Friday, 15 May 2015

Sunna Gunnlaugs Trio, Distilled, 2013

"The purification or concentration of a substance, the obtaining of the essence or volatile properties contained in it, or the separation of one substance from another, by such a process". Distillation... "Distilled" is the name given to the last album (2013) of Sunna Gunnlaugs Trio. Since this dictionary definition is given in the liner notes and the short explanation for the title track is referred only to this definition, we can say that this album is a result of a process which may include experiences, memories, researches, happiness and/or sadness. The obvious maturity both in compositions and virtuosity throughout the album and the dignity of the sound tell me that the resultant product of this distillation is a perfect artistic piece. It can be easily seen by any concerned listener that each perfect-enough single origin participant created a very valuable blend for the album. 

The trio has been playing together for a long time and Distilled is their second album excluding Icelandic pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs' many previous ones in which trio's drummer Scott McLemore plays too. We see Þorgrímur Jónsson first in "Long Pair Bond" from 2011.

Distilled is surely a Nordic Jazz album first. Please don't ask me what this genre is. All I can say, besides jazz, there are classical music, nuances in sound, northern style melancholy, wind and cold in it. However in Distilled (and also a little bit in Long Pair Bond) there is certainly some traditional jazz from the place where it was born. This is most probably related with Sunna Gunnlaugs' jazz education in USA and the drummer Scott McLemore. Although moved to Iceland later on, he is from US and actually has been playing with Sunna Gunnlaugs for a long time - even before their debut in 1997 with "Far Far Away". Sunna Gunnlaugs gives many musicians from Northern European countries as influences. However there is a very important -and legendary- American one too there, at very early years of her musical education: Bill Evans with the amazing record "You're Gonna Hear From Me". Maybe this has a contribution too to the subliminal American style on the album. 
Even the first 10 seconds of the Momento -the energetic entrance to the album composed by Sunna Gunnlaugs- shows us that the drum set is given to a very qualified drummer. With his sharp and short duration touches on the instrument he let a very clear stage for the rest of the band. The title track has a beautiful power of covering the listener's body with its dignity. I do not have any idea about what is distilled in this piece and what was it like before the process but the piano (of the composer) feels like trying to explain some kind of settlement in a soul who found what she/he is looking for. The general quality of the record is so obvious in this piece that I could organically feel the harmony between instruments even in my living room. The reverberation amount is absolutely right. The slow increase in the tension of the performance as time passes and its sudden decrease through the end create a very deep groove.
Switcheroo is certainly something from America and not surprisingly it is composed by Scott McLemore. If I wasn't surrounded by a this much clearly defined and classical influenced piano I could easily feel myself in a jazz club in NYC. Smiling Face is bassist Þorgrímur Jónsson's dedication to his daughter. Naive and soft, the piece is consistent with the aura of the album. The tenderness in the piano carries some subliminal melancholy. Jónsson's melodic accompaniment and nice solo-like part are impressive highlights. Gallop is an energetic piece from Þorgrímur Jónsson and this energy is related to children according to liner notes. It starts with a pushy drum line which is followed by the piano from high registers.
Spin 6 seems to be the band's collaborative free improvisation similar to Spin 7 in the end - the continuation of spins from one of previous albums "The Dream". Started like a three sided challenge and finished just in one and a half minute, Spin 6 proves that the trio is a real trio instead of some musicians gathered to make music together. Spin 7 sounds much more experimental especially with its bass performance. 
The New Now is kind of a reproduction for Sunna's own piece from one of her previous albums back in Brooklyn days. The piece was for vocal initially but in this album we listen to very well rearranged trio version. The drummer Scott McLemore is certainly MVP of the piece and he let it fly with his energetic attacks.
24H Trip is about long travels of the band. The bass introduction feels like trying to explain a midnight wake up for airport transfer or a sleep in flight spoiled by some announcement from the pilot. We -just as a listener- can feel that being away from home and family for a long time is not an easy task, especially after hearing the depressive and impressive partitions from Scott McLemore. 
Based on an Icelandic melody and composed by Scott McLemore, Things You Should Know sounds very lyrical and hopeful. Sunna Gunnlaugs carries the main theme very fluently and successfully. The transition between the main part and the bass solo is impressive. From Time to Time is a composition of famous jazz drummer Paul Motian, who has passed away in 2007. The trio played this piece in his memorial concert and decided to play it also for the album. Carried from previous works of Sunna Gunnlaugs again, Opposite Side is another melancholic and catchy piece closing the album just before a short and improvisational part.
The album is recorded (and mixed) by Kjartan Kjartansson at Tónlistarskóli Gardabæer, Iceland where the sound engineer built a studio inside the school Sunna Gunnlaugs teach at. Finnur Hákonarson mastered the album. The album is produced by Sunna Gunnlaugs and Scott McLemore. The label is Sunny Sky Records. Sunna means something like sunny in Icelandic language. I think sunny weather should be something rare in Iceland. With the album Distilled, we can see the rare talent she has on the piano and composition. The harmony they caught as a trio is very promising for future. I am glad to say that we're gonna hear from them soon about a new trio album. I hope I can also hear about a live performance of them nearby - in my city or at last in my country.Here is a youtube link for a very nice video of the recording session:

