
Among the few things that didn’t convince me completely I can mention the inhomogeneity which I feel when listening to the album: it really starts with a “bang” – the first songs are truly brilliant and exciting – but progressively the intensity of the songs fades away. By averaging the different sections of the record, my overall rating for the LP is 6.5/10.
My favorite tracks are definitely the first two songs of the LP: Samsara and The Rush Begins.
Wandering Monster is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify.
I take the opportunity of this article to inform my readers that I’ve started collecting together the best Jazz songs of 2019 in a special playlist called The JAZZ MUSIC Radar. It’s still at an early stage but you might want to check it out. Enjoy!
The world of jazz is destined to cope with it the unsolvable dilemma that exists between the importance that is assigned to improvisation and the fact that many fans of this genre of music, for obvious reasons, will only listen to albums that were realized within a recording studio, which certainly is not the ideal environment for a musician who wants to release all of his creativity. When they are in the recording studio, many musicians don’t feel the unique and thrilling atmosphere of a live performance, where a myriad of factors that aren’t reproducible in the studio can lead the artist to reach that state of inspiration in which improvisation can arrive to the highest peaks.
Fortunately, however, many albums in the history of Jazz have managed to mitigate this paradox. One of the last cases is given by a new record that’s named Visitors, which is the first joint work from a duo of talented North American musicians: pianist and composer Christian Li, born in Canada but living in New York City for years, and New York City guitarist Mike Bono.
First of all it should be noted that the combination of piano and guitar is not the most common one in Jazz. In the case of Visitors, the two musicians managed to create together something very special and in many cases this happens thanks to the particular technique that’s used by Christian Li. Instead of being limited to the conventional repertoire of the jazz pianist, Li is often engaged to create a sort of “carpet of sound” by playing fast and small scales and using repeated touches on tight chromatic intervals. In the meantime his left hand beats and reinforces the syncopated rhythm of the song. On top of that layer of piano, Mike Bono’s guitar is free to play intriguing solos and sweeps of exquisite workmanship. In other moments the two leaders chase each other through risky scales, or play in the background to give the scene to the other musicians who’re participating in the building of the song. Visitors, in fact, sees the collaboration of an ensemble of heterogeneous musicians. We have Dayna Stephens on saxophone, Jared Henderson on bass, Jimmy Macbride and Lee Fish on drums, but we enjoy also the presence of Alex Hargraves on violin and Chris Marion on strings.
An unwritten rule of jazz says that the greater the number of musicians, the less the individual interpreters can improvise. Visitors seems to be a nice exception to the rule, and this is obviously due to the skills of the individual artists, but also presumably to the wisdom of who was on the production side and created the conditions necessary for the musicians to express their best.
As a matter of fact, Visitors brings with it the energy and the emotions of a group of talented musicians who are thrilled and delighted in playing together a music without strict borders. In each of the tracks of the LP there is an initial idea which is shared and agreed by the various instrumentalists, and from there we enjoy a whirlwind of interwoven colored lines that first compose and then untangle an ever-changing picture on a canvas.
Visitors is the first record of 2019 that made me experience the thrill and beauty of jazz improvisation. And it’s certainly a promising debut for the duo of jazzists who have led the project. My rating is a convinced 7.5/10.
The beginning of the year has been relatively quiet for what concerns Jazz music and this gave us the possibility to discover a few emerging artists. Let’s see the best albums that were released in the first two weeks of 2019, based on my personal selection.
“Diario de Vuelo”, by Jose Carra
Pianist and composer Jose Carra is considered one of the most creative artists of the new generation of Spanish jazz musicians. His style is strongly influenced by classical music and jazz and all of his pieces, both when he works as a soloist and when he’s supported by his musical companions Bori Albero (bass) and Dani Domínguez (drums), result always extremely poetic and incorporate many cinematic elements. In his most recent work, called Diario de Vuelo (“Fligth Journal”), the Spanish jazzist has evidently begun a phase of experimentation which sees him inserting many effects on the piano, as well as synthesizers and sounds from tape recordings. Diario de Vuelo is definitely a good record and it fits into that line of contemporary Jazz that looks at rock and pop as sources of external inspirations (we can mention GoGo Penguin and the early works from Tigran Hamasyan as references). The album is also characterized by a nice variation of atmospheres which make the listening experience absolutely rewarding. I’ve already published a quick review of the album. Check it out.
“Reason and Heart”, by Kevin Reveyrand
I feel a particular connection for the instrumental albums made by Jazz bassists: I believe that the music they write is often the perfect meeting point between the world of rhythm and that of melody. And in these first two weeks of the year I could appreciate even two valuable records from bass players. The one I liked the most is Reason and Heart, by Kevin Reveyrand. Reveyrand is playing his bass since more than fifteen years, mostly as sideman. He has accompanied artists of world music such as Souad Massi, Black Eyes, and Safy Boutella, but also many musicians such as Marc Berthoumieux, Vincent Peirani, Sylvain Luc, Patricia Kaas, Dominique Fillon and Manu Katché. Almost ten years ago he started working also on personal projects and he eventually published three albums: Tipari released in 2008, World songs released in 2013, and his new album Reason and Heart, released on January 12, 2019. The original songs of his latest album are characterized by a valuable richness of melodies and, as expected, a wide set of rhythms and bass lines that are really interesting to hear. The album blends in an excellent way the artist’s experiences in world music and jazz, and it’s also one of those works made to listen and listen again in order to appreciate those subtlety and details that may escape at first.
“Sunflower Sutra”, by Sean Hicke
American bassist and composer Sean Hicke started to get some recognition within the Ryan Dart Trio and eventally decided to start his solo career. On the early days of 2019 Hicke published his debut solo album, named Sunflower Sutra. The eight songs of the album presents a number of nice improvisations over simple folk-like melodies, and it’s quite impressive to see how a young player has already got a wide repertoire of playing techniques and also a remarkable musical sensibility. In this sense, Sunflower Sutra seems a very promising debut record. Guests on the album include Louis Valenzuela (guitar), Matt DiBiase (vibraphone), Julien Cantelm (drums), and Camellia Aftahi, a classical bassist and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Diversity Fellow.
Melon Shades (S/T)
As a final mention, I came across a nice and funny record by a formation named Melon Shades, which consists basically of two friends from Maine, Shawn Russell and Henry Raker, who both used play in a local band called The Astral Pines and decided, at some point, to record an album as a duo. Saxaphone (or clarinet) and guitar, simple folk tunes and plenty of improvisations, this is a record that, in its essentiality, brings us closer to the original spirit of Jazz. Listening to the entire record in single run can be a bit monotonous, but the individual tracks are all interesting and enjoyable. The performance of the guitar is particulary intriguing.
Pianist and composer Jose Carra is considered one of the most creative artists of the new generation of Spanish jazz musicians. His discography as leader consists of four LPs: 2012′ s Ewig, 2014’s El Camino, the succesful 2016’s Verso and his newest record Diaro de Vuelo (“Flight Journal”). Carra has also gained much appreciation as composer of music for movies and theater works, as well as compositions and arrangements for different symphony orchestras.
In general terms, Jose Carra’s style is strongly influenced by classical music and jazz, and all of his compositions feature many poetic and cinematic elements. These characteristics are fully confirmed in Diaro de Vuelo, where Carra is supported by bassist Bori Albero and drummer Dani Domínguez.
The album apparently signs the beginning of a new phase of experimentation for Jose Carra. In many songs of the album, in fact, the Spanish musician has started to insert a number of effects on his piano, and he’s also expanding the borders of his music by introducing synthesizers and tape recordings. The final result is generally positive, despite it follows the same trend that’s been initiated by other musicians in the last decade.
Musically speaking, Diario de Vuelo fits into that line of contemporary Jazz that looks at rock and pop as sources of external inspirations. In some of the songs of the LP there are clear references to the music of GoGo Penguin and also some works from Tigran Hamasyan. In this sense, I can say that his skill as a pianist seems still to prevail over that of a trio leader, in the sense that whenever he plays the piano solo we can appreciate an originality of style and a level of emotion that we don’t always find when the trio plays in full.
Diario de Vuelo results in the end a very good record, and also one of the best of his career so far. The album is also characterized by a nice variation of atmospheres, which make the listening experience absolutely rewarding.