Best New Music: “Drake” by Benny Lackner Trio

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.

Born in Berlin to an american father and a german mother, Benny Lackner, moved to California at the age of 13, where he studied Jazz with his mentor Brad Mehldau.

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” is Benny Lackner Trio’s 6th album

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.

Benny Lackner Trio consists of Benny Lackner (piano and effects), Matthieu Chazarenc (drums) and Jerome Regard (bass and effects)

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.


The JAZZ MUSIC Radar (Episode #3/2019)

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!


Best New Music: “The Alaska Sessions” by Accidental Tourists (Burger, Erskine, Magnusson)

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”, by Markus Burger’s Accidental Tourists, featuring Peter Erskine and 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. “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.

The album is available on Challenge Records and it can be streamed from Spotify.



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.


Quick Review: “The Addition of Strangeness” by Doron Segal

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!


The JAZZ MUSIC Radar (Episode #2/2019)

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.

You can read here my review of the album.



“Obelisk” by Graham Costello’s STRATA

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.


Quick Review: “Wandering Monster” by Wandering Monster

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!


Quick Review: “Visitors” by Christian Li and Mike Bono

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.

Visitors is available on bandcamp and it can be streamed from Spotify.

My favorite songs of the album are Awake, Space Invaders and the opening song Puddles.



I’ve started to collect all the new JAZZ releases of 2019 in a new playlist, called THE JAZZ RADAR. Check it out and follow it, because it’s going to grow rapidly with the time.



The JAZZ MUSIC Radar (Episode #1/2019)

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.


 

Quick Review: “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 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.

My rating for the album is 7/10.

Diario de Vuelo can be streamed from Spotify.

Highlights: 2008, 97%, AlbaNocturna.


GOING FORWARD: the generation of artists who are writing the future of Jazz.

There are many contemporary albums which seem only to re-propose, maybe with some minimal variant, sound and styles and musical dynamics that are nowadays very well established and consolidated. Fortunately, however, we have also a new generation of musicians who are able to bring new life into Jazz music.

I’m presenting in this article seven representatives of the new generation of composers: a group of artists that with the freshness of new ideas and a musical language that owes so much to rock and other genres, are basically rewriting the rules of Jazz. You will find in this list a few already established Jazz musicians along with new promises. In both cases, however, these are free spirits of music: a family of authors who demonstrated the capacity to look beyond the established boundaries of the genre. This is Foward Thinking Jazz at its best.

 


Wollny

 

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German award-winning jazz pianist Michael Wollny

I have to admit that Michael Wollny, along with Tigran and a few other pianists of the same generation, is one of the young jazz talents that I appreciate the most. He’s one of those musicians who manage to combine an “ancient” sensibility with that rebellious and revolutionary spirit that allow his music to progress towards the future. I have loved all the records that Wollny has released in the recent years, until the last fabulosu album Oslo, realized together with Christian Weber and Eric Schaefer. Recorded in just three days, the album is full of freshness and passion, and it immortalizes the German artist in one of the most brilliant phases of his career.


Randalu

 

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Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu

Kristjan Randalu was born in Estonia but he developed his talent for piano studying first in Germany and then in London and in the United States. His first Jazz projects dates back to 2002 but he gained attention at the beginning ot this decade by playing the piano with Tunisian singer and oud player Dhafer Youssef. This year Randalu has released a beautiful album for EMC, Absence, with support from guitarist Ben Monder and drummer Markku Ounaskari. In this record he shows a unique ability to brilliantly mix together elements of Jazz improvisation, avant-garde and classical music influences.


Gray

 

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English musician Tony Gray is anything but a novice in the Jazz scene. He is in fact today a world-renowned bass player and one of the most talented musicians of our times. He showed his skills and unique technique by playing with artists of the caliber of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Mike Stern, Hiromi, Zakir Hussain, Branford Marsalis and John McLaughlin. This year he released the beautiful solo album Unknown Angels, which stands out for the expressive maturity achieved by the artist. It is as if Tony Gray had  reached the point where the confidence in the instrument and the compositional ability make him free to generate pure music, warm and vibrant, without unnecessary superstructures.


Marcus

 

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French double-bass player Pierre Marcus.

Pierre Marcus is is certainly one of the most interesting bass players that have appeared in the jazz scene of the last decade. He approached the music with the electric bass playing reggae, funk and rock before really getting interested in jazz. As a jazz double-bass player, however, he has already published a number of interesting albums since 2012. In 2015 he founded his own quartet with Baptiste Herbin (sax), Fred Perreard (piano) and Thomas Delor (drums), with whom he relased this year his new and latest record: Pyrodance.


Panossian

 

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French pianist and trio leader Rémi Panossian

Rémi Panossian is one of those musicians who grew up on bread and music. He started playing piano at an early age and showed a great talent both as a pianist and as a trio leader, gaining not only the attention of a wider audience, but also critical acclaim and international awards. After touring the world with his trio, in 2018 the Frenc jazzist decided to reveal himself in a more intimate album of solo piano. The LP, named DO, is ull of surprises and features extremely different moments: intimate and reflective tracks, aggressive songs with frenzied rhythms, and intriguing covers of classic pieces.


Cambien

 

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Belgian jazz musician and improviser Jonas Cambien

Belgian pianist Jonas Cambien is active on the Jazz scene since he moved to Oslo in 2008. He leads his own trio, which released its new album in 2018, We Must Mustn’t We, which is the result of a beautiful intersection between the art of improvisation and a compositional versatility that seems today out of the ordinary. Jonas Cambien is also known for using prepared piano and extended techniques as well as analog synthesizers and electronics in his music.


Hamasyan

 

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Tigran Hamasyan is one of the most creative and appreciated artists of his generation.

Many things we wrote last year about Armenian pianist and composer Tigran Hamasyan and his wonderful LP  An Ancient Observer. I had also the possibility to see him live in Roma and my appreciation for this young genius of music has further increased. In 2018 Tigran released the EP For Gyumri, which is somehow the follow-on of last year’s masterpiece. The album is named as a tribute to his hometown of Gyumri, where he was born in 1987 before relocating with his family to Los Angeles in 2003.


 

If you enjoyed this article, I recommend to hear and follow the playlist that I’m managing on Spotify dedicated to Forward Thinking Jazz. It’s updated frequently with new tracks. Enjoy!

 


 

 

 

 

THE ART OF THE TRIO, a retrospective of the importance of the Trio in Contemporary Jazz with a selection of the latest and best releases

Jazz lovers know very well the importance of Trio in moder music and also how many good albums are released today with this particular setting of musicians. As a matter of fact, the Jazz Trio seems to be one of the preferred format for a large number of renowned and established musicians, presumably for the possibility they have to be at the same time the leader of the ensemble but also leaving to the other musicians the chances to unleash all their creativity and, as such, to optimize the contribution of each player to the final musical result.

To celebrate this special type of Jazz I recently started assembling a playlist on Spotiy with the best ensembles and the best songs that are released for Trios. This is going to be a “living” point of collection for all the new Jazz that will be published from now on, so my recommendation is to follow the playlist and check it regularly for new exciting updates. On my side, I obviously commit myself to include only those works that truly deserve your attention.

Below I’ve also put a few excerpts from two interesting articles that provide a more formal analysis of the importance and the advantages of Jazz Trios in modern music. Visit these pages for getting adequate background and explanations.

 


 

The Trio Advantage

(from University of Michigan‘s blog)

The trio strikes a delicate balance. The larger the band, the more limited the possibilities for each musician. Each instrument needs to find its place in the sonic palette and rhythmic scheme. The smaller the band the more limited the varieties of timbre. Each instrument needs to provide enough variety of sounds and phrases to keep the listeners interest.

By reducing the number of musicians, a trio opens more space in the sonic texture for each musician to explore. In larger ensembles each musician can be forced into pre-determined roles by the very nature that each instrument must compete for space in the sound spectrum. Without careful orchestration of parts the group easily descends into a cacophony of chaos (though at times chaos may be a desired effect).


 

The Trio Format

(Ned Judy)

Jazz piano trio has become a popular ensemble format in the modern era. This setting includes bass and drums, however the piano is usually featured. The pianist plays most of the principal themes, and improvises solos in nearly every piece. While this ensemble format is now common, trios featuring piano were rare in the early years of jazz, and often included a wind instrument for which the pianist provided accompaniment. The development of the jazz piano trio occurred over a period of decades, across a span of several jazz styles, and with significant changes in instrumentation. Ultimately, the trio has become a powerful vehicle for expression for the jazz pianist, providing him with the support of a rhythm section, while allowing him great freedom. Most modern jazz pianists have led trios, and some pianists from earlier periods, who established their careers before the widespread use of this format, have led trios in more recent times.


