REVIEWS: Jazzmeia Horn, James Carter Trio, Pablo Held Trio at Unterfahrt in Munich

Gerard Gibbs, organist with the James Carter Trio
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Jazzmeia Horn, James Carter, Pablo Held Trio
(Unterfahrt in Munich, 26, 28 and 19 January. Reviews by Ralf Dombrowski)

Sometimes it can be a real mystery why musicians choose to surround themselves with the bands they do. One is just left imagining what might have happened, had Jazzmeia Horn been able to work with musical colleagues at the same level as her, for her appearance at the Unterfahrt in Munich. She has such an astonishing presence and a sparkling personality, it would surely have been the kind of musical experience that everyone in the club would want to tell their grandchildren about.

Jazzmeia Horn. Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

In any case we heard a singer who stands a part from many of her peers because she takes on every song she sings so naturally. She is a performer for whom every word, gesture and ornament becomes and expression of her total conviction, and she completely comes alive in the moment. She inhabits the standards repertoire with every breath she takes. This a mesmerising, charming involving voice. She has soul, swing, she can scat...but her real distinguishing feature is her compelling storytelling. Her performance culminated in a Lush Life which can have left very few if any eyes in the house completely dry.

Her concert was the centre-piece of a great week in Munich. The city seemed to offer just one great gig after another, and all it wanted in return for this great bounty was large quantities of my sleep. Each of these concerts could not have been more different from one another.

James Carter Trio
Phoro credit: Ralf Dombrowski

For example there was James Carter. He was once a high-spec saxophonist back in the nineties, and was over here in a trio with organist Gerard Gibbs and drummer Alex White at Unterfahrt. Carter still has something of the circus performer about him. Nevertheless, despite occasionally resorting to a box of tricks that includes hefty slap-tonguing, extended circular breathing and wildly expansive Coltranesque episodes, he does keep finding his way straight back to an authentic American soul-feel. The agility, and also the laid-back ways of communicating of the musicians working with him  must also have helped him to locate that core.

Pablo Held. Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

On the previous day in the same club it had been the Pablo Held Trio on the bill. According to what was announced, the musicians were going to let themselves be led by their intuitions and instincts. In the course of their two sets their structured sense of where they were headed within their own compositions, plus the immediacy of the flow of this band, a mutual understanding that has been built up over ten years was generating recognizable and concise song forms, complete with all their fine nuances.

The original German version of these reviews, extended and also including a review of Israeli saxophonist Oded Tzur at the BWM Welt Jazz Awards, is appearing at

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