Heavyweight Jazz from some of the best – and well known German Jazz artists. these 11 songs have been recorded during a three days session in April 2014.
Notes by Stephan Abel:
Ballads are always the highlight in every show for me, regardless if I am one of the musicians or one of the magnetized people in the audience. In these slow, fragile pieces where every note, every shade and each quiet moment has a meaning, an artist can tell and share a real story. It is in the ballad, where the musician communicates intuitively with his audience.
I always thought of recording an album of ballads, but believed that you need a certain amount of maturity and should not do it under the age of 50. Now the time has come. Never before there was somebody looking forward to his 50th birthday with such an excitement. To cut a long story short: It is a special thing with being mature. During the Easter holidays in April 2014 we met in Buggy Braune and Inga Rumpf’s rehearsal studios in Hamburg situated one floor above a garage, to record some of our favourite songs.
We deliberately decided against the aseptic atmosphere of a professional recording studio knowing that we would only be successful in an intimate, intensive mood rather than having a 100% separation of sound signals behind a glass wall. „We“, that means Buggy Braune, Olaf Casimir, Heinz Lichius and the wonderful Ken Norris, our special guest. Except for my long time companion Olaf these were all musicians who I knew and appreciated, but rarely had a chance to work with.
The key event with this rhythm section was a gig at the Jazzclub Hannover when we were playing an exclusive set of Miles Davis tunes. The sound of this band and their relaxed, but still highly focussed conception kept spinning in my head. I prepared myself in a very special way during the weeks before the recording, concentrating almost solely on my own sound and all its facets as well as the compositions and their interpretation. In this period there was not one technical exercise, quirky bebop phrasing or loud sound escaping my rehearsal room.
I had a clear vision installed in my head how the album should sound like. It only took a few attempts in our „studio“ and we knew: This is it! It seemed like the musicians all pulled together and knew exactly how to play this music without any need to talk about it. And, when the evening set in, we had the first „magic moment“ in which everything seemed to feel totally natural and flowing. This is when „Olhos de Gato“ and „The Peacocks“ were put to tape. For me „jazz“ and „the night“ are just one thing and I would love to publicly dispute the guy who first started a „jazz brunch“. I am so happy and really glad that we could keep up the focus and intimacy over the following two recording days!
The album opens with „Chelsea Bridge“, a composition by Billy Strayhorn which I already recorded a couple of years ago with bass player Jimmy Woode. He died shortly before the release, still tragically despite his high age. I cherish the photo of him playing his last note and smiling into the camera: „Was it any good?“ That was a big shock for me at the time and I would love to remind us of this great and warm-hearted musician with my version. Then there is the first song with Ken Norris, who picked three wonderful tunes. „Estate“ was one of my choices as well, serving as homage to the great Shirley Horn, whose version I virtually listen to every day and will continue to do so in the future! I love this kind of extremely slow bossa nova, and Heinz Lichius lays down an expert rhythm to it. „Never Let Me Go“ is a ballad I haven’t touched for years but always loved. I am very happy that Ken Norris put it back into my memory. Buggy Braune adds one of his ingenious piano intros to this tune and sets
the mood straight away. „Everything Happens To Me“ is the only occasionally uptempo track on the album, we had a lot of fun recording it. Dear Ken, I will never listen to this tune like I did before, and you know why…
Carla Bley’s composition „Olhos de Gato“ has been with me my whole lifetime. This tune already was a highlight in the set of my very first band. Olaf Casimir played bass (at the tender age of 17) even then. He now adds a wonderful solo, which hopefully lifts his spirits as his instrument was stolen a few weeks after the sessions during a concert tour. „Spring Is Here“ is a composition I first learned to love being on stage with Dr. Lonnie Smith. He had a tremendous time while I struggled through this work, quite unprepared for its complex chords. Now, at last, I wanted to play it properly!
I am really happy that this collection has been titled after a song I did not intend to include in the first place and which I did not play instrumentally before. „The Windmills Of Your Mind“ was added to our set spontaneously, because we really wanted to have a „chanson“ in our repertoire. After the first few bars from Buggy and Olaf it was obvious that this was going to be a fascinating take, and another one of those „magic moments.” The album closes with a not too serious ballad. For „The Party Is Over“ I thought of one of those numerous Frank Sinatra copyists who, with a loosely knot tie, a good dose of self-pity and a glass of whiskey in one hand singing about their own aging…!
The album ended up exactly how I wanted it to be. We had four wonderful days in Hamburg, which I will definitely never forget. I want to thank all the musicians and our sound engineer Ingo Schmidt that they all participated in the project with such inspiration and intensity. A very special thanks goes out to Ken Norris with his distinctive, soulful voice refining the album in a very special way.
I am very fortunate that the photographer Irène Zandel was present in the studio during the whole production and captured the mood of the sessions in her impressively sensitive photos. Many thanks, Irène. I would publish a whole book with your pictures, if I only could.
A similarly big thanks goes out to Andreas Barkhoff, who put a lot of love and patience in a video shot over the four days, which I am looking so much forward to. Plus – last but not least – a massive thank you to Ralf Zitzmann from Agogo Records, without whom this album never would have happened!
Notes for “The Windmills Of Your Mind” by Mike Hennessey
This double album by the well-integrated Stephan Abel Quintet is a stimulating example of the true art of jazz improvisation. It is not just a question of playing phrases that fit the chord sequence. You can create lines which are true to the chord sequence, but which have no connection with the mood of the original.
The true art of jazz improvisation is a matter of playing improvised lines which are compatible with the spirit and mood of the original melody.
With an impressive combination of standards written by Billy Strayhorn, Rodgers & Hart, Michel Legrand, Jule Styne and Bruno Martino and inspired originals by Carla Bley, Mal Waldron and Jimmy Rowles – Stephan impressively demonstrates his mastery of the true art.