Tag Archives: Chris Hopkins

ELLINGTONIA with FRANK ROBERSCHEUTEN, AURELIE TROPEZ, ENRICO TOMASSO, CHRIS HOPKINS (October 29, 2017)

Ellington by Hirschfeld

The Frank Roberscheuten Hiptett, led by Frank on alto and tenor, did the lovely magic of honoring an ancestor and a tradition without copying the records note-for-note.  This magic took place at the Classic Jazz Concert Club in Sassenheim, in the Netherlands, on October 28, 2017, and it appeared — magically! — on YouTube this morning. I couldn’t resist, and I hope you can’t either.

The other creators are Aurelie Tropez, clarinet; Enrico Tomasso, trumpet; Chris Hopkins, piano (his accompaniments especially subversive and delicious), Mark Elton, string bass; Stan Laferrière, drums. And there’s a surprise vocal trio — always a treat.

The songs they chose are familiar, yet the light of individuality shines through these performances, even when the ghosts of Ellington, Procope, Cootie, Nance, Hodges, Gonsalves, are visiting.

Thank you for being, dear players and singers.

May your happiness increase!

“DANCING” WITH THE STARS — a/k/a ECHOES OF SWING: COLIN T. DAWSON, CHRIS HOPKINS, BERND LHOTZKY, OLIVER MEWES

 

ECHOES OF SWING

The wonderful quartet ECHOES OF SWING is often compared to the John Kirby Sextet, and with some justification.  They both create intricate lines; they turn corners adeptly at top speed; they like surprises; they often play with classical themes.  But I need to write a heresy here.  Stand back.

I think ECHOES OF SWING has well and truly outstripped its ancestor: they are satisfying in ways the Kirby group couldn’t have imagined.  There!  I’ve said it.

This quartet can be energized up to 11, but they are also capable of great yearning, quiet serenities.  And they like the groove (not even the slowest track drags) but don’t get stuck in it — each track has small jubilant surprises in it, and the CD never feels like an hour of the same thing, a salad that’s really a huge bowl of Swiss chard.

The four heroes at work are Colin T. Dawson, trumpet / vocal; Chris Hopkins, alto saxophone; Bernd Lhotzky, piano; Oliver Mewes, drums.  Chris, Colin, and Bernd have also contributed originals and arrangements.

And they have a new CD — called DANCING, appropriately.

Rarely do I quote from other people’s liner notes . . . but these tell the tale —

‘…a waltz through the history of jazz, an anthology which takes a wry look at the theme of dance in jazz, occasionally heading off at a tangent, and making some very surprising connections. It begins at the very beginning with Johann Sebastian Bach. A Gavotte from the English suite No. 6, a baroque dance, is transformed into a melodic platform for an effervescent drum feature. A journey through James P. Johnson’s ‘Charleston’ (‘straightened out’ into a modern jazz waltz), Scott Joplin’s ‘Ragtime Dance’, Cole Porter’s ‘Dream Dancing’, or Sidney Bechet’s ‘Premier Bal’ to Pixinguinha’s Brasilian Choro ‘Diplomata’, Bernd Lhotzky’s Cuban Bolero ‘Salir a la Luz’ or the exotic Ellington-like timbre of ‘Ballet Of The Dunes’ from Chris Hopkins. This is dance in jazz, but not as we know it. For a start, a third of the tracks are original compositions, and all of the remaining tunes have been not so much arranged, but more like given a complete and thorough overhaul. The older selections now possess a new ‘hipness’ and have been brought stylistically right up to the present day. This album presents the winning combination of flawless musicianship, a comprehensive knowledge of music history, good taste and judgement, and a sly sense of humour. Each of the tracks of “Dancing” communicates simultaneously and directly with the brain, the emotions and down to your feet. There is quite simply a very wide range of delights for the listener to enjoy.’

A few words more.  When I listen to EOS, I am always amazed by two things at once: the band’s nifty and expansive ensemble work, polished but not stiff.  It’s clear they rehearse, but rehearsal has not stifled their essential joyful spirits. And then there are the soloists.  If you don’t follow the band, the names of the four musicians may be slightly new to you, but they are sterling: Oliver is one of the finest drummers playing today — not an antiquarian, but a swinger who is so aware of the rollicking obligation to keep the other players afloat and make beautiful sounds.  Bernd is a lyrical hot expert orchestral player, but even when he plays one note, it has a splendid epigrammatic shape.  Colin is not only a fine hot trumpeter, lyrical or edgy as needed, but also a very warm persuasive singer, who moves us in his first eight bars.  And when Chris plays, I sense Benny Carter, Pete Brown, and Rudy Williams grinning: his sweet-tart tone, his blazing attack, his innate rhythmic energies are all memorable.

As a postscript, I have to apologize to the four gentlemen of EOS for taking so long to bring this disc to my readers’ attention.  I loved it instantly; I have played it two dozen times . . . but I was intimidated by its glowing vibrant variety. “What can I say about this except BUY IT NOW?”  But now’s the time.  It’s glorious. Here is the EOS CD page, and the Echoes Of Swing Facebook page. You can find the disc through iTunes and in all the old familiar places.

A working jazz band, these days, is a true marvel.  Echoes of Swing is a marvel well beyond that.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN IT’S APRIL IN WESTOVERLEDINGEN, GOOD SOUNDS HAPPEN (April 8-10, 2016)

Westoverledingen

Westoverledingen, Germany, a city with an imposing name, is not known worldwide as the cradle of jazz, but memorable music has been created there for the past thirty years and more by Manfred Selchow.  Manfred doesn’t play an instrument, but I feel secure in writing that he has done more for jazz than many people who do play.

I first encountered Manfred, or Mannie, as people call him, as a jazz scholar, because of his splendid documentation of clarinetist Edmond Hall’s life, performances, and recordings in a substantial book, PROFOUNDLY BLUE. Then he did the same thing for another hero of mine, trombonist Vic Dickenson, in a book he called, properly DING! DING!.

But Manfred likes the real thing, created on the spot, as much as he adores recordings — so he has invented and produced concert tours and festivals of some of the greatest musicians of this era.  (Many of his concerts have been recorded and the results issued on the Nagel-Heyer label.)

I first met Manfred and his wife Renate in 2007, when I also had the distinctive pleasure of encountering Menno Daams, Frank Roberscheuten, Colin T. Dawson, Oliver Mewes, Chris Hopkins, Shaunette Hildabrand, Bernd Lhotzky, and others.  At the time I didn’t have a blog or a video camera, so perhaps I only documented those evenings for the much-missed The Mississippi Rag.  

Jazz im Rathaus

Here’s a wonderful example of what takes place under Mannie’s amiable direction — a 1992 romp by Marty Grosz, Peter Ecklund, Dick Meldonian, Keith Ingham, Bob Haggart, Chuck Riggs (video by Helge Lorenz):

and more recently, a 2013 session with Menno Daams, Nicki Parrott, Bert Boeren, Antti Sarpila, Engelbert Wrobel, Joep Peeters, Chris Hopkins, Helge Lorenz, Jan Lorenz:

And since I gather that “Jazz im Rathaus” means roughly “Jazz at the Town Hall,” the shades of Louis and Eddie Condon are properly approving.

Now, for April 2016!  Consider the listings below:

Friday, April 8, 2016 – 8:00 – 10: 30 p.m.

Swingin’ Ladies + 2
Jazzfestival
(with Engelbert Wrobel, reeds; Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, piano; Nicki Parrott, bass / vocal)
Rathaus Ihrhove
Bahnhofstraße
26810-Westoverledingen
Germany

Saturday, April 9, 2016 – 8:00 – midnight.

Jazzfestival “Jam Session Night”
(with Engelbert Wrobel, Paolo Alderighi, Nicki Parrott, Menno Daams, Enrico Tomasso, trumpet; Bert Boeren, trombone; Matthias Seuffert, reeds; Niels Unbehagen, piano; Nico Gastreich, bass; Moritz Gastreich, Bernard Flegar, drums)

Set One: “We Called It Music”: Enrico Tomasso, Bert Boeren, Matthias Seuffert, Niels Unbehagen, Nico Gastreich (leader), Moritz Gastreich.

Set Two: “Around Broadway”: Engelbert Wrobel (leader), Paolo Alderighi, Stephanie Trick, Nicki Parrott, Bernard Flegar.