 

FORWARD THINKING JAZZ: a Playlist of the music that looks into the future

Contemporary Jazz is sometimes wrongly regarded as a kind of music that is rooted into the past or, even worse, as a genre that where the musicians can’t do anything more thanreiterate the usual basic patterns, above which some technically gifted artist improvises through articulated scales and advanced techniques. Lovers of this music, and in particular those who have also the opportunity to deal with other different genres, know which is the reality. Very often is in the world of Jazz that we find those musical seeds, the gems of innovation, that grow with time – maybe along lines which were impossible to predict at the beginning – to generate their fruits in contexts that can be even very distant from the point of origin.

FORWARD THINKING JAZZ is a new playlist that was created to celebrate the artists and the songs that more than others bring inside the elements of musical innovation. This is the kind of Jazz that has the potential to leave the most profound mark into the world of music. The playlist is launched with a first set of eleven songs, all released in the last few months, for an initial duration of about 1 hour. But stay tuned and keep following the playlist because new innovative Jazz tracks will be added very frequently to the initial list. Most important, however, be assured that you’ll find here always the best Jazz as soon as it’s released.


 

VOICES OF JAZZ: the new Playlist with the best voices and the best songs in modern Jazz

Vocal Jazz is a particular kind of music that is placed in that unstable point of equilibrium between absolute beauty and mere expression of technical ability. It is quite common to be in front of artists gifted by a fantastic voice but who don’t succeed in expressing deep emotions, it may be a personal limit or perhaps the choice of songs that didn’t manage to touch the right strings of their soul. But when the talent of the singer is combined with the right level of inspiration, a magical poem of passion and emotion emerges from the music, immediately transporting us into a dimension of pure beauty.

The playlist VOICES OF JAZZ is dedicated to all the jazz singers who, in the recent times, have offered the most emotional performances of class and singing skills. The playlist was created around a first set of 24 songs, mostly released in the second half of 2017, for more than 90 minutes of music. The playlist, however, is going to grow with both new tracks (as they arrive and are selected to be part of the club) and some older songs that from time to time may be added to the compilation.

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I created this playlist as the ideal companion for an evening at home, alone or with family or long-time friends, to create a magical atmosphere of sweetness and passion. There are no gap-fillers but only the most beautiful songs played by masterful artists of vocal jazz. The initial list of contributors features incredible singers like Natalia Mateo, Katie Melua, Elisabeth Melander, and many others to discover.

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Enjoy the magin and don’t forget to follow the playlist on Spotify because new tracks will be added periodically.


 

The Most Popular Mixtapes of 2017

As per today, the number of mixtapes that were published on the blog during 2017 settles just above 80, which makes an average of a new playlist every 4 or 5 days. Among these mixtapes, some of them became particularly appreciated by the readers of the blog and I’m collecting here the most popular compiliations for you to enjoy them once again. And stay tuned because a final bunch of compilations are expected in the coming days to celebrate the best music of the year!

And remember that there are many free on-line services that you can use to download these mixes and listen them off-line. Just make a search on your search engine and you’ll be provided with many alternatives.


 

Guitar Jazz, when the magic travels on six strings

Featuring Ferenc SnetbergerRalph TownerJakob Bro, John Abercrombie (R.I.P.) and Mary Halvorson.


 

Best of Piano Jazz in 2017

Featuring Tigran HamasyanMEM3Colin VallonNote ForgetOmer KleinJan LundgrenOmar SosaAdrien Chicot and Cameron Graves.


 

SKYRIM BELONGS TO THE NORDS – An Epic Metal Compilation

Featuring Jeremy SouleNightwishAmorphisMyrathOrphaned LandTherionTYRSerious BlackArthemisBattle Beast and Lacuna Coil.


 

KINGS OF THE ROAD – Music for Stoners

Featuring As They ComeCairo Knife FightMastodonSasquatchBang BangalowKadavarCortez and All Them Witches.


 

Drops of Ancient Melodies – Classical Inspired Modern Contemporary Jazz

Featuring Benedikt JahnelGwilym SimcockMichael WollnyNote ForgetIiro Rantala and Aaron Goldberg.


 

 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF JAZZ IN 2017

This chart with the best 10 Jazz albums of 2017 is the perfect combination of a first group of albums which conquered and mainteined their positions in the top ten since the early months of the year, and a few “late” masterpieces that arrived after the summer and that – in a very short time – have literally twisted up the top positions of the final ranking.

Another general consideration that we can make on this top ten is that the artists with the most experience prevailed. Apart from some young promise that has managed to find a place in the lower parts of the ranking, the main positions are all assigned to musicians with a consolidated background. But beware, this does not mean that we are always facing the same old music. On the contrary, this year’s Jazz music scene shined for the absolutely brilliant way in which the most important artists have managed to combine a somewhat classic approach to their music with clear elements of innovation, replicating once again that magic thanks to which this musical genre, despite the criticisms of many, still manages to represent – much better than many other types of music – progress and growth.

There is nothing left to say that recommend going through this list of artists and their new albums: maybe you could have missed a few of these LPs and in this respect this article could be an opportunity to fill any gap in your Jazz discography for the year. And to better complement and accompany the reading of the chart, I’ve also prepared a special compilation with selected tracks from the most interesting LPs released in 2017. This mixtape includes also artists who have not reached the top ten chart and that aren’t mentioned in the article. In this respect, the mixtape is even a better way to revisit the state of contemporary Jazz through a fascinating journey through various musical sub-genres and different styles.

 


 

Number 10

LA DIVERSITE’ by Nicolas Kummert

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La Diversité is the last album produced by the young Belgian jazz singer and tenor saxophonist Nicolas Kummert and it’s an LP which slowly but incessantly ascended in the Jazz music charts of this blog. It’s not bny chance, then, that it eventually consolidated its position within the Top Ten albums of the year.

La Diversité is a particular release which requires a few listens to be fully comprehended and appreciated. Kummert’s saxophone lines are in fact subtle and articulated and his style incorporates so many different influences that you may need some time to untangle the dissonant harmonies that permeate the album. This is not an album wnich you can just put in the background during your busy evenings; you need to listen it carefully in order to enjoy at the best all of its curious and inspired musical lines. Profound and full of suprires, that’s one of the most challenging but interesting albums of the year.

In most of the tracks Nicolas Kummert is is supported by a number of talented musicians who all participated actively with their single touches to the final result. The major contribution, however, comes from Benin-born guitarist and singer Lionel Loueke, who gave a special touch of Africanism to many of the songs of the album.


 

Number 9

FAR INTO THE STARS by Markus Stockhausen

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One year after the release of beautiful and poetical album Alba, German trumpeter and composer Markus Stockhausen comes back with another ethereal release. Far into the Stars, the last of a long discography of albums, is a further testimony to the artist’s ability of creating delicate and fascinating atmsopheres where no sound is ever dissonant with the former one, and all the instruments works organically for the definition of engaging and emotional layers of melodies.

The style of Stockhausen is often tending towards the sonorities and musicality typical of classical music and this album does not deviate from this trend. The songs of the album are soft, gentle but still permeated by an underlying tension.

This is another precious gem in the collection of records released by a great representative of modern Jazz.


 

Number 8

GENTLE GIANTS by SLOWFOX

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Slowfox is a recent music project founded by German double bass virtuoso Sebastian Gramss. The project is basically a jazz & avant-garde trio featuring saxophonist Hayden Chisholm and pianist Philip Zoubek. The three skilled musicians have released on last May the second album under the moniker fo SLOWFOX, named Gentle Giants, which is an excellent testimony of the current status of contemporary chamber music.

The beauty of the album relies moslty in the exceptional balance between the beautiful harmonic improvisations and the melodic background that characterize all the songs of the disc. The music of Slowfox seems to float perpetually between these two domains: on one side boundless creativity, on the other reassuring melodies. The absence of the drums makes this sensation even stronger and creates an extravagant, intriguing and sometimes hypnotic effect.

The artistic concept that has guided the composition of the songs of the album is probably summarized by the quote that is obtained by reading one after the other the titles of the 15 songs: “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” (probably to be accredited to Friedrich Nietzsche)


 

Number 7

TRANSPARENT WATER by Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita

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Cuban-born jazz pianist Omar Sosa has built a vast discography of works in which he plays with musicians from all around the globe, often travelling outside the standard of Jazz traditions. In his last album he joined the efforts with Senegalese drummer, vocalist and kora player Seckou Keita, who is today one of the most charismatic musicians from Africa.

The duo has released this year a beautiful album, named Transparent Water, which sees also collaborations with other musicians coming from the most disparate areas of the world, each one bringing his own influences and playing his characteristics musical instruments: we have Japanese koto player Mieko Miyazaki, Chinese sheng player Wu Tong, and Venezuelan percussionist and batá player Gustavo Ovalles, just to mention a few ones. But like a sort of magic, what could be imagined at first as a chaotic mix of sounds, influences and instruments, here is wonderfully transformed into a celebration of simplicity and – to some extent – it becomes an ode to the universality of music.

The experience of listening to this beautiful album is really a journey through ethnic sounds and enchanting melodies, with the different musical traditions which complement each other providing the listener with varied nuances of the same basic tune.


 

Number 6

PROVENANCE by Björn Meyer

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If last year I ended up completely conquered by the beauty and the particularity of Janek Gwizdala‘s American Elm, it may be understandable how it was possible for me to fall in love with Provenance, the new album by Swedish Jazz bassist Björn Meyer. This work, in fact, shares with Gwizdala’s one the same exact musical approach and provides the listener with a collection of fabulous solo pieces for electric bass and very few other contour elements.

The technique used by Meyer for his new album is very special: by playing his six-strings bass only in the highest regions of the instrument’s dynamics, the artist manages to produce a lighter sound, very similar to that of an electric guitar, but with a substance and a body which result definitely denser and more stratified. And with the addition of a few electrical touches and some effects like reverberation, the result is complete: in front of us magical worlds unfold thanks to the wise touch of this great musician.

Provenance is one of those albums that reject tags and labels. “Jazz” or “meditiative music” become simple attributes of a music that assumes mystical and universal contours. There is no need to wonder what kind of music you hearing when such a pure sound and these poetic melodies come before you. You just have to enjoy it, and be transported into the realms of magic.

As a side note, the album was recorded in an highly responsive auditorium in Lugano and according to the author this aspect had a big influence on the final result: “Even though the instrument is technically non-acoustic, the music is deeply influenced by the properties of the space where it is played. The many different ways in which acoustics affect my compositions and improvisations have always been sources of surprise and inspiration. There is definitely a second member in this solo project – the room!


 

Number 5

POSTDAMER PLATZ by Jan Lundgren

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Potsdamer Platz is the last beautiful work by Jan Lundgren and it sees the Swedhish pianist and composer play together with a new quartet he assembled with Jukka Perko (alto & soprano sax), former E.S.T. Dan Berglund (bass), and Morten Lund (drums). For this LP the Scandinavian supergroup managed to craft and record a fantastic sequence of songs which someone could initally confuse for simple lounge-bar jazz tunes, but that in reality represent – each of them – a beautiful example of modern jazz, without too many superstructures and useless conceptual elements. It’s easy to proclame the willingness to balance tradition with enjoyability, but there are very few artitst that actually manage to achieve this goal without slipping into banality or the mere repetition of a model.

As reported on his biography, Lundgren is part of a remarkable and long tradition of innovative pianists from Sweden like Jan Johansson, Bobo Stenson and Esbjörn Svensson. He has the ability to integrate the most disparate musical influences into a fascinating whole. Whether its contemporary classical music, the northern folk tradition or the groove of jazz, Lundgren has a unique way of leading the listener on a voyage of discovery – sometimes relaxed, sometimes more passionate – through his magnificent musical soundscapes. An instant classic.


 

Number 4

FAR FROM OVER by Vijay Iyer Sextet

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American pianist Vijay Iyer is one of the most influential figures of the current Jazz scene, and he’s also one of the most experimental and prolific composers of these days. After having achieved a remarkable success with two great albums released for the ACT label in 2009 (Historicity) and in 2013 (Accelerando), he’s been involved in wide range of heterogenous musical projects where he sometimes explored territories well beyond conventional Jazz.

Iyer’s last work, the beautiful Far From Over, apparently marks a sort of return to the more usual sounds and structure of Jazz music, but in reality it conceals an absolutely modern and courageous reading of the old canons of this musical genre. From a purely formal point of view, in fact, we find in this album a collection of compositions which correspond to the typical structures of hard bop, swing, funky-jazz or avant-garde. The approach to the music, however, is completely innovative and sees the artis and his five skilled bandmates taking corageous paths which unpredictably diverge from the convention.

In some songs of the album, partly because of the composition of the ensemble (two saxophones, one flugehorn, piano, bass and double drums) and partly because of the peculiar way of playing of the musicians, I felt sensations and emotions similar to those I had the first time I listened Igor Stravinsky’s Petrushka.

That’s another milestone in the career of Vijay Iyer and it’s absolutely no surprise to find him reaching the top 5 in the final chart for Jazz music.


 

Number 3

JERSEY by Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet

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There are artists who are so much driven by musical curiosity and the desire to explore different influences that they feel the pressure to produce adventurous works mixing together musical genres, always trying to find new languages for expressing their creativity. And it may defintely curious to see how, sometime, the best way these artists really manage to achieve their goal is to come back to the origin of their music. Evidently, it is just by going through the most well-known roads that you can travel the further.

Mark Guiliana, the talented and versatile drummer who gained the attention of fans and critics playing together with artists of the caliber of Brad Mehldau and Avishai Cohen, started a few years ago an exploration of electronic music, pop/rock and free-improvisation – sometimes with mixed results in my opinion. This year he has movedback to a more conventional lineup, a total analogue set-up, and he eventually released one of the most exciting records of his entire discography.

Working together with long-time supporting musicians such as tenor saxophonist Jason Rigby and bassist Chris Morrissey, and the the new addition of Fabian Almazan on piano, Mark Guiliana managed to record a compilation of songs wich are today the perfect synthesis of Conteporary Jazz and that showcase a perfec balance between the excellence of the individual musicians (often engaged in breathtaking solos) with an excellent harmonic cohesion.


 

Number 2

BODY AND SHADOW by Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band

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As a long-term fan of American jazz drummer Brian Blade, I’ve been waiting for this new record with great expectations and some trepidation. His last effort with his fellow companions, Landmarks, dated 2014. But although I was therefore ready to listen to a great album, I could not imagine falling in love with Blade’s new release from the real first notes of the first track of the record. Body and Shadow, the last work released by Blade with the Fellowship Band, it’s something so beautiful and unique that it literally takes your breath away. This is a music with no reference, no original model: it is pure poetry that the musicians play spontaneously, leaving aside technical those virtuosities and conceptualisms which in any case they would not have any problem to use given their pedigree.

The adjectives that comes to mind thinking of the jazz played by the musicians on this record are “soft” and “sweet“. In fact the music proceeds in this album without angularities: we have sounds, melodies, and harmonies played with care and with delicacy, melodies that manage to touch the most intimate strings of the soul. But be aware, delicacy and softness here do not mean lack of emotions. Instead, this is a clear manifestation of musical leadership and a group of musicians who have played together for years and years. They show an impressive capacity to self-synchronize their sounds and a level of self-awareness that makes all the ensemble tuned and compact. And what has been said at the overall level is also true for the drumming of Brian Blade. His touch is never heavy or above the other instruments.


 

Number 1

AN ANCIENT OBSERVER by Tigran Hamasyan

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After so many times this album has been mentioned in this blog, it was extremely difficult that another record could remove it from the top of the chart. And in the end, as easily predictable, An Ancient Observer by Armenian composer Tigran Hamasyan won the award of best Jazz album of the year.

Differently from Tigran’s productions of the last few years, An Ancient Observer sees the artist focused primarily on the piano and the simplicity of the arrangements is totally in favour of Tigran’s inspirations. In all of the songs of the album we can appreciate the beautiful balance that he managed to achieve between Armenian folk music (which is based on a different tonal system with respect to the European one) and those more conventional – and for us familiar – musical structures.

The melodies in Tigran’s songs are always suspended on this unstable equilibrium between two worlds and two cultures, and this dynamic contrast creates a fascinating and magical atmosphere. Listening to the album, however, we appreciate how this is today the result of years and years of work and persistent refinement rather than just a circumscribed musical experiment. As a matter of fact, we’re speaking of a musician that is incorporating local folk melodies into jazz-form improvisations since his teens.

Sometimes, even if quite rarely, there are songs that can hit you deep in your emotions. Songs where the beauty of the melodies is combined with a great expressiveness of the interpretation. An Ancient Observer is full of these kind of songs. This is with no doubts a musical work that will leave a mark for a long time. Not to be missed, absolutely.

Many readers of the blog already had the opportunity to enjoy the Spotify playlist that was assembled to celebrate the greatness and the ingenuity of Tigran. This is available from the following widget, and collects both new and past pieces of music from our beloved pianist.