Sunday, 4 September 2016

Jan Lundgren, The Ystad Concert, A Tribute to Jan Johansson - ACT, 2016

This will be the first review after a very long break of almost four months. A long break caused by unbelievably stressful times we have been through this summer as Turkish people... I'm checking my notes on when I listened to this great album and I see 17th of June there. Music, especially jazz, has always been a very great healing effect on me and I want to leave the bad parts of past in the dust bin with this album and with these words that I have chosen in order to try to express my feelings against its excellency. Let's forget bad people doing bad things for this world and endorse beautiful people of art and music!

The first obvious demonstration of Swedish jazz concept goes back to 60's when Jan Johansson's legendary album Jazz på Svenska was released. Although there is no certain boundaries for this sub-genre and it is indeed in its definition to remove boundaries for jazz, we can easily say it is improvisational music based on Swedish folk themes and diversified with classical music mostly on piano in past and currently with several electronics adds and rock influences. Although Swedish jazz seems to be a sub-genre of Nordic jazz, I need to mention that the concept, which Jan Johansson introduced and proved to be an internationally acclaimed one, is the real inspiration for the whole Scandinavian jazz sound. The pianist Jan Lundgren is among prominent musicians in Swedish jazz scene now and we can say that he is in the acoustic side of the genre which is very close to what it was like in Johansson's time. He is very active with several collaborations as well as with his own trio. His trio albums Swedish Standards & European Standards and Mare Nostrum series with Paolo Fresu and Richard Galliano have been internationally well known albums from the label ACT, which has more than 100 Swedish jazz albums in its 20 years history. Jan Lundgren has also been the artistic director of a very young but iconic jazz festival in south of Sweden called Ystad Jazz Festival.

For me, titled as a tribute to Jan Johansson, released in memory of recently deceased Bengt-Arne Wallin, recorded live in Ystad Jazz Festival, performed with his long time collaboration Mattias Svensson and colourized by a string quartet, this album of Jan Lundgren is a brief story of what the pianist has been doing and feeling about the roots and the future of Swedish jazz. Jan Lundgren is holding our hands in this story while we are walking through Jan Johansson's foot prints in Swedish snow which is garnished by Russian and Hungarian folks, namely Jazz på Svenska (1964), Jazz på Ryska (1967) and Jazz på Ungerska (1967) setting the basis of tracks and arrangements in the album. 


As mentioned in George Riedel's liner notes for the album, the unique sound of Jan Lundgren's style is recognizable just from first few notes of the first track Emigrantvisa - a modest but shiny technique and controlled sound with a very well balanced reverberation of the Ystad Teater. Gånglek från Älvdalen is probably the most jazzy arrangement and performance of the album thanks to many dialogues between Lundgren and Svensson connecting main melody supplied by strings accompaniment. 

The performance of a very well known and catchy tune of Swedish Folk, Polska från Medelpad is a good example of how the string arrangements of Martin Berggren suited very well with the piano partitions. Mattias Svensson's solo parts in continually following Polska efter Höök Olle, which is full of pull-offs in ultra-low frequencies shaking my living room, is really impressive. Berg-Kirstis Polska is connected to previous piece with a bass introduction and continues with interesting metronome changes triggered by the piano. The ever evolving structure carrying jazzy hints suddenly stops and fades into a short magic piano part in the end.  

The first track of Russian series, Bandura dives as a duo performance into minors of mostly melancholics feelings and it is followed by string accompanied Kvällar i Moskvas förstäder, which lifts the feeling into a more hopeful state.

På ängen stod en björk is certainly my favourite performance from the album especially with its introduction with groovy double bass and the following both naive and energetic piano fueled by Bonfiglioli Weber String Quartet with a gradually increasing intensity. The rise and fall of the tension in this performance is amazingly inspirational pushing you to run in green fields.   
Det går en kosack is like a classical intermission in the middle of the album with its almost complete string performance, whose last part is skillfully transformed by Jan Lundgren into the one of the most famous Russian melodies, Stepp min stepp. An epic solo piano introduction for an epic theme is then accompanied by the double bass. The string quartet adds another layer of excellency to this great performance.  

Hungarian part starts with a touchy duo performance, Det snöar. Mattias Svensson is the MVP of this dialogue with his great solo travelling easily between high and low registers. Det vore synd att dö än is introduced by Lundgren and Bonfiglioli Weber String Quartet (Claudia Bonfiglioli / violin Daniela Bonfiglioli / violin Karolina Weber Ekdahl / viola Charlotta Weber Widerström / cello) and continued by the whole team. It sounds like classical music dancing with jazz swing. 

Then there comes probably the most well known Swedish folk tune of Jan Johansson's Jazz på Svenska, Visa från Utanmyra. The piano is certainly played by a pianist whose first name is Jan. One hand belongs to the one with the second name Johansson and the other belongs to the other Jan: Jan Lundgren. Closing your eyes you can see them both on the piano.  

Lycklig resa is the only Jan Lundgren composition in the album and this is reflected in its modern style nourished with a wide influence of an overall European sound and American groove. The way our pianist plays the main theme and the locations of other instruments in the performance give some ideas to us about the contribution of Jan Lundgren to Jan Johansson's music throughout the album.   

Slängpolska efter Byss-Kalle is another Scandinavian folk tune which is very well arranged and performed so that it sounds both jazz and classical. The dialogues between strings and piano are longer compared to previous performances in this long track.

The last number Här kommer Pippi Långstrump is a very famous Jan Johansson's tune, which also triggers the audience to keep up with the rhythm for a while. Its hopeful and joyful energy seems to have spread through the performance hall giving a very good end to this amazing concert.

The album was recorded by P2 Swedish Radio (Bertil Karlsson and Berngt Pettersson) on July 30th 2015 in Ystad Teater during Ystad Jazz Festival. The mastering is made by Arne Schumann.

This is certainly one of the best jazz albums came from European jazz scene in 2016 and it will find a high number in my best jazz albums 2016 list.  

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Markus Stockhausen & Florian Weber, Inside Out at Ankara Jazz Festival, May 6th 2016

Ankara Jazz Festival is far from being exciting for me especially in last three years. As someone taking flights for just one night concerts even to abroad, I, most of the time, do not want to join a single performance in my own city's festival. Poor and recursive line-up's are one side of this long story. The usage of shopping-malls as performance halls is on the other side and frankly it has nothing to discuss on, for me. So, to keep it short, I should say I can understand that the festival directors has not much to do since they do not have a main sponsor - at least this is what they say in general.

However, this time, I could not believe my eyes when I saw Markus Stockhausen in the line-up. As a long time European Jazz follower, ECM collector and a fan of the album "Karta", I was really excited to see his name with his latest musical partner Florian Weber with whom we saw in one of the latest ECM albums, Alba. Having played for almost 6 years as a duo, they released this album on April 2016.     

The introduction piece of the concert started with no musician on the stage. We heard Markus Stockhausen's well known clean and touchy trumpet tone from outside the small performance hall of the museum whose two doors were looking to a large display room. Florian Weber came silently and started to play his part while Stockhausen was still performing. Then his sound gets louder after the first 2-3 minutes as Markus Stockhausen enters the door at the back and passes through the stage. I was thinking during the concert that this introduction was about the concept of "Inside Out" but on talking with Markus Stockhausen after the concert, I realized that he had chosen to play some part outside, since his instrument needs a larger space than the hall supplies, considering frequency responses especially in high registers.   

They played some pieces from Alba such as Die Weise Zauberin, Befreiung, Emilio (a piece from Weber for his son - it is among highlights of the album with its naive aura), Better World (dedicated by Stockhausen to latest turmoil all around the world during the concert), Emergenzen and Mondtraum. Being consecutively located through the end of the set list, Emergenzen and Mondtraum were two impressive performances for me, especially with their catchy main themes and lyrical styles. Nicht Umsonst and Our father (from Stockhausen's 2004 album Joyosa) were among the other pieces performed. The last piece, Yahoo (a composition of Markus Stockhausen from 1998), ended as the first piece and Markus Stockhausen left the stage to the outside part of the hall to play the last. 

It was great to have experienced Stockhausen's classical music impressed spirit on jazzy and improvisational pieces in a live performance and I think Weber's collaboration on piano sounds very organic. The perfect timing and harmony between musicians even during the long pauses in some of the performances were really noteworthy. It was my first time with the pieces in Alba and frankly the compositions were very touchy and the way the duo play them is very much on the well-known ECM-style. I am sure it will take its well-deserved place in the legendary collection of the label among distinguished ones.     

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Lou Tavano, For You, 2016

Deep stories told impressively inside beautifully composed jazzy music... I would describe For You, Lou Tavano's debut album in ACT, with these words if you asked me to make it short. However, these stories, impressive vocal and unique sound deserve more, even if it is hard to define music with sentences. Lou Tavano's unique way of singing is the first thing that hit me in the album. She has a style of almost flowing-words. It feels like she can sing every lyrics within every composition just by tuning the pronunciations a little bit. On the other hand, her expressions are clear and definite too. She uses her vocal as an equal partner of other instruments rather than being the main character above all. The instrumental performances are also extraordinarily remarkable compared to a vocal album - some of them can be shown as stand alone pieces even if you mask the vocals virtually. The pianist Alexey Asantcheeff seems to be the hero of the album with his name visible in almost all compositions, arrangements and lyrics. The dedicated "thank you" in the liner notes from Lou Tavano to him is another solid evidence of that. They have been working together for a long time (released the previous album together) and you can feel it also in the organic harmony between piano and the vocal in this album.

Quiet Enlightenment starts with "wake up" whispering repeated within the song from time to time. Full of touchy words possibly of a children for a passed away dad, lyrics are far away from being part of an ordinary song carrying chorus-like structures. Actually, this is more or less the general characters of lyrics, which are written mostly by Alexey Asantcheeff and Lou Tavano. 

Emotional Riot starts with a dark ambiance followed by some increase in tension through the middle - consistent with the title. Lou Tavano tries some high registers and becomes successful both in tone and speed. The contribution of the woodwinds to the overall energy and Ariel Tessier's groovy performance on the drum-set are highlights. The Letter is a short and hopeful piece with naive piano partitions from Alexey Asantcheeff and nice accompaniment from Alexandre Perrot (bass) and Maxime Berton (saxophones).  

Rest Assured is among pop-smelling pieces of the album with dance-rhythms pushing you to hands-up state. L'Artiste makes me very happy as someone fond of French speaking vocals. Different than well-known jazz divas from France, Lou Tavano's French style is more crispy and sounds more like the streets of France - I almost feel like listening to first times of Edith Piaf. 

The title track is an impressive one with vocals travelling beautifully between highs and lows both in octaves & emotions, minors from the piano and muted trumpet of Arno de CasanoveIt's A Girl is about a new baby and the parents. So the music carry its energy. Attack-full drum partitions and lively solo of flugelhorn are all results of this energy. Lou Tavano supports her vocal with her own scats. 

The Call is like the serious brother of the album and its lyrics (from Arno De Casanove) sounds like they are written for a lost friend. Especially the poem-like part with energetic rhythms in the middle are impressive. Bavoushka is just a Russian dialogue connected to the next piece. Petite Pomme is another French piece including also Russian poem-like parts. All Together is like a message to whole world - wishing for a border-less, fearless, war-less life on earth. The vocal is supported with children's performances. How essential it sounds in these hard times! 

Afro Blue (Bali Hues) is one of the most impressive covers I have heard for this amazing, time-less composition. It all starts with a hard-to-recognize texture and with first naive words from Lou Tavano, I decide that she turns into a successful black singer in this performance. Percussive movements and backvocals give a very groovy overall feeling and the tensional changes in the performance results in a very catchy, dance-able and moving ambiance. The last track Through A Nightmare's energetic trio piano performance between quiet vocal parts shows how successful the instrumental structure of the album is too.

The album is recorded at Studio de Meudon, July 2015 by Philippe Teissier Du Cros (assisted by Clement Gariel). Mixing is achieved at Studio Boxson by Philippe Teissier Du Cros too. Raphael Jonin mastered the album at Jraphing. The album is produced by Sebastien Vidal and the executive producer is Onde Libre. The record quality is fairly good for the crowded setting for most of the time. 

They will be performing for the release party of the album in Duc Des Lombards in Paris for 3 days starting from tomorrow - March 31st.

Here is the youtube link from ACT's making of From You video: 

Here is a sample from the album again from youtube: 

Monday, 28 March 2016

Medbøe, Eriksen, Halle - The Space Between, 2015

Includes no bass, no drums, but it is a trio album... It is so Nordic that you can notice this signature only by hearing some seconds from the album without looking at the cover. Born in Norway but living currently in Scotland, the guitar player Haftor Mødboe collaborates with two famous other Norwegian musicians in this album: Espen Eriksen on piano (and harmonium) and Gunnar Halle on trumpet (and voice). Mødboe is a known figure in UK jazz scene and he is actually on the academic side of the jazz music too. Espen Eriksen and his trio are among internationally active stars of the Norway and Gunnar Halle is one of the most visible trumpeter of Nordic scene with an amazing discography. This extraordinary trio recorded The Space Between in Castlesound Studio just after their first concert in Edinburgh Jazz Festival in 2015. Being the composer of all pieces, Haftor Mødboe chooses to be just a part of the trio, instead of the leader in the album. More than this, he usually prefers to stay in the background except some parts in some pieces. The absence of explicit percussion seems to have created a clean and vast area for all these musicians of nuances. Even the compositions are catchy, I can easily say that the power of the album resides at the style it is played rather than what is played. All instants and movements, the highs and lows... They are all almost visible rather than audible thanks to musicians' concentrated performances. 

With some transistor radio sounds and first riffs of the piano, the guitar starts to present the nice main theme of the East Pier, which can give a good idea about the overall feeling of the album. The following trumpet line is very touchy and controlled. Espen Eriksen's solo is also very promising for the rest of the album. This is certainly one of the best performances of the album and it catches the audience right from the heart in the beginning.  

With the piano and the guitar on the rhythm line, the introduction part of the Bell Rock is like a playground for the the trumpet. The body between 2:00 and 4:00, where trumpet is increasing the tension with upper registers and improvising collaboratively with the piano, is impressive. Gunnar Halle's unique tone needs attention too. The breathful-sound creates a very organic texture for the whole ambiance.

The main theme of Utsira High feels like the soundtrack of an independent film, which is about a man living with an endless nostalgia. The voice by Gunnar Halle appears right when the guitar starts a solo part and then Espen Eriksen's piano tells its idea about the main theme. 

Forty Mile Ground starts with a minimal duo performance of piano and trumpet. The guitar slowly touches to the sound just before a beautiful solo of Espen Eriksen. The trumpet is then accompanied by some electric guitar and piano. Gunnar Halle is really good at controlling the tension with slow changes in trumpet's sound and level of lyricism. 

Bass line piano is followed by main storyteller guitar and trumpet in the first part of Skagerrak. Then the roles are exchanged and the guitar and trumpet start to create a mystic background for a short solo performance of the piano, followed by trumpet accompaniment. There is also an interesting three-sided conversation part through the end. 

A paralel line between the piano the guitar is accompanied by a deep effect-carrying voice - probably from Gunnar Halle in Fladen. The acoustic guitar performance of Haftor Mødboe is like something above all Nordic characteristics of the whole album. The reverberant vocal performance in the background is really beautiful.

The touchy trumpet tone of Gunnar Halle over Espen Eriksen's harmonium creates a wonderful introduction for the last piece of the album, More Viking Than You. Harmonium creates a heavenly sound as if a church organ is on the stage. The melancholic aura leaves the listener in a state where nothing is resolved or resulted into anything at the end of the album. 

The record quality is at top notch. The localisations of the instruments on the stage and resolution supplied for each individual are all impressive. Especially the trumpet sound is very detailed. The recording and mastering is made by Garry Boyle. Mixing and production belongs to Graham Coe. The label of the album is Losen Records. 

Here is a sample from the album over youtube: 

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Stefano Bollani, Ankara Piyano Festivali, 19 Ocak 2016

Olağanüstü ve sıradışı... Dün gece Ankara'da gerçekleşen Stefano Bollani solo piyano konserini iki kelime ile niteleyecek olsam bunları seçerdim sanırım. Her ne kadar kendisini ECM albümleri ile takip etmiş olsam da, dün geceki performans benim ilk canlı Stefano Bollani deneyimimdi ve bu durum tahminimce Ankara'daki bir çok dinleyici için geçerlidir. Tüm ilk dinleyenler de benim gibi bu deneyimi bu kadar geciktirmenin ne kadar büyük bir kayıp olduğunu farketmişlerdir diye düşünüyorum.

Stefano Bollani tuşların üzerinde olanca rahatlığıyla gezinirken sizde de piyano çalma isteği uyandıran coşkulu piyanistlerden. Piyanosunun başında - bu konserde aynı zamanda rhodes'ta da- onu aynı anda hem bu kadar konsantre hem de bu kadar rahat görmek insanda gerçek bir güven duygusu oluşturuyor.

Her ne kadar konser tümüyle doğaçlama ve playlistsiz gibi görünse ve Stefano Bollani nadiren parçaları tanıtsa da, konserde popüler parçaların düzenlemeleri ile birlikte maestro'nun kendi bestelerini de çaldığını söyleyebiliriz. David Bowie'ye ithafen çalınan Life on Mars özellikle groovy bağlantıları ve tansiyon değişiklikleri ile sanırım bu parça için dinlediğim en iyi cover'dı. Genel manada performans hem kolay yakalanabilir melodilerin peşinde olan dinleyicileri hem de daha kompleks yapıların ve enerjik riflerin peşinde olan beklentisi yüksek caz dinleyicisini tatmin edecek düzeyde iyiydi. Bazı icralarda güçlü bir Brezilya müziği etkisi gördüm ki bir Brezilya bestesi de çalındı konserde. Piyanonun içini ve dışını bir perküsyon aleti gibi kullandığı anlar oldukça etkileyiciydi.

İlk bis adeta bir ilüzyon gösterisi gibiydi: Stefano Bollani türden ve tarihten bağımsız bir şekilde dinleyicilere ne dinlemek istediklerini sordu. Billy Jean, My Favourite Things, Hotel California, Hit The Road Jack ve Summertime kalabalıktan yükselen parça isimlerinin arasından kulağıma çalınanlardı. On adet parçayı bir kağıda yazıp koydu önüne Bollani ve "şimdi bunların hepsini içeren bir potpori çalacağım sizlere" dedi. Bu müthiş performans içerisinde sol elde Billy Jean'in, sağ elde ise Summertime'ın swing ettiği unutulmaz anlar da vardı; parçadan parçaya geçişlerde nefes kesici düzenlemelerle bizi yakalayan Hotel California da. Bazen tanıdık reggae partisyonları bile dinledik - hem de vokal destekle. Kesinlikle doğaçlamanın ötesinde bir tür ve icraydı. Stefano Bollani sanki bize her besteyi her formda, stilde ve tempoda istediği gibi doğaçlayabileceğini söyler gibiydi. 

Rahatlıkla söyleyebilirim ki dün gece Stefano Bollani'nin üniversitem ODTÜ'nün KKM'sinde yaptıkları Ankara dinleyicisinin uzun süre unutamayacağı cinstendi. Ankara'da uluslararası caz sahnesinin giderek görünmez hale geldiği şu günlerde hayat öpücüğü desek yeridir bu konser için. Bu da tabii ki Ankara Piyano Festivali'ni düzenleyen Fırat Dadaş sayesinde gerçekleşti. 

Stefano Bollani, Ankara Piano Festival, January 19th 2016

Remarkable and extraordinary... These are two words I can use to describe the solo piano performance of Stefano Bollani last night in Ankara. Even though I have been following him through some ECM albums, last night was the first time I have seen him live - most probably same applies to many jazz listeners in Ankara. Frankly, we -the first timers- saw very well what a great loss it is to let this experience hit us this much late.

Stefano Bollani is among those enthusiastic pianists who encourage you to jump and play next to him, while he is easily travelling on the keys. It may be confidence what you feel when you see his comfortable and concentrated state of mind on the piano - and on rhodes also in this concert.

Although the whole concert seemed to be improvisational and playlist-less and he barely introduced the pieces, we can say that there are many arrangements of some popular pieces as well as maestro's own compositions. Having played as a tribute to David Bowie, the performance of "Life on Mars" was among the best covers I have listened to with its groovy links and tensional changes. The overall performance was satisfactory both for listeners looking for catchy melodies and more demanding jazz followers running after complicated parts as well as energetic riffs. I felt a strong Brazilian music influence on some of the performances - and he actually played a Brazilian composition too in the concert. The moments when he used the outside and inside parts of the piano as a percussion instrument were also impressive.

The first encore was like an illusion show: Stefano Bollani wanted to hear what the audience wants to listen to, regardless of the genre or chronological order. Billy Jean, My Favourite Things, Hotel California, Hit The Road Jack and Summertime were among those I have heard from the crowd. He wrote ten of them on a paper and challenged to play them as a medley. What a medley it was! There were many magic moments during the performance such as we suddenly started to listen to some reggae partitions from Stefano Bollani -also as vocals- or Billy Jean was on his left hand while Summertime was swinging on the right. The moments when Hotel California emerges above others were so groovy and breathtaking. It was beyond improvisation. He was like telling us that he can play every composition improvisationally in every form, in every style and tempo.

Evidently, what Stefano Bollani did last night at the performance hall of my university METU is something that Ankara audience will not forget for a long time. Considering that international jazz scene is getting less visible each day in Ankara, this concert was like a life kiss - thanks to Ankara Piano Festival run by Fırat Dadaş.