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Søren Bebe Trio, Eva, 2013

It is right that I have a huge tendency on listening to piano trios and even I have been listening to traditional mainstream ones, Nordic scene is my main region of interest. This scene produced amazing pianists and piano trios since jazz spread to Europe. Now I will present one of them to you. Søren Bebe is among prominent jazz pianists in Denmark nowadays and this is a review for his trio album Eva from 2013, about which I should certainly have written two years ago. 

Eva is Søren Bebe Trio's fourth album and the experienced jazz musician Marc Johnson is playing the bass differently than the previous albums, in which we see Niels Ryde as the electric bass player. Anders Mogensen has always been the drummer in these albums.

The album was recorded and mixed by James Farber (assisted by Ted Tuthill and Owen Mulholland) on September 2012 at Sear Sound, New York. John Fomsgaard mastered the album at Karmacrew.

Lyrical compositions, amazingly soft piano tone, minimal but granular drums and masterful American touches on double bass are highlights of the album.

The album starts with very attractive compositions of Anders Mogensen (all the rest belongs to Søren Bebe): Simple and dignified, Freshman has no hurry to rush into your ears. However it is still powerful enough to hit you with the first notes. Søren's short solo introduction gives you the main theme and idea. Marc Johnson's familiar tone is very well fit into Anders Mogensen's implicitly swinging minimal rhythm lines. Adding the modest but impressive bass solo we can say that it is already proposed by the musicians in the first piece that they are there to give some qualified performance for some qualified compositions. 

L.R.P. is one of the most emotional pieces I have heard lately which is touchy especially for its piano partitions. It obviously sounds like a mourning or a homage. The solo performance of Marc Johnson surrounds the room like a velvet fabric. The bass riff in the entrance of Heading North gives a tensional feeling to the overall aura. Søren plays a long improvisational part over the background created by the -hardly changing- bass line and drummer's soft touches. The instant when the piano catches the bass on the same notes and the little energy rise after that, create a silent groove by means of Anders Mogensen. 

Luft (meaning Air in Danish) is a brief and naive composition. It is like a brief dialogue between the bass (the earth) and the piano (the space). The subject is what they have in between: Air. Started from a low tempo introduction, Flying High is really like a rocket and you don't understand when it started to fly. The area the pianist and the drummer let Marc Johnson for his solo feels like the time the rocket leaving the space craft alone just after the atmosphere: Silent enough to hear the low frequencies produced by the rumbling earth... (Yeah, I know sound is not transmitted in media-less space). 

Dragging is an interesting piece of the album with the silenced toms' sound. The qualified and serious piano performance look like improvisational. Sne (meaning Snow in Danish) is a characteristic performance of the album - cool, attractive and relaxing main themes are played mostly by the lyrical style piano and it is supported by minimal bass and drums. If there is something called Nordic piano sound, you can hear it in this piece easily. One Man Band's entrance sounds like promising a lot for what comes next. Another catchy melody from the piano is accompanied very well with a solid bass and drums. Soren achieves a nice improvisation while the others are keeping the energy always at top. The dynamic range Anders using on his set is very wide and this is responsible for the successful overall energy. 

Eva is Søren's 2 year old baby girl. The title track obviously carries the pianist's sincere love to his new born baby at that time. The hope, concern, love and devotion... They are all included in the main theme and the softness of the touches to the keys have a certain relation with a baby. Change starts with parallel lines of the bass and the piano. This harmonious dialogue -which is sometimes dominated by one of them- is accompanied by some hand strokes on snare drum. Good Times is like the hopeful end to this nice album. It is nice to hear some bow from Marc Johnson. 

Eva is my first album from Soren Bebe. Just after my first listening session for this amazingly beautiful album this week, I decided to have a retrospective look to this qualified jazz pianist's discography. What I could see is a hard-working and creative musician who exists professionally on the jazz scene for several years not only with his trio but also with several other projects. I strongly recommend you have a look at them too from his always updated and nice web page. For your information, Søren Bebe is planning to release his next trio album in 2016 with the current live performing band which includes Kasper Tagel on bass:

Here you can take a sip from the album over youtube with this amazing video using L.R.P. as a kind of soundtrack (you can find the related information about it in the webpage mentioned above):

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Shalosh, The Bell Garden, 2014

A complete and organic sound... Catchy at first sight but also complex enough to make the listener spend some energy to follow... European dominated, American structured and Middle-East influenced... These are definitions that any concerned jazz listeners can automatically give even in the Computer Crash and Jerusalem State of Mind, the first two pieces of Israeli/American jazz trio's first album The Bell Garden. The members of this piano trio are young, energetic and good friends: Gadi Stern on piano, Daniel Benhorin on bass and Matan Assayag on drums. The compositions are collaborative. These seem to be the main pushing forces behind their success in releasing a mature album even in the debut. In my opinion, the modesty in compositions and performance styles are signs of self-respect. They sound like they know very well about what they are playing and they are not in a rush to show themselves off with too crowded and flowery things. The album was lively recorded in Kicha Studios in Tel Aviv in January 2014. Record and mix (at Slick) belong to Ori Winokur assisted by Asaf Shay and Florina Mandel. The album was mastered by Jonathan Jacobi. It seems there is not a label behind and it is an independent production.

Especially the introduction part and shifts in tempo of Computer Crash and the full dynamic range they are using there are holding the listener on the sweet spot for the rest of the album with high expectations. The space they let listeners take some rests in and the energy level which is gradually increasing make the piece a highlight of the album.

Jerusalem State of Mind seems to start with some city sounds from Jerusalem and these are actually going on in the background throughout the piece. So it feels like the trio is playing in some squares or streets while the listeners are passers by. Some parts sound almost like Latin which means they are there to represent some joy whereas some others look like coming from European melancholy. Jerusalem... Maybe it's a city of such mixed feelings.

Leaving Maine is obviously one of the most impressive compositions of the album in which the band is demonstrating how good they are in controlling the tension in their music starting from a basic low tempo piano and brush accompanied dignified bass line to somewhere all members are pushing each others to play more and more energetic. In my opinion the power of a piano trio lies in here. The bass solo just before the energetic part worths listening over and over.

A kind of generic bass entrance turns into a groovy and serious piece in Brain Damaged Pumpkin Pie. The interchange of the main theme between the piano and bass gives an alive texture to the piece. The improvisational part where the main theme is totally left and the return from this part are successfully performed. There are many nice surprises within the piece keeping the audience alerted every time.

Some interesting, naturally produced, almost-asymmetric percussive sounds are continuously coming from very back of the record in the beginning of the 5th track and this actually provides a deep background for the rest. Everything Passes, Even The Trees has a bipolar characteristics: the first character is the silent, piano based one whose energy is constantly growing up till the end, and the second one is the almost aggressive part triggered by the piano and driven to a higher state of energy by the drummer - a very catchy melody from the piano is accompanied by the energetic drum and bass in this part. There is also an instantenous return from the second part to the first one resulting in an enormous groove. 

Elephant feels like it is related to some Far East thing with interesting percussion partitions. The distorted and effect carrying piano tone -may even be some electronically improved keys- increases its mystic aura. Unlike the others playing almost the same ritual-like partition over and over, the bass sometimes follow some interesting lines. The long introduction ends with a complete blast of the whole band and one last time we hear the distorted piano just before they finish.

Pleasure and Disgrace is another very beautiful composition of Shalosh. It sounds almost like a pop hit and having been played this qualitatively, the piece is among locomotives of the album. The drummer's timing is very precise in connecting piano's groovy touches. The bass and piano are following a similar line while the drum-set is responsible for the tension control in the piece.

The bassist deserved to be in the title in Song for Daniel with his nice and dominant performance. The piece has a mainstream style - in the sense of traditional American jazz. Here we see the US impression on the band. There are some electronics added to the keys, which is a successful act to increase the diversity. 

Get Gone is a nice, minimal and jazzy Fiona Apple cover. The trio is again using the dynamic range as much as they can by starting from very low level signals. I am especially impressed by the difference between sound levels of two hands on piano. The drummer can be recorded better considering these low level parts but the idea and the performance is beautiful. 

The minimal rhtyhm section of Sandy is very well in harmony with the soft and touchy piano partitions. This calm piece is sometimes transformed into an energetic one mostly thanks to the master hands on the drum set and the piano's responses to the increases in the tension are just amazing. 

Eulogy -consistent with its name- may even be called the dark end with its melancholic bow performance and the dry snare drum which sounds almost like it is in a funeral band. The piano is alike, it is almost a part of piano sonata performance in andante. The last notes from the keys sound like the demonstration of the inevitable destiny. 

Shalosh is a very qualified piano trio and they are very distinctive in latest jazz scene who is populated a lot by piano trios. They will soon (already maybe) be known to all European jazz scene and will be noticed by main labels, distributors and agencies with their future works. As far as I could see in their webpage it is possible to listen to them live in XJazz Festival in Berlin on May 8th: 

Here is a youtube sample for the band:

I strongly advise you to buy albums and here is the link for it: