Tag Archives: CD Releases

Yazz Ahmed: Polyhymnia


A very interesting and ambitious album from British-Bahraini trumpet player and composer Yazz Ahmed has been released last month. ‘Polyhymnia’ is Yazz Ahmed’s third album and it presents six compositions which are all dedicated to to noted women in history – Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai, Ruby Bridges, Haifa Al-Mansour, The Suffragettes and Barbara Thompson. Yazz explains: ‘In a male dominated world it is important to tell stories from a woman’s view, to be inclusive, otherwise we’re missing out on other people’s views’.

Yazz is usually on tour with her quartet but for the album she gathered 25 of UK’s finest jazz musicians to play her compositions. Recorded in August and November 2016 with additional recordings, overdubbing and editing between 2017 and 2019 this album has already a long genesis. Nonetheless, the album is available now and it comes with a deluxe Vinyl package designed by Sophie Bass, featuring a 12 page booklet of Sophie’s art and stories from Yazz behind the music.

The album starts with ‘Lahan al-Mansour’, a composition dedicated to Haifaa al-Mansour, Saudi Arabia’s first female film director. This song uses Arabic scales and rhythms as foundation, material that is also used by the soloists where especially Tori Freestone on soprano sax and Yazz Ahmend on trumpet (with special electronic effects) stand out.

The second song is dedicated to Ruby Bridges. the civil right activist. This song starts with New Orleans style inspired drums and piano, the melody is played by Yazz on flugelhorn followed by an excellent horn arrangement of the melody. Tori Freestone and Yazz Ahmend are responsible for the first two solos, Yazz again alienating her typical longer notes with electronic effects, which comes also as a nice contrast to the other soloists, that follow: Alcyona Mick on piano and Sophie Alloway on drums.

‘One Girl Among Many’ is the next composition which is dedicated to Malala Yousafzai. Yazz used the natural rhythm and the musical quality of Malala’s 2013 speech at the UN Youth Assembly for this song. Parts of her speech alternate with a steady moving melody dominated by the piano. This is the most unusual composition on this album and the clear words from the speech plus the steady moving groove create an impressive statement that leaves no doubt that you can’t stop the wish for female education and self-determination.

’2857′ is dedicated to Rosa Parks, another civil rights activist where the number 2857 refers to the bus number on which she made her protest for which she was arrested and convicted but made her an icon of the civil rights movement. The number combination has been used by Yazz for the melody and the metrics of this song. The song has two parts, the first part is quiet representing the dignity of her action, the second part is a wild free improvisation showing the storm of change that came. This storm starts with a mad piano riff and is one of my highlights on the album.

‘Deeds Not Words’, dedicated to the Suffragettes, comes next. Yazz explains: ‘Most of the material stems from the Suffragettes’ protest song ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’. The song starts with a sophisticated  drum and percussion duet by Corrina Silvester and Sophie Alloway, the melody is played with long notes, a major characteristic of Yazz’s music. The solo of this song is a four-way conversation between trumpet (with Kaoss Pad), baritone sax, guitar and vibraphone, Especially Yazz on trumpet (plus effects) creates a great sound layer in this improvisation. The song ends in an extremely positive mood with a beautifully arranged brass marching melody and a nice guitar and piano fade out.

The last song on the album is dedicated to saxophonist Barbara Thompson. I remember her from the United Jazz & Rock Ensemble where she played with our German Jazz heroes Volker Kriegel, Albert Mangelsdorff and Wolfgang Dauner. Yazz explains: ‘Barbara Thompson is an accidental hero. She felt the call to creativity that must be answered, simply refusing to give up’. The song starts with a polyrhythmic structure where each instrument plays it’s own riff which blends nicely together and creates tension at the same time. Another highlight on the album. Yazz plays a fantastic flugelhorn solo and the song and the album end in a ‘triumphant climax in C major, a celebration of human courage and an ode to Polyhymnia.’

This album comes with a lot of ideas, motifs, layers and changes, it is very inspirational music, played by some extraordinary musicians who put a lot of energy into this project. You can hear these efforts and the mastery and together with the electronically altered sound of Yazz’s trumpet and flugelhorn you have a unique and outstanding album in your hands.

I had the chance to see Yazz Ahmed this month with her quartet in Lausanne at the JazzOnze+ festival and she is also a great performing artist. She gave me a short interview and it was great to talk to her, to feel her inspiration and determination towards the message from this album, that a society should listen to the stories and the voices of all of it’s members.

Yazz Ahmed is currently on a ‘Polyhymnia’-tour in the UK with a 12-piece band to perform the songs from the album.  If you cannot make it this year she will have some more concerts at the beginning of next year and I guess the chances are high that this band and this album will be presented next year on some festivals in continental Europe.

More touring details are found on her website:

And finally a playlist of this album on Spotify:

Judy Wexler: Crowded Heart


Vocalist Judy Wexler has released her fifth album “Crowded Heart” on May 31st and it hit #1 in Jazz on iTunes and Amazon in its first week. The press release said that the album is featuring outstanding songs by current-day jazz composers. So I had an interesting baseline when I started to listen to the album. The first impression of the album was extremely positive, Judy has a clear and precise voice and is able to transmit complex lyrics in an easy and natural way to the listener. The arrangement on the album are all excellent, played by great musicians and here and there are nice surprises for the listener.

All songs have been chosen by Judy Wexler and she took her time to find the combination of great melodies and lyrics with a compelling story. The Great American Songbook has a lot of songs with beautiful melodies but sometimes the lyrics are a little bit silly and more like a vehicle for the melody than a story to tell. Judy’s approach is definitely different and more challenging but I can imagine also more rewarding. In addition she looked for timeless modern jazz compositions written by contemporary songwriters.

The album was produced by Alan Pasqua and Judy Wexler, all arrangements are from Alan Pasqua, who plays the piano on all songs.

The other musicians on the album are:

  • Larry Koonse – guitar
  • Josh Johnson – alto sax
  • Bob Sheppard – alto flute
  • Darek Oles – bass
  • Steve Hass  – drums
  • Aaron Serfaty  – percussion
  • Stefanie Fife  – cello

The album starts with “Circus Life” by Luciana Souza, Larry Klein and David Batteau, a lively samba about the stresses and general insanity of modern life. A nice surprise comes at the end of the tune where Alan Pasqua decided to add a fun whistling improvisation.

The second song “Parisian Heartbreak” is my personal favorite on the album. No surprise since the song was composed by Richard Galliano who used to play with my favorite guitar player Sylvain Luc. I found an instrumental version of this song called “Spleen” with Richard Galliano and Sylvain Luc. Judy’s version keeps the melancholic mood of this musette-tune and Alan Pasqua adds an incredible solo on the melodica.

“Crowded Heart” the title song of the album comes next. It was composed by Judy’s good friend Sinne Eeg, a Danish vocalist and songwriter with an international following. Eeg’s compatriot Mads Mathias wrote the lyrics about the end of an affair with a married man.  This song was one of the first songs she selected for this album. Convincing Steve Hass on drums is responsible for the open but pushing groove.

“Painted on Canvas” was the only tune where I knew the original version. Gregory Porter released it on his 2012 album “Be Good”. Gregory Porter’s version stays in an open mood and I always was hoping that it picks up the 6/8 meter, which it never does. Judy Wexler’s version is much more straight here with a rather heavy funky groove. Josh Johnson on alto sax plays an outstanding solo.

The next song “Stars” was composed by pianist Fred Hersch, whose original instrumental version is called “Endless Stars.” The lyrics are from British vocalist and lyricist Norma Winstone. The melody has challenging intervals which are mastered with assurance.

“The Last Goodbye” is a sad song about a lost love with excellent lyrics by British vocalist Georgia Mancio, who has become a valued online friend to Judy Wexler through their exchange about music. Bob Sheppard on alto-flute is responsible for the unique and distinct sound of this song.

The album continues with “Take My Breath Away” by American songwriter and jazz vocalist René Marie, who started her career as Jazz singer with 41 years. A clever piano riff dominates this song and Larry Koonse plays a fine solo on his acoustic guitar.

“I Took Your Hand” by Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi is the next song. The original instrumental version was titled “Fellini’s Waltz”. The version of Judy Wexler comes with a pushing groove and a great alto sax solo. The melody is also quite complex with interval jumps that are all managed with ease.

“It’s Only Smoke” by Larry Goldings and lyrics by Cliff Goldmacher is the song where I have the feeling that Judy Wexler enjoys to have complex lyrics that ask for an intellectual mind to interpret them. This song is real brain food and I like it very much.

The album ends with “And We Will Fly” by Alan Pasqua with lyrics by Kurt Elling and Phillip Galdston. It originally appeared as an instrumental called “Highway 14″ on Pasqua’s 2005 CD, “My New Old Friend”. This love song has a beautiful intro by Larry Koonse and modulates nicely between major and minor in an easy Latin-style.

Judy Wexler still does release concerts for this album and you can check on her website when and where she will perform:

Judy did some crowd-funding for this album and produced a nice video which I would like to share with you:

Thanks to the information from Judy I was able to compile a nice playlist with the version from the album and the original version of each song. I hope you enjoy this comparison.