Quick Review: “Black Blank” by Laurent Assoulen

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!


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!


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.



PIANO JAZZ, when the music flows between black & white keys

 

The piano has been an integral part of the jazz idiom since its inception, in both solo and ensemble settings. Its role is multifaceted due largely to the instrument’s combined melodic and harmonic capabilities. For this reason it is an important tool of jazz musicians and composers for teaching and learning jazz theory and set arrangement, regardless of their main instrument. (cit. Wikipedia)

 


 

When speaking about the history of jazz piano, we should remember that the piano is a unique instrument. It can play melody, harmony and bass, making it capable of functioning as both an accompanying, as well as a lead instrument. Apart from that, it is a magnificent solo instrument. If that’s not enough we can also see that as jazz piano music developed, the rhythm possibilities improved enormously, making this instrument sound like a full orchestra. (cit. Piano Play It, the History of Jazz Piano)

 


 

“Jazz” and “Piano” are always present among the most frequent terms which usually bring new visitors into this blog. This is because of a few appreciated posts that I dedicated in the recent past to this particular sub-genre of music, and also a succesful mixtape that was shared last year with some of the best tracks of 2017.

 

Indeed, the combination of piano and jazz brings with it all the elements of success. When the wide dynamic of timbres given by the piano meets with the class and inspiration of the most talented artists, the result is something that often transcends the boundaries of jazz and becomes an universal testimony of art and beauty.

To celebrate and enjoy the most exciting and brethtaking works for piano I have started to collect in a dedicated compilation all the best songs of the moment. The playlist, which is simply called PIANO JAZZ, will be updated periodically with new tracks, as it already happens for all the playlists that are managed by this blog.


 

At the moment of its publication, the playlist features brand new tracks by Brad Mehldau‘s new LP After Bach, Tigran Hamasyan‘s recent EP For Gyumri, and Rémi Panossian‘s new collection of pieces for piano named DO. Together with these artists, we have other masters of Jazz of the caliber of Omer Klein, Jan Lundgren, Michael Wollny and Cameron Graves.

I’m sure that this playlist will be appreciated by Jazz fans but also by every music lover. As already said, good music has always the capacity to become universal and a gift for every single person who has the capacity to open his soul and free his mind.

 

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American pianist and composer Brad Mehldau released on March 9, 2018 the album After Bach, which comprises the recordings of four preludes and one fugue from J.S. Bach, each followed by an “After Bach” piece written by Mehldau and inspired by the corresponding Bach’s song.

 

 

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Armenian pianist and composer Tigran Hamasyan released on February 16, 2018 the EP For Gyumri, which is the ideal companion to his beautiful previous LP An Ancient Observer.

 

 

 

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After touring the world with his trio, Frenc jazzist Rémi Panossian decided to reveal himself in a more intimate album of solo piano. The LP, named DO, was released on February 2018.

 


 

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.


 

 

Focus on: Tigran Hamasyan

I’ve always been fascinated by the music of Tigran, the young and talented Armenian musician, but I  must admit that not every one of his latest works impressed me in the same way. Honestly, a few of his recent productions left me a bit puzzled, maybe they were too conceptual for my musical tastes and not particularly enjoyable, at least in my humble opinion. But as soon as I started listening to his latest work, an album called An Ancient Observer, I was literally speechless. The album sees Tigran focusing primarily on the piano, and I personally feel that finally all the most beautiful aspects of his music have been collected together in a single place, a magical place.

From his website:

With pianist/composer Tigran Hamasyan, potent jazz improvisation fuses with the rich folkloric music of his native Armenia. Turning 30 in 2017, he’s one of the most remarkable and distinctive jazz-meets-rock pianists of his generation. A piano virtuoso with groove power, Tigran’s latest adventurous project is 2017’s An Ancient Observer, his second solo album, his eighth overall as a sole leader, and his sophomore recording for Nonesuch. (Overall, this is his eighth recording as a sole leader.)

A couple of songs from An Ancient Observer have also been included in our recent Piano Jazz selection, which collects the best piano songs of the first months of the year and that is accessible from this mini-widget:

A few gems from the previous albums:

Best of Piano Jazz in 2017 (so far!)

We celebrate with this post the most beautiful piano pieces we had the pleasure to listen in the first months of the year. A number of musicians have released important albums in the first quarter of 2017, and we have selected some of their best tracks in this playlist. We also found a few hidden gems in the jazz scene, which were included in the selection as well.

The playlist may be accessed by the slim widget on top of the post, or via the larger widget at the bottom of the post.

The first artist appearing in our playlist is Tigran Hamasyan, the experimental jazz pianist whose compositions are strongly influenced by the Armenian folk tradition, often using its scales and modalities. Tigran has just released his last album, An Ancient Observer, from which we extracted two beautiful songs which are also representative of his unique style: Fides Tua and Markos and Markos, respectively tracks 1 and 2 of the playlist. You can also watch a live performance video of Fides Tua on YouTube.

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The following two tracks of the playlist come from the American pianist and composer Michael Cabe and his jazz trio MEM3, which features also Mark Lau on bass and Ernesto Cervini on drums. We have selected two pieces from Circles, the second album from the trio which has been released in March 2017: Faith of our Fathers, a quite touching traditional hymn, and Native Dancer, which sees Cabe taking clear inspirations from scandivian jazz music.

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Track number 5 features Swizz jazz pianist Colin Vallon, who published the third album of his great Colin Vallon Trio, Danse, with Patrice Moret on bass and Julian Sartorius on drums and percussions. The song we selected from the album is the beautiful Tsunami, which uses the rhythm of waltz to convey dark and disturbing emotions. You can also watch a live performance of the trio for this incredible piece of music.

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The following track is the magical Nécropole played by French pianist and harpsicord master Jean Rondeau. Nécropole is the last track of the album Le Rameau d’Or de la Sybille de Cumes, which has been recently released by Note Forget, the jazz ensemble founded by Rondeau in which he performs on piano.

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Next track is Wonder and Awe by Israelian pianist Omer Klein, who published on last February the album Sleepwalkers with the support of Haggai Cohen-Milo on bass and Amir Bresler on drums.

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The following two pieces show the the skill and style of Jan Lundgren, the Swedish jazz pianist and composer who released the beautiful album Potsdamer Platz, one of the best jazz works we heard in these first months of the year. We have selected a couple of tracks from this album, On the Banks of the Seine and No.9, which highlight the ability of the musician to combine beautiful tunes with deep musical atmospheres.

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Track number 10 of the playlist is dedicated to Omar Sosa, the Cuban-born composerand jazz pianist which gained popularity for his collaborations with musicians from all the most disparate areas of the world, sometime very far from the boundaries of his original jazz and Afro-Cuban traditions. Omar Sosa has released a beautiful LP with support from kora master Seckou Keita, named Transparent Water (the album was selected here as best Jazz album of March 2017). From this album we selected the wonderful In The Forest, a delicate and medidative piece where Sosa’s piano alternates with the magical sound of the kora and mysterious touches of cymbals.

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Next track is Backpack by Adrien Chicot, the talented French pianist who has released an album with his jazz trio, featuring Sylvain Romano on double bass and Jean-Pierre Arnaud on drums. We are in the presence of a more “classic”  and less experimental contemporary jazz, in which however we can still appreciate the style and technique of this young musician.

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This musical journey concludes with an exaggerated and exuberant song by Cameron Graves, who is known to be the pianist of Kamasi Washington’s jazz ensemble but who has been able to record a phenomenal and quite refreshing solo album, named Planetary Prince. The piece we selected from the album is the magnificent and unleashed song called El Diablo, which reminds us the tunes of the past but with the addition of a healthy dose of madness.

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12 songs, 57 minutes of running time, the best of jazz piano released in the first months of the year. Happy listening! And any comment is welcome. Enjoy!