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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 CDBaby.com 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:


Jon Sheckler Trio: Cityscapes


A brand new album comes from drummer and composer Jon Sheckler. It’s called “Cityscapes” and it features

  • Steve Denny – Fender Rhodes
  • Aron Caceres-  Double Bass
  • Jon Sheckler – Drums

Official release date was October 19 and Jon Sheckler celebrated it with a release show at the Nublu Classic. The album is available on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.

This album has a special setup: all songs have been written by drummer Jon Sheckler and sound is dominated by a Fender Rhodes.

I have to admit that the Fender Rhodes piano is one of my personal favorites. For me, it still has this modern electric sound compared to a piano or grand piano. So good preconditions for me to listen to this album.

The first song “Right Side Up” starts with an easy and melodic theme with nice rhythmic breaks, played very relaxed in medium-up tempo.  The first solo goes to the piano, Steve Denny gets great support from Jon Sheckler and Aron Caceres stays focused. A bass solo with nice interplay with the piano comes next. Jon Sheckler plays the last solo of this tune. His excellent drums solo is straight and dynamic at the same time. Jon says about that song:  “I wanted the first track to be an example of the whole album.  It has a good singable melody that seems less complicated then it is.  You don’t really feel the key changes and abnormal form.” And yes, this first song sets the stage for the whole album. It lasts a little bit over 7 minutes but is entertaining and diversified.

“Cold Reading” is the second tune. It has a much slower and heavier groove. It becomes softer for a extensive bass solo and tension rises with the piano solo that follows. The song ends with a very nice and dynamic outro.

The song “Junction Junction” is one of my favorites on the album. It is a 24-bars moll blues played in up-tempo. We hear a great piano solo, where Steve Denny is again fully supported by bass and drums and then Jon gets his chance to shine with a another perfect drums solo.

The title song “Cityscapes” comes next. This is not really just a song only, it’s more like a suite. It has three different parts plus a drum solo between the second and third part. The first part lasts about 4 minutes, the second goes for 5 minutes, followed by the drums solo of about 2:30 minutes before the final part comes.  The total playtime of this masterpiece is 15:47 minutes. Jon gives more details: “The three sections each represent a neighborhood in New York and New Orleans. The first section is based around Ridgewood in Queens, the second is inspired by Midtown Manhattan and the final act is meant to sound like the Garden District in New Orleans. The tune is so sprawling and the title invokes so much imagery that it had to be the foundation of the record.” The Ridgewood-section is quite contemplative and features Aron Caceres on bass. Midtown Manhattan starts soft before it really picks up and ends with piano and drums enlivening each other. The drums solo leads over to the Garden District part which is a sunny, almost Caribbean theme played with variations by the piano.

The album continues with the tune “CBR”. Another highlight for me. A neat theme played in straight swinging style in the sound of a Jazz standard. Piano and bass play very good solos and the drummer has two 8-bar solo breaks, in typical jam style.

“Each Others”, a beautiful ballad, comes next.  According to Jon it is one of the songs that are “landing very well” with the audience. Especially the bass solo is very catchy.

The last tune on the album is “3rd Floor Walk Up”. A steady 7/8 groove lays the foundation of this song. Steve Denny takes again the opportunity to play a fantastic piano solo and Jon Sheckler follows with an impressive and very dynamic drums solo. The song and the album fade out with a pulsating bass. Very cool.

“Cityscapes” is an excellent album with a distinct sound. The Fender Rhodes piano creates this special and unique touch. All compositions have tonal centers and give the listener an easy access to the songs. The musicians are masters on their instruments and manage the up-tempo tunes in a very relaxed and easy way. The interplay is also remarkable and shows that these guys have spent a lot of time together and understand each other very well. So a clear recommendation from my side.

More information about upcoming shows are found on Jon’s website: https://www.shecklermusic.com/

And finally a playlist on Spotify: