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Florian Ross Quintet: Swallows & Swans


German composer and pianist Florian Ross has released his latest album “Swallows & Swans” on November 25 on his own label Toy Piano Records. The album contains 10 original compositions by Florian Ross plus one composition by Renaissance-composer Orlando Gibbons and one Irish air.

The album features Australian singer Kristin Berardi, who added the lyrics on two songs, other lyrics are from late 19th century writers Robert Louis Stevenson, Samuel Ferguson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Florian Ross lives and works in Cologne, Germany and this is already his 18th album. He is a sought-after composer and arranger and his commissioned works include pieces for the German NDR and WDR big bands, the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra, the BBC Big Band, the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra, RTE Irish Radio Orchestra and the Sydney Mothership Jazz Orchestra.

Kristin Berardi made headlines when she won the Montreux Jazz Festival’s International Vocal Competition in 2006. She lectures in jazz voice at the Australian National University in Canberra. She released an album with master guitarist James Sherlock (whom I saw live some 8 years ago at in Melbourne) which was short listed for Best Australian Jazz Vocal Album at the renowned Bell Awards.

The line-up for this album is very international and features

  • Florian Ross (Germany) – piano
  • Kristin Berardi (Australia) – vocals
  • Matthew Halpin (Ireland) – sax
  • Dietmar Fuhr (Germany) – bass
  • Hans Dekker (Netherlands) – drums.

An ambitious project that has been realized with the support from the Deutschlandfunk radio station.

Florian told me that he wanted to make an album with a vocalist for a long time, but failed to find the right person. He thinks that Kristin is not only a singer but also a musician who is able to take different roles depending on the arrangement and so he found with her the perfect cast for this project.

Florian’s passion for English music and literature determined the selection of the lyrics for this album.

The album starts with “Midway”, softly but very rhythmically with drums and piano. Saxophone and vocals “play” the beautiful melody and solos go to Mathew Halpin on soprano saxophone and Florian Ross on piano.

“Horologe of Eternity” is a slow balladesque tune with lyrics from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow presented by Kristin over a complex harmonic structure played by the piano in steady arpeggios. The solo part in this song is a dialog between voice and saxophone.

“Recurring Dream” is another tune where Kristin sings the melody without words, again together with Matthew Halpin on soprano saxophone. The groove changes from 3/4 to 4/4 meter for the solos of piano and saxophone and returns to 3/4 meter for the melody.

“Swallows” the title song comes next. Lyrics for this song are from Robert Louis Stevenson and Florian Ross has composed a great melody around this text. This song gets it’s special mood from the harmonies changing between major and minor key.

“Solid Air” is much more pushing then the tunes before. Based on a piano riff it develops into a great saxophone solo and a formidable piano solo. This tune is one of my highlights on the album.

“Looking Inward” has lyrics from Kristin Berardi and is the next ballad. It begins in a dark and mysterious way, but moves to a positive mood. We hear a soft saxophone solo with the piano holding long chords, very open and spacious.

“Cold Smoke” again with lyrics from Kristin starts with vocals, bass and drums, the piano is added and the pulse comes from a 7/4 meter. We hear a gentle saxophone solo and a precise piano solo. The song ends in a very melancholic mood.

“Albatros” is even more sophisticated than the tunes before with a complex melody over harmonies with changing tonal centers. A short bass solo and a dynamic vocal solo by Kristin Berardi make this song fascinating.

“The Silver Swan” by Renaissance composer Orlando Gibbons starts with piano and saxophone only, elegiac and majestic and keeps this spirit throughout the whole song with Kristin Berardi again presenting the lyrics in a soft and plain way, almost without any vibrato and perfect intonation.

“Kolibri” is a short freely improvised tune with nice sound painting by Matthew Halpin on tenor sax.

“Trip to the Water Cooler” returns with a pushing pulse by drummer Hans Dekker.  Soloists are Matthew Halpin on saxophone,  Dietmar Fuhr with an excellent bass solo and finally Florian Ross on piano. Another highlight for me because the band plays really unleashed here.

“The Lark in the Clear Sky”, an old Irish air closes the album. The lyrics are by Sir Samuel Ferguson and this tune is also played in a very traditional style , piano and vocals only, very atmospheric and a gorgeous finale for this album, leaving us in a great melancholia.

This album shows a complete different facet of contemporary jazz music which is heavily influenced by composition and arrangement. We see here with Florian Ross a master of this form. The arrangement are subtle and sophisticated but provide space for improvisation and individuality.

The use of the voice is extraordinary but also part of the whole concept of this album, so it fits perfectly. I enjoyed it very much.

Overall an excellent album which I can highly recommend.

The album is available on CD Baby, iTunes and Amazon and you can order a “real” CD at Florian’s own label Toy Piano Records.

Here is the link to for you to listen to extracts of the album:

For more information about Florian Ross take a look on his website:

And finally a video with some impressions from the recording session:


Sarah Eyden: Love Is In The Room


In June 2018, UK based session singer and concert artist Sarah Eyden has released a beautiful album called “Love Is In The Room”.

It is a collection of original songs written by English award-winning composer, singer and actor Denis King and arranged by Denis and Sarah for small ensemble – piano, bass, drums and Sarah on vocals.

Denis King began his musical career at the age of thirteen with his two older brothers, Mike and Tony, in one of the most successful pop groups of the 1950s and 1960s, The King Brothers — considered to be Britain’s first boy band. Denis played the piano, Mike the guitar and Tony the double bass.

In the 1970s Denis studied orchestration and had his first success writing the music for “The Adventures of Black Beauty”, a television series which I remember from my childhood. He has continued to work in the television business and to date, he has created themes and incidental music for over two hundred television series. He also worked as a theatrical composer, musical composer and performing artist.

Sarah Eyden is usually the person who lends her voice to produce the perfect film soundtrack. The list of appearances on those productions is endless and includes basically all blockbusters like “Harry Potter”, “Pirates of The Caribbean” and “Shrek”. She is also a performing artist but typically with larger ensembles like symphony orchestras.

Sarah explained to me: “Denis and I met in 2017 on a Saga Cruise. We were both performing separately, and met up in the bar to sing songs around the piano. We found an instant connection musically and when we left the ship kept in touch.”

Sarah created a small video with some more details:

Out of this loose connection grew a collaboration where Denis King literally started digging in his bottom drawer to rescue songs which seemed to be waiting there for Sarah to sing them and they decided to do an album.

Sarah adds: “Then as we progressed musically we thought it would be great to invite some amazing players to join us. But to keep it small so easy to tour.” The result is “Love Is In The Room”, Sarah Eyden on vocals, Denis King on piano, Dave Olney on bass and Mike Smith on drums. The album contains 14 songs in total, the title song comes in an English and as encore in a French version.

The album is like an unplugged song book, really back to the basics of a song, its harmonies and lyrics, no wrapping in fancy arrangements has been done, this album captures the essence of each song. The booklet that comes with the CD gives some additional information about each tune, the lyricist, when and for which occasion it was written and when it was recorded before, so a lot of material to discover.

The album starts with “Here And Now” a very energetic swing tune, that prepares us for the things to come with Sarah singing: “Let’s get the party started here and now.”

“The Joke’s On Me” is a sad song about the end of a relationship presented in a humorous way, nice and easy swinging.

“By The Way” is a soft ballad, another sad love song, with sweet rhymes, a pleasure to listen, my first highlight on the album.

“The Crazy Part” is arranged in Latin-style and gives a lovely variety after the three swing tunes.

“Who Would Have Dreamed”  is a freely played ballad with piano and vocals introduction, later with bass and just a little bit of drums accompaniment. This ballad has quite complex harmonic changes which are mastered perfectly by Sarah.

“Something You Learn To Live” is a groovy pop song, very entertaining, my second favorite on the album.

“Love Is In The Room”, the title song of the album comes next. A ballad, starting with piano and vocals only. The song has great dynamics and we can enjoy Sarah’s clear voice and impeccable intonation.

The band returns to straight swing style with “I’m Nobody’s April Fool”. Witty lyrics, and very relaxed sung. Excellent swinging by bass and drums during the piano solo.

“How About” is another ballad this time with piano and vocals only which gives Sarah Eyden another opportunity to deliver a brilliant performance.

“Never Feel The Same Again” might make a great pop song, we hear backing vocals from Sarah Eyden and Anna Ross, surprising and a nice soul-topping for this song.

“The World Was Changed This Morning” is a relaxed swinging tune. It was written for a musical and it has this special musical-touch, a wonderful entertaining tune with a committed and convincing Sarah Eyden.

“The Lady’s Still Around” starts as a soft ballad with piano and vocals. Bass and drums support Sarah when she reaches the peak of this song. Great dynamics and another opportunity for Sarah to show her mastery.

The last highlight of the album is “Two of A Kind”. We are surprised by Sarah Eyden and Denis King in an amusing duet.  Perfect entertainment and big fun for singers and audience.

As an encore we hear “Love Is In The Room” in French as “L’amour bienvenue chez nous”. The arrangement is identical to the English version but it is a nice homage to all the French chanson singers.

As said before, this album is an excellent unplugged songbook with music from Denis King who is an experienced and inventive composer, very much based in the tradition of musical composers like Cole Porter or George Gershwin. The songs on the album are all perfectly played and presented. As you can see from the cover, this music requires a special classy ambiance, but it is more than just background music in hotel bar. You should listen to these songs in a concert, because Sarah Eyden is able to sing clearly and precisely and that allows you catch the funny or profound lyrics.

If you’re out looking for new and undiscovered songs, here is your chance to find another treasure box.

Sarah Eyden and Denis King have produced a nice promotional video:

This project has it’s own website. I guess any public appearances will be listed there. Sarah told me that there are plans to go on tour in 2019.

Denis King has a website where you find audio samples of many of his songs including some lovely big band arrangements of some of the songs from the album:

And finally a playlist on Spotify: