Saturday, February 27, 2021

Joachim Kühn - Touch the Light (February 2021 ACT Music)

“Maybe when I’m ninety...?” When Siggi Loch first floated the idea that Joachim Kühn might like to make an album of ballads, the pianist’s response was typically jocular, even defi-ant. That initial resistance didn’t last long, however. Kühn, now in his mid-seventies, soon started to settle down at the fine Steinway in his home – he keeps it impeccably tuned – to switch on his DAT recorder, and set to work. “The advantage of being here at home in Ibiza is that I can simply make a re-cording when I want to. When the feeling comes, I just re-cord,” Kühn reflects.

Over a period of about fifteen months he sent a total of some forty individual tracks to Siggi Loch. He would often take pieces, re-think them, and end up sending off sever-al different versions to Berlin. So what emerges on this new solo piano album “Touch the Light” is a distillation from those individual takes, all made on the same piano and in the same space. It flows extremely well as a coherent and delightful programme.

There are pieces here which re-visit important phases in a fascinating and varied career. “A Remark You Made” by Joe Zawinul has a special and deep personal resonance for Kühn. It takes him straight back to a pivotal moment: Zawinul was a juror at the 1966 Gulda competition in Vienna, the event which facilitated the 22-year-old pianist's escape from East Germany. Gato Barbieri’s theme from “Last Tango In Paris” recalls not just the fact that Barbieri enlisted Kühn in 1972 to play on the soundtrack, but it is also a tune he would play countless times later, in his trio with Daniel Humair and Jean-Francois Jenny-Clark. And the Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony not only brings to the fore a composer whose music has always made the deepest of impressions on Kühn, but also the fact that his physical resemblance to Beethoven often resul-ted in fellow musicians – notably Gordon Beck, with whom he worked on the Piano Conclave project in the 1970’s – giving him the nickname Beethoven.

The variety of Kühn’s pianism in this collection is quite remarkable. The listener is first welcomed into the inviting, comforting and regular pulse of Mal Waldron’s “Warm Canto”. And yet later, by complete contrast, Kühn’s own composition “Sintra” gives a masterclass in freedom, delay, and the alche-mical art of keeping the listener waiting on tenterhooks. Prince’s “Velvet Rain” is achingly soulful, whereas Kühn found the encouragement to re-visit Bill Evans’ “Peace Piece” from the dignity and restraint of classical pianist Igor Levit’s version of it.

Joachim Kühn can show us ineffable lightness of touch in the Allegretto from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. But he can also be forceful, as he gives full and sonorous arm-weight to Barbieri’s “Last Tango” theme. There are also homages to the melodic gifts of some reeds players: “Warm Canto” recalls the way Eric Dolphy on clarinet hovers over the melody on the album “The Quest”, and the spaciousness of Milton Nascimento’s composition “Ponta de Areia” clearly keeps in mind the airy, touchingly lyrical voice of the great Wayne Shorter.

Above all, however, it is in the simplicity and the sheer delight in melody of his own compositions that Kühn both touches the heart and gives us the greatest surprises on this album. “Sintra” is a tune written down in a peaceful mo-ment outside a cafe in the one-time sanctuary of the Portugue-se kings. And the title track “Touch the Light” captures the beauty of the sunset over the sea that Kühn often contemplates from his terrace. Kühn’s remark about that tune is also true of the album as a whole: “There’s a lot of love here. And joy.”

01 Warm Canto (Mal Waldron) 2:54
02 Allegretto, Symphony No. 7 (Ludwig van Beethoven) 3:55
03 A Remark You Made (Joe Zawinul) 3:39
04 Sintra (Joachim Kühn) 3:17
05 Ponta de Areia (Milton Nascimento) 2:29
06 Redemption Song (Bob Marley) 3:49
07 Touch the Light (Joachim Kühn) 3:38
08 Fever (John Davenport & Eddie Cooley) 3:13
09 Blue Velvet (Bernie Wayne & Lee Morris) 2:56
10 Stardust (Hoagy Carmichael) 4:40
11 Purple Rain (Prince) 4:39
12 Last Tango in Paris (Gato Barbieri) 4:45
13 Peace Piece (Bill Evans) 3:15

Music arranged and produced by Joachim Kühn
Curated by Siggi Loch

Joachim Kühn piano

Recorded by Gerard Guse at Salinas Studio, Ibiza, Spain
August 2019, May 2020 & October 2020
Mixed and mastered by Klaus Scheuermann

Florian Willeitner - First Strings on Mars (February 2021 ACT Music)

“I don’t think I have ever known a musician with quite the level of openness to people, to emotions, to musical languages, and the capacity to make them his own as Florian Willeitner. He is a stun-ningly good violinist, and I discover something new every time I hear him.” Paul Zauner, Founder & Artistic Director, INNtöne Festival

In the past the violin in jazz could sometimes seem a bit exo-tic, even outlandish, but all that has changed. Classical music and jazz are no longer mutually exclusive worlds; these days they en-rich each other, and it is the norm for string instruments to take centre stage. The ACT label has played its part in this transforma-tion, with artists such as the Bartolomey/Bittmann duo, the ra-dio.string.quartet.vienna and the incomparable Adam Baldych among the pioneers who created the paradigm shift, and who continue to take their music in new directions.

And yet, as violinist/composer Florian Willeitner from Passau in Southern Germany sees it, there is still further to go: “The full potential of the violin, with its unique versatility and its kaleidoscopic possibilities of timbre and texture, is rarely to be heard in conventional jazz settings.”

And from this he has derived his credo as both composer and instrumentalist: “It is my firm belief that in order to write music which uses the violin’s great spectrum of possibilities, it is crucial not just to have an awareness of the classical tradition, but also of the many other cultures which feature string instruments prominently and in which unique approaches and techniques have been developed. To blend these different ingredients into a trans-cultural style which is respectful to each of these distinct traditions is what inspires me.”

Willeitner, who was the star student of top violinist Benjamin Schmid, has been travelling the world and studying a wide variety of different musical cultures since the age of 19. During his classical studies, completed in 2017, he experimented with new ways of writing for orchestra, notably in his Violin Concerto No. 1, which had its first performance in the Vienna Musikverein. With his “New Piano Trio” he has spent several years refining this cross-genre composition and performance. In 2018 he founded “Pool of Invention”, an international artists' collective. With this collective he has focused his efforts on highly efficient transcultural art. The collective is a creative partner of leading festivals such as Mozart Week in Salzburg, directed by Rolando Villazón.

With his first album on ACT, we witness a first culminati-on of these endeavours: a trio project with Florian Willeitner and two similarly inclined musicians who are also opening up new paths for stringed instruments:

They are, on the one hand, violinist Igmar Jenner, who founded the string orchestra “String Syndicate” during his classi-cal training at Graz, and whose enthusiasms venture into genres such as tango and Irish folk. Igmar has been a member of the radio.string.quartet for 10 years. His duo with Slovenian accordio-nist Borut Mori won the 2010 Austrian World Music Award.

The third member of the trio is legendary double bassist Georg Breinschmid, who gave up his permanent position with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra because other things were more important to him: musical freedom and what he calls “a carefree approach to music.” Since then he has opened up to genres from blues to ‘Wienerlied’, and is a pioneer in combining jazz-inspired composition and performance with that particular kind of ironic humour which the Viennese call ‘Schmäh’.

Here we have the perfect line-up for “a feast of musical freedom and curiosity," as Willeitner calls "First Strings on Mars.” And if that sounds like hyperbole, it isn’t. There has never been a string trio with a range of sounds and techniques like this, nor players who can respond so effortlessly to one another's ide-as. It begins with Willeitner's “Novemberlicht”, simultaneously poetic and powerful. Then we hear Sting's “Fragile”, in a version that breaks all the boundaries of string-playing, Breinschmid's exquisitely tender “Reminiscence”, Willeitner's mysterious “Dark Romance or The Short Life of Mister Gimli Hope”, his folky pop song “The Green Wind”, Breinschmid's virtuoso reinterpretation of alpine folk music with “The Swindler” and “Hochkar” - and finally a yodel into which the sounds of "Ho Chi Minh” have been smugg-led.

Willeitner's hard-grooving tune “Brazil Imported” has it all: the trio show the range of techniques, tempi and thematic variety that is possible with their combination of bass, violin, mandolin and soul-fiddle (an instrument custom-made by Weilleitner's friend, luthier Valentin Kaiser). And again when they dig hard into “Searching” by Georg Breinschmid, they bring us back what this album is all about: “Our goal as a band,” says Willeitner, “is to be traditional in the best way. To learn from the past while writing for the future. To push the limits of our instruments. And to be the First Strings On Mars.” They're already well on their way.

01 Novemberlicht (Florian Willeitner) 6:40
02 Fragile (Gordon M. Sumner) 6:44
03 Reminiscence (Georg Breinschmid) 5:03
04 Brazil Imported (Florian Willeitner) 6:45
05 Dark Romance or the Short Life
of Mister Gimli Hope (Florian Willeitner) 6:02
06 The Green Wind (Florian Willeitner) 4:49
07 The Swindler (Georg Breinschmid) 4:45
08 Searching (Georg Breinschmid) 10:12
09 Hochkar (Georg Breinschmid) 7:26
10 Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair (Stephen Foster) 4:02

Recorded by Franz Schaden at Wavegarden Studios, Mitterretzbach/
Austria, July 2019. “Fragile” recorded at POI Studios,
Passau/Germany, October 2018. “The Swindler” recorded
live by Peter Tomic at Enter Enea Festival, Poznan/ Poland, May 2018

Florian Willeitner violin, soulfiddle, mandolin & vocals
Georg Breinschmid bass & vocals
Igmar Jenner violin & vocals

Produced by Florian Willeitner, Georg Breinschmid & IgmarJenner

Larry Coryell & Philip Catherine - Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic XI: The Last Call (February 2021 ACT Music)

The wheel has come full circle with the album “Last Call”, featuring the duo of Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine. This live recording from the Philharmonie in Berlin captures the culmination of an evening under the banner “Art of Duo” in Siggi Loch’s “Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic” series.

After four decades, it marks the two guitarists’ return to the scene of one of their very first major triumphs. In 1976 they appeared as part of the band 11th House at the Berliner Jazztage at the same venue, but it was the moment when just the two of them stepped forward and performed as a duo which the “Die Zeit”’s critic hailed as possibly the high point of the whole festival. It was a decisive step in what would become a highly successful collaboration.

Coryell and Catherine subsequently made two superb studio albums: “Twin House” (Atlantic, 1977), recorded in London, and the very fittingly named “Splendid” (Elektra, 78), recorded in Hamburg. Both of these LPs have definitely stood the test of time. Both also had the same producer, who credi-ted on the sleeve as “Siegfried E. Loch”. As he wrote to both the musicians in November 2016 on the 40th anniversary of the recording of “Twin House”: “I am pleased that we are going to be celebrating this music in the concert on 24 January 2017 in Berlin." On “Last Call” Coryell and Catherine play four num-bers, followed by first-time appearances of duos consisting of Philip Catherine and pianist Jan Lundgren and then of Larry Coryell with bassist Lars Danielsson, plus a valedictory jam on “Green Dolphin Street” with all four of these musicians plus trumpeter Paolo Fresu.

Coryell and Catherine, two “brilliant, mutually attuned musicians” as the liner note for “Twin House” describes them, were born less than six months apart during the Second World War. Texas-born Coryell and London-born Catherine have different musical heritages, but their affinity and above all their complementarity shone through every time they played together. When playing as part of larger units, there would always be at least 20 minutes when the pair would perform as a duo.

They toured extensively in both Europe and the Americas in the late 1970s. For example their work together brought them into a project with Charles Mingus near the end of the bassist’s life, and they also made a quartet album with Stéphane Grappelli and Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen. One particular highlight was their appearance at the inaugural Sao Paulo Jazz Festival in September 1978, when their performance was seen by a TV audience of 17 million. Catherine still laughs when he remem-bers the reason why he and Coryell became instant celebrities and could – briefly but literally! – stop traffic in Brazil: the duo had their TV slot immediately before the screening of the Muhammad Ali-Larry Spinks fight in Las Vegas.

The evening of 24 January 2017 found both guitarists on ebullient form, as can be heard right from the opening track. With Larry Coryell on acoustic guitar and Philip Catheri-ne on electric, they launch themselves once more in to the arpeggiated work-outs of “Miss Julie” – the opening track of “Twin House” – with a verve and energy which belies their years. There is a divine moment at the end of “Manha de Carnaval” when Coryell is picking out a series of perfectly placed hushed harmonics over the most delicate accompani-ment from Catherine. And later, in “Bag’s Groove”, Coryell’s duo with Lars Danielsson, the quotes from other tunes fly joy-ously from his fingers: everything from Denzil Best’s “Move” from the “Birth of the Cool” to the opening bassoon solo from Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”.

And yet the palpable exuberance of this concert is now tinged with sadness: this was to be Larry Coryell’s very last appearance in a concert hall. Four weeks later, Coryell died in his sleep at the age of 73 after a two-night trio residency at the Iridium in New York. So what remains is the memory, and above all this last example of something very special indeed: what Siggi Loch once described as the “creative compatibility, the enthusiasm and mutual understanding” of two very great guitarists, Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine.

01 Ms. Julie (Larry Coryell) 7:14
Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine
02 Homecomings (Philip Catherine) 6:58
Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine
03 Manhã de Carnaval (Luiz Bonfá & Antônio Maria) 7:07
Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine
04 Jemin-Eye’n (Larry Coryell) 5:28
Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine
05 Embraceable You (George Gershwin) 4:54
Philip Catherine and Jan Lundgren
06 Ba gs’ Groove (Milt Jackson) 6:43
Larry Coryell and Lars Danielsson
07 Green Dolphin Street (Oscar Peterson) 9:31
Jam: Larry Coryell, Philip Catherine, Lars Danielsson, Jan
Lundgren and Paolo Fresu

Recorded live in concert by Klaus Scheuermann
at the Philharmonie Berlin (KMS), January 24, 2017
Mixed and mastered by Klaus Scheuermann

Larry Coryell guitar
Philip Catherine guitar
Jan Lundgren piano
Lars Danielsson bass
Paolo Fresu trumpet

In memory of Larry Coryell (Apri l 2, 1943 - February 19, 2017) his last concert

Diego Pinera - Odd Wisdom (2021 ACT Music)

Diego Pinera is a unique figure who is genuinely taking music in new directions by juxtaposing the po-lyrhythmic freedom of jazz with other metric systems. As he says, “I studied music in the places where it came from.” He started playing drums as a four-year old in Montevideo. His student years were spent in Havana, Boston (Berklee) and Leipzig.

Based in Berlin since 2003, he has continued to wi-den his musical horizons, immersing himself in the ‘odd’ meters of the title through extensive work with Berlin-based musicians from Greece and Bulgaria.

‘Wisdom’ here refers not just to Pinera’s accretion of wide knowledge and consummate skill, but also to mystery and alchemy: the track “Conversations With My-self” is a hushed, concentrated masterpiece. His ear for fresh colours and timbres is astonishing.

His ACT debut “Despertando” was described as a “treat for the ear,” and “Odd Wisdom” is a kaleidoscope of sonic inventiveness. “Mi Cosmos”, for example, has the rasping sound of a snare over the drum-head. “Robotic Night” features a drum synth pad, played live in the studio.

“Odd Wisdom” is a significant and personal album. “It brings together all of the sounds and rhythms that I have been working on for the past decade.” Pinera gathered a dream team from the New York top flight together for just one day at the Trading 8s studio in New Jersey: Donny McCaslin, Ben Monder and Scott Colley have already made their mark in countless other contexts, and they are on spellbinding form here.

And yet “Odd Wisdom” also has a wonderful ‘lightness’ about it (it is one of Pinera’s favourite words). In these truly capable hands, complex music has a magical fluidity, freedom and flow. Pinera has acquired his wisdom by being watchful. As his evocative lyric for “Space” ex-presses it: “Al mirar arriba, más allá, en el sol.” (I under-stood by looking up, beyond, into the sun.)

01 Clave Tune 8:39
02 Domingo 6:14
03 Conversation With Mysel f 5:09
04 Robotic Night 4:12
05 Mi Cosmos 5:03
06 Space 7:18
07 Away 4:50
08 De Madrugada 5:04
09 Easter in Pugl ia 3:18
10 Blue Monk 7:16

Diego Pinera / drums
Donny McCaslin / saxophone
Ben Monder / guitar
Scott Colley / bass

Music composed by Diego Pinera, except Blue Monk composed
by Thelonious Monk, arranged by Diego Pinera
Recorded and rough mix by Chris Sulit at Trading 8s Recording
Studio, New Jersey (NYC), February 07, 2020
Final mix and mastering by Klaus Scheuermann
Produced by Diego Pinera