Tag Archives: CD Releases

Mathias Heise & The Danish Radio Big Band: The Beast

R-12733024-1543019409-6168.jpeg Mathias Heise is a 25 year old harmonica player, pianist and composer from Denmark. He released a fantastic album of his original compositions arranged for The Danish Radio Big Band last September. The album is called ‘The Beast’ and it refers to Mathias impression of a big band: “A big band has incredible musical powers – almost like a beast that has to be tamed. But once you’ve tamed it, it can do incredible things”.

Fascinated by the sound and the possibilities of a big band it is a dream that became reality with this album. Some of the band members have been Mathias’ teachers and so we also see here the passing of the torch to the next generation of jazz musicians.

The album starts with ‘Para Mi Madre’ a soft and relaxed latin-style song Mathias has written for his mother. The tune has a great melody and a very easy groove that shows the excellence of this band. The soloists are Gerard Presencer on flugelhorn and Nicolai Schultz on flute and these two instruments emphasize the soft character. This tune is one of my favorites on the album.

Para Mi Madre (With English subtitles)

‘Brain Soup’ is the second song and this song is much more serious stuff.  Beginning with a heavy groove the brass sections play an almost improvisational melody in what Mathis Heise called ‘bombastical block harmonization’. The solo is based on modal harmonic sequences but handled perfectly by Mathias Heise. The song has a second part where Jakob Munck Mortensen sings some strange lyrics, accompanied initially by the rhythm section but ending with the brass section playing long notes and Peter Fuglsang on soprano sax improvising over these sound layers. An ambitious sound collage but performed excellently.

The album continues with the title song ‘The Beast’. It starts with the piano playing dissonant seconds over a steady pulse pushed by bass and drums. Tenor sax and a distorted guitar play the melody of the A part, the flugelhorn plays long notes in the B part of the song. The first solo goes to Per Gade on guitar followed by Karl-Martin Almqvist on tenor sax, Kaspar Vadsholt on electric bass and pianist Nikolaj Bentzon. This song features the incredible rhythm section of this big band.

Mathias Heise on harmonica returns with the next song  ‘Repetition’, an ambitious composition. Mathias says about this tune:  “The melodic DNA of ‘Repetition’ is made up of eight notes/intervals that are repeated over and over, but in new ways. The composition is inspired by the principles of the fugue, by Arnold Schönberg’s tone rows and also by Per Nørgård’s infinity series, which enabled me to construct an infinite – in principle – series of notes from the eight original ones”. And he continues: “I see the composition as a representation of the eternal repetition of life in new and beautiful ways”.

‘Evening Coffee’, dedicated to Mathias’ grandparents, is a beautiful ballad, starting with harmonica, guitar, bass and drums and the big band focusing on long notes creating harmonic layers. The first solo goes to Nicolai Schultz on flute followed by duets of flute/harmonica and guitar/harmonica.

‘One Man Army’ was written in honor of Mathias’ philosophical hero, Karl Popper. The song features Nikloaj Bentzon on piano. Bass and drums produce again a steady pulse on which harmonica and piano can rather freely improvise. The big band gets a chance to play an ‘a cappella’ interlude without rhythm section before we hear the main theme again.

One Man Army (Unfortunately Danish subtitles only)

‘Sudden Ascent’ is already the last song of Mathias Heise with the Danish Radio Big Band. Mathias says: “Sudden Ascent is one of my oldest pieces of music, which I composed back in 2013, and I’ve always dreamed of being able to arrange it for big band”. Again, drums, bass and piano provide a pushing groove, the arrangement gives all sections one more chance to shine and we hear excellent solos by Hans Ulrik on tenor sax, Søren Frost on drums in dialog with Mathias Heise on harmonica. This song ends with a great trumpet finale.

The last song on the album is like an encore: ‘Kærlighedsmusik til Anne (Love Song)’ with Mathias Heise playing piano and harmonica. A beautiful ballad in a nice ‘blue’ mood, the harmonies modulate between major and minor and the harmonica got some extra reverb creating additional space.

The songs from the album have been performed live with Mathias Heise as headliner when The Danish Radio Big Band toured Denmark last September. Every single concert received standing ovations from the audience as well as outstanding reviews. ‘The Beast’ even managed to get a full page review in one of Denmark’s biggest broadsheet newspapers ‘Politiken’, which is very rarely seen when it comes to jazz.

To sum it up: An ambitious album with a fantastic big band and a great young artist who earned to be featured this way. Mathias Heise got the chance to materialize his dream and he took this opportunity and created a masterpiece. Please listen!

And finally the album on Spotify:

Laura Dickinson 17: Auld Lang Syne

Auld Lang Syne-cover

Just in time for the holidays comes an album from Grammy-winning music producer, vocal contractor and studio singer Laura Dickinson. Her album “Auld Lang Syne” was released November 20, 2018 and is a program of songs centered around the Christmas holiday season. This album is thought as a loving tribute to a time of year when people sincerely open their hearts to family and friends, and count their blessings while reflecting on the year gone by.

The record features excellent big band arrangements by top names like Johnny Mandel, Brent Fischer or James A. McMillen and brilliant vocal arrangements by Laura herself.

The album begins with the big band at full speed with “Happy Holiday / The Holiday Season”. Fantastic swinging by band and Laura Dickinson make sure that nobody starts to fall asleep during the holiday season. One blues chorus of solo go to trumpet, alto sax and guitar and then the horns get their chance to show off. A really great arrangement played and sung perfectly.

The second song “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” is in Laura Dickinson’s repertoire for quite some time and finally made it on this album. The arrangement is by Brent Fischer (he is also a Grammy winner) and he arranged it with a steady moving funky groove. My first highlight on the album. I found a live version of this song for your recommendation:

“Christmas is Starting Now” continues in full-speed-Christmas-spirit with another cool big band arrangement where all sections can show their skills. Trombones, saxes and trumpets and especially the drums have all highlights in the 2:46 minutes of this song. If you plan to have a dance party at Christmas, then this is the right song for it.

“Peace And Joy” is the next tune on the album and we hear Laura Dickinson together with a 24-voice choir including some of her vocal contractor colleagues. This tune is (again) perfectly arranged and sung and brings us back to the traditional more contemplative Christmas mood.

“The Man with the Bag” features Steve Trapani on bass-trombone, which other instrument would represent Santa better? Very entertaining, dynamically arranged and played.

“Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” from the movie “White Christmas” features Kye Palmer on trumpet.  He switches  to “How Deep is the Ocean” in his solo. Laura gets her chance as well here with an impressive finale of the song.

“A Marshmallow World” is the next song and returns with it’s sweet and happy sound to the classic picture we have of American Christmas.

“Miss You Most At Christmas” is a cover version of the Mariah Carey hit, but Laura’s version has much more power and emotions than the original.  The incredible string arrangement creates a very natural sound and makes this song to my favorite on the album.

“Let It Snow!” surprises with an extraordinary and extravaganza arrangement in New Orleans style by James A. McMillen. Here is one of those versions where I am really surprised about the ideas and creativity of well-established arrangers.
A video from the recording studio is also available for this song, which I highly recommend:

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” features Laura and pianist Alan Steinberger. Another ideal opportunity for Laura to show her mastery, her vocal range and her perfect intonation.

The final song on the album is the title song “Auld Lang Syne” (Old Long Since) which is the traditional tune sung in the English-speaking world at midnight on New Year’s Eve to bid farewell to the old year. The tune is based on an old Scots folk melody and the arrangement of guitarist Andrew Synowiec revives that spirit. Guitars and Laura’s for several voices singing dominate this tune.

To summarize it, the album is an impressive collection of outstanding arrangements presented in a impeccable manner by a great big band and an incredibly versatile Laura Dickinson. The album covers different nuances of the Christmas spirit from sticky sweet to melancholic back to a big party and ends with the right song for New Year’s Eve, so it is the perfect companion for the whole holiday season.

Here comes a playlist on Spotify to listen to the album:

If you want to learn more about Laura Dickinson, please check out her website:
http://www.lauradickinson.com/