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.

Quick Review: “The Scope” by Manu Katché

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.

The Scope can be streamed via Spotify.

All the new released in Jazz are selected and collected in THE JAZZ MUSIC RADAR. Check it out, listen to it, and follow it! It’s continuously updated with brand new tracks.