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.


SMOKY NIGHTS – A Selection of the Best Jazz of the last few months, Volume 01 (June 2017).

With SMOKY NIGHTS I present the best Jazz albums that have been published in the last few months. And on every issue of this series there will be a special mixtape where the best songs from these albums have been selected and mixed together in a 30-minutes seamless flow of beautiful music. The idea is that SMOKY NIGHTS will become a periodic event of my blog and will let us discover new artists as well as new works from consolidated artists. Enjoy the playlist and go read the commentary just below the widget.

 

Volume 1 of SMOKY NIGHTS is basically divied in two parts. At the beginning of the mixtape we have two complex and intimate pieces composed and recorded by two relatively young trumpetist: Avishai Cohen and Verneri Pohjola. The central piece, by pianist Aaron Parks and his bandmates, is the perfect transition between the first section, more dark and dissonant, and the final section of the mixtape, definitely more catchy and less introspective, which features a couple of great Jazz guitarist: Anthony Jambon and Ferenc Snetberger.

 

First song of the mixtape is 50 Years and Counting from the last album by trumpeter Avishai Cohen, named Cross My Palm With Silver, released on last May 5th. Cohen is one of the best trumpeter of his generation and on the two last albums he recorded for ECM he’s developing a different musical approach and compositional style compared to his early records (the Triveni phase), when the songs he played were certainly less profound and less conceptual than today. The song included in this mixtape is a valid representative of Cohen’s new phase of impressionistic and emotional jazz.

AVISHAI COHEN - 1280x300

 

Second track of the mixtape is Benjamin by Finnish trumpeter and composer Verneri Pohjola, and it’s picked up from his last record, Pekka, where he reinterprets the music of his late father, Pekka Pohjola, who was a (locally) acclaimed and revered prog-rock bassist and composer. Pohjola’s new record, released on June 2nd, provides us with an interesting jazz style in which rock influences are blended with eclectic sounds and sometimes dissonant constructions. It’s quite a complex work to comprehend at first, but it’s really growing on me with ripetute listens. The song in the playlist is one of my current favorites within the album, with its slow and incessant rhythm over which the melodic lines of the various instruments develop.

VERNERI POHJOLA - 1280x300

 

Third and central track of the playlist is Adrift, the first song from the last work by Aaron Parks, Ben Street and Billy Hart. The album, named Find the Way, has been published by EMC on last April 21st and sees Parks’s trio developing a fantastic combination of pulsating rythms and melodic piano lines. This is the eight album released by the prize-winning American pianist Aaron Parks as a leader, the second for ECM, and beyond the appearance of a classic piano-trio recording it presents some very special moments in which the three musicians find themselves playing outside of the classical boundaries of this genre and exploring relatively innovative musical structures. The song selected for the mixtape, however, is perhaps one of the most “classic” pieces of the entire album and it’s in fact rich of really enjoyable melodies on top of rather linear harmonic developments.

AARON and bandmates - 1280x300

 

The following track of the playlist comes from one of the best surprises in I encountered this year in Jazz, which is the debut album Precious Time by French guitarist Anthony Jambon and his four supporting virtuosistic musicians (Joran Cariou, Camille Passeri, Swaéli Mbappe and Martin Wangermée). I really like this work for the delicate balance that Jambon managed to achieve between simplicity of melodies and complexity of the rythimc sessions, The eight songs of the albums are definitely accessible and easy to enjoy also by less experienced listeners, but on such apparent simplicity I see a precise stylistic choice and certainly not a limitation in curiosity for musical exploration and improvisation. This is one of the best new artist who came out in 2017, and he did it with a superb debut release. The song from Precious Time which I selected for the mixtape is named Life and is a piece of passion and elegance.

Anthony Jambon Group @ New Morning - 02/05/2016

 

This first volume of the SMOKY NIGHT series is concluded with Kek Kerek, one of the most beautiful pieces from the beautiful album Titok released on last June by Hungarian guitarist Ferenc Snétberger. I fell in love with this album from the first time I listened to it. I presume that the special joy I get from this disc is also because this album is to some extent a partial compensation for the disappointment I had with the last work of Ralph Towner (My Foolish Hearth), on which maybe I put too many expectations and that in the end, after many weeks of listening, left me a little disappointed. I love acoustic guitar, sometimes I have a physical need to listen to it, and every time I’m aware of new record I enter in a state of fibrillation. And Titok was definitely not a disappointment! The album shows also Snétberger’s trio in a clear peak of inspiration and it demonstrates the special link that the three musicians achieved by playing together in many concerts. This trio features Swedish bassist Anders Jormin and US drummer Joey Baron, who’s been John Abercrombie’s drummer of choice for almost two decades.

SNèTBERGER - 1280x300

 

If you liked this new series of Jazz playlists and commentaries, stay tuned for the next releases which will appear on the blog. And in the meantime maybe you want to explore the other collections I’ve published with the best music of the last few months.

 

Best of New Pop (June 2017)

Best of New Rock (June 2017)

Best of New Thrash (June 2017)

 

 

 

Drops of Ancient Melodies: the beauty of classical architectures in Contemporary Jazz

A few days ago I was listening to The Invariant, the very nice last work by Benedikt Jahnel Trio, and I starten to think about how many beautiful Jazz works, even if not explicitly re-doing classical songs, are unequivocally and explicitly inspired by classical tradition.

The playlist I share with you today includes some of the most delicate and classical inspired pieces that I enjoyed in the last few years. This selection includes artists such as Benedikt Jahnel, Gwilym Simcock, Yuri Goloubev, Michael Wollny, Iiro Rantala and Aaron Goldberg.