Set Three: “The Stardust Road”: Menno Daams (leader), Matthias Seuffert, Engelbert Wrobel, Paolo Alderighi, Nicki Parrott, Moritz Gastreich.

Set Four: “What A Wonderful World”: Enrico Tomasso, Bert Boeren, Matthias Seuffert, Niels Unbehagen, Nico Gastreich, Bernard Flegar.

At the finale all the musicians join in.

same location as Friday

Sunday, April 10, 2016 – 11:00 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Jazzfestival “Jazz Frühschoppen”
(with Engelbert Wrobel, Paolo Alderighi, Nicki Parrott, Menno Daams, Enrico Tomasso, Bert Boeren, Matthias Seuffert, Niels Unbehagen, Nico Gastreich, Moritz Gastreich, Bernard Flegar)

Set One: “Basie Jam”: Enrico Tomasso, Bert Boeren (leader), Engelbert Wrobel, Niels Unbehagen, Stephanie Trick, Helge Lorenz, guitar; Nico Gastreich, Moritz Gastreich.

Set Two: “To Billie, Teddy, and Pres”: Menno Daams, Matthias Seuffert, Paolo Alderighi, Stephanie Trick, Nicki Parrott (leader), Bernard Flegar.

Set Three: “Jazz at the Philharmonic Remembered”: Matthias Seuffert (leader) plus all of the other musicians in various combinations.

same location as Friday and Saturday

And here is another version of that information.  (And now I know what “Vorschau” means, so don’t let anyone tell you that blogging isn’t educational.)

Vorschau

I’m going.  How could I resist?  So I hope to meet some of the faithful there — even people who know of this blog — for good music and good times.

My dear friend Sir Robert Cox tells me that there are many good hotels in Papenburg and Leer only minutes away at €90 – €100/night ($100-110) with breakfast.

For more information, use the phone number on the bottom of the program:

(0049) 04955 933225. (Mainly German speaking, possibly some English)
email: helmer.alberring@westoverledingen.de

or Manfred Selchow (0049) 04955 8216. (English and German)

or Bob Cox (0044) 01634 232934. (English)
email: coxes@tesco.net

May your happiness increase!

ELEGANTLY IMAGINATIVE: ECHOES OF SWING, “BLUE PEPPER”

I begin somberly . . . but there are more cheerful rewards to follow.

As the jazz audience changes, I sense that many people who “love jazz” love it most when it is neatly packed in a stylistically restrictive box of their choosing. I hear statements of position, usually in annoyed tones, about banjos, ride cymbals, Charlie Parker, purity, authenticity, and “what jazz is.”

I find this phenomenon oppressive, yet I try to understand it as an expression of taste.  One stimulus makes us vibrate; another makes us look for the exit.  Many people fall in love with an art form at a particular stage of it and their development and remain faithful to it, resisting change as an enemy.

And the most tenaciously restrictive “jazz fans” I know seem frightened of music that seems to transgress boundaries they have created .  They shrink back, appalled, as if you’d served them a pizza with olives, wood screws, mushrooms, and pencils.  They say that one group is “too swingy” or “too modern” or they say, “I can’t listen to that old stuff,” as if it were a statement of religious belief.  “Our people don’t [insert profanation here] ever.”

But some of this categorization, unfortunately, is dictated by the marketplace: if a group can tell a fairly uninformed concert promoter, “We sound like X [insert name of known and welcomed musical expression],” they might get a booking. “We incorporate everyone from Scott Joplin to Ornette Coleman and beyond,” might scare off people who like little boxes.

Certain musical expressions are sacred to me: Louis.  The Basie rhythm section. And their living evocations.  But I deeply admire musicians and groups, living in the present, that display the imaginative spirit.  These artists understand that creative improvised music playfully tends to peek around corners to see what possibilities exist in the merging of NOW and THEN and WHAT MIGHT BE.

One of the most satisfying of these playful groups is ECHOES OF SWING. Their clever title says that they are animated by wit, and this cheerful playfulness comes out in their music — not in “comedy” but in an amused ingenuity, a lightness of heart.  They have been in action since 1997, and when I saw them in person (the only time, alas) in 2007, they were wonderfully enlivening.

This action photograph by Sascha Kletzsch suggests the same thing:

EchoesOfSwingInAction1 (Foto Sascha Kletzsch, v.l. Lhotzky, Hopkins, Dawson, Mewes)

They are Colin T. Dawson, trumpet / vocal;  Chris Hopkins, alto sax; Bernd Lhotzky, piano; Oliver Mewes, drums.  And they are that rarity in modern times, a working group — which means that they know their routines, and their ensemble work is beautiful, offering the best springboards into exhilarating improvisatory flights. They are also “a working group,” which means that they have gigs.  Yes, gigs!  Check out their schedule here.

Here  is a 2013 post featuring their hot rendition of DIGA DIGA DOO, and an earlier one about their previous CD, MESSAGE FROM MARS, with other videos — as well as my favorite childhood joke about a Martian in New York City here.  And while we’re in the video archives, here is a delicious eleven-minute offering from in November 2014:

and here they are on German television with a late-period Ellington blues, BLUE PEPPER:

All this is lengthy prelude to their new CD, aptly titled BLUE PEPPER:

EchoesOfSwing  - BluePepperCover

The fifteen songs on the disc are thematically connected by BLUE, but they are happily varied, with associations from Ellington to Brubeck and Nat Cole, composers including Gordon Jenkins, Rodgers, Bechet, Waller, Strayhorn — and a traditional Mexican song and several originals by members of the band: BLUE PEPPER / AZZURRO / BLUE PRELUDE / LA PALOMA AZUL / BLUE & NAUGHTY / BLUE MOON / BLACK STICK BLUES / BLUE RIVER / OUT OF THE BLUE / AOI SAMMYAKU [BLUE MOUNTAIN RANGE] / THE SMURF / BLUE GARDENIA / THE BLUE MEDICINE [RADOVAN’S REMEDY] / WILD CAT BLUES / AZURE.

What one hears immediately from this group is energy — not loud or fast unless the song needs either — a joyous leaping into the music.  Although this band is clearly well-rehearsed, there is no feeling of going through the motions. Everything is lively, precise, but it’s clear that as soloists and as an ensemble, they are happily ready to take risks. “Risks” doesn’t mean anarchy in swingtime, but it means a willingness to extend the boundaries: this group is dedicated to something more expansive than recreating already established music.

When I first heard the group (and was instantly smitten) they sounded, often, like a supercharged John Kirby group with Dizzy and Bird sitting in while at intervals the Lion shoved Al Haig off the piano stool.  I heard and liked their swinging intricacies, but now they seem even more adventurous.  And where some of the most endearing CDs can’t be listened to in one sitting because they offer seventy-five minutes of the same thing, this CD is alive, never boring.

A word about the four musicians.  Oliver Mewes loves the light-footed swing of Tough and Catlett, and he is a sly man with a rimshot in just the right place, but he isn’t tied hand and foot by the past.  Bernd Lhotzky is a divine solo pianist (he never rushes or drags) with a beautiful lucent orchestral conception, but he is also someone who is invaluable in an ensemble, providing with Oliver an oceanic swing that fifteen pieces could rest on.  I never listen to this group and say, “Oh, they would be so much better with a rhythm guitar or a string bassist.”

And the front line is just as eloquent.  Colin T. Dawson is a hot trumpet player with a searing edge to his phrases, but he knows where each note should land for the collective elegance of the group — and he’s a sweetly wooing singer in addition.  Chris Hopkins (quiet in person) is a blazing marvel on the alto saxophone — inventive and lyrical and unstoppable — in much the same way he plays the piano.

And here is what my wise friend Dave Gelly wrote: It’s hard to believe at first that there are only four instruments here. The arrangements are so ingenious, and the playing so nimble, that it could be at least twice that number. But listen closely and you will discover just a quartet of trumpet, alto saxophone, piano and drums – with absolutely no electronic tricks. The style is sophisticated small-band swing, the material a judicious mixture of originals and swing-era numbers and there is not a hint of whiskery nostalgia in any of it. It’s about time this idiom received some fresh attention and here’s the perfect curtain-raiser.

Here is their Facebook page, and their website.

We are fortunate that they exist and that they keep bringing us joyous surprises.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN FOUR MUSICIANS MAKE A BRILLIANTLY VERSATILE ORCHESTRA

The four musicians are Colin T. Dawson, trumpet; Chris Hopkins, alto saxophone; Bernd Lhotzky, piano; Oliver Mewes, drums: “ECHOES OF SWING,” caught here live performing DIGA DIGA DOO that segues into the Benny Carter variant KRAZY KAPERS with a percussive detour into SING SING SING territories:

Chris Hopkins tells me that this video “was from a big concert in Erlangen, Germany, on October 21, 2013. Colin filmed it himself (for the first time) with 3 cameras and is crazy about learning all the video stuff at the moment. He’s having fun digging into it. You find a picture of the hall on the Echoes Of Swing Facebook page.”

This wonderful quartet also has a new CD, called BLUE PEPPER . . . details to come soon.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN SWING BECOMES BLISS: ADVENTURES WITH ENGELBERT WROBEL and FRIENDS

EngelSax2010

The man smiling at you might not be a familiar sight, but he is a superb reed player named Engelbert Wrobel.  (Ask Dan Barrett about this master of the saxophones and clarinet).  Wrobel is a splendidly swinging player on his own — who also puts together irreplaceably gratifying jazz ensembles.

Before we proceed, how about some evidence?  Here’s LADY BE GOOD — performed a few years ago by Engelbert, clarinet, tenor; Chris Hopkins, piano; Rolf Marx, guitar; Henning Gailing, string bass; Oliver Mewes, drums — with reed guests Antti Sarpila and Frank Roberscheuten.  Thus, THE THREE TENORS OF SWING:

Evocative without being an exact copy — except when the frontline launches into a delightful reading of Lester’s 1936 solo, something I look forward to.

3_tenors_nahga

This group has made one recording for its own Click label (which delightfully duplicates the black-and-white splendor of a 1938 Brunswick 78 label — we care about such things!) and a new one is just out — THE THREE TENORS OF SWING ON STAGE, recorded at two concerts in 2011.  (In the photograph on the left, it’s Antti Sarpila on the left, Frank Roberscheuten in the center, and Engelbert on the right.)

The sound on the CD is wonderful, the musicians delightfully inspired, and the repertoire varied.  I was listening to it for the first time this afternoon, and when the disc was about halfway through, I stopped it, and said to myself, “I have to write about this right now.  It is so good.”  It features Antti Sarpilla, Frank Roberscheuten, and Engelbert on reeds, with a rhythm section of Rolf Marx, guitar; Chris Hopkins, piano; Henning Gailing, string bass; Oliver Mewes, drums.

Three_Tenors_on_Stage__2_

The songs will say a great deal about the variety and range of this group, evoking (but not copying) Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Benny Goodman small groups, the Ellington reed section, the Basie band, Bob Crosby’s Bobcats and more: BEAN STALKING / SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT / BLACK AND TAN FANTASY / THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE / ANTTIBERT WROPILLA / JUBILEE STOMP / LA VIE EN ROSE / SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE / LESTER’S BOUNCE / SIX CATS AND A PRINCE / THE MOOCHE / I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART / TILL TOM SPECIAL / MISTY MORNING / WEBSTERITY.

I expected a smooth — but not slick — ensemble sound, with a swinging rhythm section, and I wasn’t disappointed.  What was even better was the writing: not just three horns playing in harmony or in unison, but clever arrangements that made this septet sound full and rich.  And although the repertoire (except for four original compositions) predates 1945, there isn’t the slightest hint of “repertory” stuffiness.  One track seems even more fresh and creative than the last, and it’s amazing that this was recorded in concert, with the energy built in to that situation.  It’s the kind of CD about which I say, “I want to go hear that again right now.”  You will, too.

My involvement with the second CD — featuring the International Hot Jazz Quartet (Engelbert, Duke Heitger, trumpet / vocal; Paolo Alderighi, piano; Bernard Flegar) is more personal.  I had heard, replayed, and much admired the first effort by this group — with Mewes on drums — on the Arbors label.

Some readers may know that I write liner notes for jazz compact discs.  But since my range is admittedly (or proudly) narrow, I don’t get asked to write about music outside my pleasure zone . . . and I won’t write about something I don’t like.

I read on Facebook that Engelbert had completed this disc and, perhaps coyly, sent him a message, “Do you need liner notes for this CD?”  Happily, the answer was yes . . . and the music is even happier.  Here are pictures of the covers and you can, I hope, read what I wrote — with no artificial ingredients.

still havin´ cover 200

Inside . . .

still havin´2

And . . . .

still havin´3

And . . . .

Still havin´4

Finally . . . .

still havin´back 200

Now you have it all — all except the music contained within, which is a thorough pleasure.  (I don’t know why the four members are photographed at school desks — they surely have graduated from any institutions of higher swing learning.  But no matter.)

To purchase this CD or others with Engelbert and friends, visit here.  You’ll be lifted into bliss — or your money back.

May your happiness increase!

AN ELEGANT RECITAL: “PARTNERS IN CRIME” by CHRIS HOPKINS and BERND LHOTZKY

PARTNERS IN CRIME cover

Don’t let the title upset you: there are no victims here.  And the mournful basset hounds are misleading: this isn’t morose music.  It is a two-piano recital by the sterling players Hopkins and Lhotzky.  And it’s almost an hour of absolutely gorgeous music.  What distinguishes this from other discs in the idiom is something rare and irreplaceable.  Taste.

Chris and Bernd are not only astonishing technicians who can scamper all over the keyboard and make joyous noise.  But they are wise artists who know that a rich diet of auditory fireworks soon palls.

(How many people, listening to a gifted player “show off” — a stride pianist play at dazzling speed, a horn player careen around in the upper register — have thought, “That’s really impressive.  Could you stop doing it now — we’re all convinced that you can!”  I know these radical thoughts have entered my mind more than once, and I suspect I am not alone.)

Although they are harmonically sophisticated musicians, Bernd and Chris know that melody and variety are essential.  “Sweet, soft, plenty rhythm,” said Mr. Morton, and he hasn’t been proven wrong.

So this disc doesn’t wallop us with pyrotechnics — there is a James P. piece, JINGLES — but it roams around happily in the land of Medium Tempo with delicacy and precision.  It isn’t Easy Listening or music to snooze by, but no crimes are committed against Beauty here.  What’s more, these players have understood how to plan a concert — even when the imagined audience may be driving or doing the dishes — so there is never too much of any one approach or style.  The disc begins with the Ellington-Strayhorn TONK (which, once again reminds me of Gershwin in Paris and Raymond Scott in his studio), then moves to a lacy reading of Fud Livingston’s IMAGINATION, Arthur Schutt’s GEORGIA JUBILEE, Thornhill’s SNOWFALL, I GOT PLENTY O’NUTTIN’, the aforementioned JINGLES (a masterpiece at a less-than-frenzied tempo but swinging hard), a lovely Hopkins solo rendition of SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, Bernd’s SALIR A LA LUZ (dedicated to Isabel Lhotzky, the Lion’s SNEAKAWAY as a solo for Bernd, Bernd’s FIVE 4 ELISE (whimsically based on FUR ELISE), Chris’ PARTNERS IN CRIME, DOIN’ THE VOOM VOOM, RUSSIAN LULLABY, I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES (for Mr. Waller), and  Nazareth’s APANHEI-TE CARAQUINHO.

Discerning readers will note the absence of AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ and other songs that have been played many times in the last ninety-plus years, but this disc isn’t devoted to the esoteric for its own sake.  Each of the songs has a strong melodic line: the listener never gets bored, for even the most familiar one here — say, SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME — is handled with great tenderness, elegance, and a spacious intelligence, as if the players already knew what cliches and formulaic turns of phrase were possible, and had discarded them in favor of a loving, deep simplicity.  Even their 5 / 4 version of FUR ELISE is delicately hilarious.

And — as an added bonus — the disc is beautifully recorded in the old-fashioned way: two Steinway pianos and one pair of Sennheiser omni-directional microphones.  It’s music for the ears, the heart, and the mind — and (without meaning any acrimony here) the disc is a quiet rebuke to pianists who pound their way through the same tired repertoire and record producers who make it sound artificial.

It’s a beauty, and it celebrates Beauty.

You can buy the disc here.  Or hear samples of Amazonian mp3s here.  Or the EyeTunes version here.

May your happiness increase.