The Faber Music Jazz Anthology

Sheet Music Review

Over the last three years, Faber Music seemed to establish a pattern of releasing deluxe Piano Anthologies in the run up to the Christmas season. For 2020, they have ‘upped the ante’ by bringing forward the next title in this stunning series to the Spring, with further anthologies (Contemporary and Easy) already in preparation.

The Faber Music Jazz Piano Anthology builds on the quality of its predecessors to deliver a sumptuous and brilliantly conceived book of jazz standards, newly arranged as piano solos for more advanced students and adult piano enthusiasts everywhere.

Definitely time for a closer look…

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Hiromi: Spectrum

Recording of the Month

New releases are usually a bit thin on the ground in January and this has proved true again in 2020, the respite providing the perfect chance to revisit the best albums of the last year.

2019 was a solid year for new jazz piano releases, many of which I have enjoyed repeatedly. Highlights have included Keith Jarrett’s superb Munich 2016 recording, Ahmad Jamal’s gorgeous Ballades, Abdullah Ibrahim’s Dream Time and Chick Corea’s double live trio CD Trilogy 2.

My personal favourite of the many good recent jazz albums has to be Hiromi Uehara’s Spectrum, however.

Following a succession of brilliant trio, ensemble and collaboration albums, Spectrum is Hiromi’s first solo piano studio album for a decade, and is a remarkable musical tour de force.

Speaking to The Japan Times, Hiromi said of the recording,

“As a pianist, making a solo album is really like, kind of being naked. There is nowhere to hide. There is no other instrument to play with in order to cover the sound. It’s really challenging, but at the same time, it’s the best way to fully enjoy this instrument…
It’s like having a conversation with myself. I can be really free, if there is nobody there to restrain me. I can go anywhere that I want in improvisation.”

Let’s find out where Hiromi’s playing led her …

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The Melody at Night, With You

Sheet Music Review

Keith Jarrett has long been one of my piano heroes, his album The Melody at Night, With You an all-time favourite recording.

I am absolutely delighted that, 20 years after its release, Schott Music have brought out a complete sheet music transcription of the ten album tracks, by Friedrich Grossnick.

I’ll get straight to it – this music is a very special recommendation.

Let me tell you why…

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Julia Hülsmann: Modern Piano Improvisation

Sheet Music Review

Here’s an interesting concept!

“Is it possible to learn to improvise? The acclaimed jazz pianist Julia Hülsmann answers this question with a resounding ‘yes’. In volume 1 of her Modern Piano Improvisation series she presents an easy and inviting introduction to this skill.
Songs are the main focus of her approach: easy arrangements of 15 jazz classics and original compositions by the internationally-renowned composer Hülsmann. Ideas and themes are given for each piece to help you to create attractive piano solos.
Demo recordings and play-along backings are available as MP3 files to download.”

So reads the blurb on the rear cover of an attractive new publication from advance music, brought to us by Schott Music.

Adding excitement to the mix, author Julia Hülsmann is indeed one of the most distinguished pianists of the contemporary European jazz scene, with a string of albums on the ECM and ACT labels, including the award-winning Scattering Poems.

So let’s take a look…

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Exploring the Piano Music of Nikolai Kapustin

Kapustin’s extensive catalogue of solo piano music is increasingly recognised as one of the significant landmarks of the contemporary recital repertoire.

In an earlier review, Discovering the Piano Music of Nikolai Kapustin, I had a look at two contrasting works, the fiendishly difficult Sonata No.6 Op.62 (1991), and the more accessible (and now highly popular) Sonatina Op.100 (2000), new editions of which Schott Music had recently released.

Since then, Schott have been continuing to refresh the Kapustin catalogue (theirs since 2013) with new editions of his solo works appearing at regular intervals.

In this follow-up I will be giving a quick round-up of all the latest arrivals. Of these it must be noted that even the least assuming pieces here are rightly classified as “virtuoso”, being at least Diploma level in difficulty.

In all cases, these works are fully scored-out compositions in the classical vein, but heavily imbued with the language, techniques and aesthetics of contemporary jazz, leaning on influences that encompass modern jazz piano icons from Thelonious Monk to McCoy Tyner and beyond.

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Blues in Two and more…

Sheet Music Review

Mike Cornick has long been respected as one of the pioneers of catchy, jazz-based music which is as ideal for adults playing the piano for relaxed enjoyment as it is for educational use.

In this review I will look at his two latest publications, starting with the recently published intermediate collection Blues in Two and more…

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Rockschool Piano 2019

Sheet Music Review

“From a small office in West London in 1991, RSL (Rockschool Ltd) had a dream to change the landscape of formal music education, and sought to become the first viable alternative to the traditional offerings available in Britain at the time.”

So says Rockschool founder Norton York. And from these small beginnings, Rockschool has grown into a major international examining board, offering grade exams, teaching and performing diploma qualifications, vocational qualifications and performing arts awards in 9 different disciplines, and in more than 40 countries.

Rockschool recently launched their new 2019 Piano syllabus, which you can download in full from their website here, as well as publishing nine music books, one for each of the usual 8 Grades as well as “Debut”, their pre-Grade 1 offering. The music books are brought to us by industry leading Hal Leonard publishing, ensuring worldwide availability.

Note that the syllabus document does not actually list the pieces. For that reason, I will list them below as I believe readers will be particularly interested in this information.

Looking at the books, I think there are two potential markets here:

  1. Firstly, some will be interested in following this syllabus for the core learning structure it provides those specifically wanting to play rock and pop piano styles.
  2. Secondly, I suspect many players will be interested in dipping into these resources alongside more traditional music and methods for the breadth and perspective they bring.

For this review, my main focus will be on the published resources. I will include a concise syllabus overview, but a more in-depth consideration of the pedagogic pathway it offers and its benchmarking against traditional alternatives is beyond the scope of this article.

To be clear, too, I have never entered a student for the Rockschool exams; the assessments are fully accredited, but pianists and colleagues I’ve chatted with have given mixed feedback.

And I should also preface the review by pointing out that the Rockschool exams should not be confused with Trinity College London’s Rock and Pop syllabus, which I have reviewed here.

So let’s take a closer look at the Rockschool 2019 Piano syllabus…

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Keith Jarrett: La Fenice

Recording of the Month

“So, who’s your favourite pianist, then?”

It’s a question most of us run from. But over the years I have become comfortable naming Keith Jarrett as, if not “favourite”, then certainly one of the most extraordinary pianists alive.

So when a new album of his live improvised music is released, it jumps straight to the top of the pile, and likely becomes a very easy choice for “Recording of the Month”.

Happily for me (and for you) La Fenice is not simply an album of live outtakes from the vault, but another very special Jarrett release which demonstrate just why he is such an extraordinary and acclaimed musician. 


La Fenice

Recorded live in concert on a single evening, La Fenice exemplifies everything that those in-the-know have come to treasure in Jarrett’s music. So let’s take a closer look…

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Tord Gustavsen Trio: “The Other Side”

Recording of the Month

Photo credit: Hans Fredrik Asbjørnsen

Just as the great classical composers would often use the medium of the string quartet to explore new compositional ideas, techniques and directions, so jazz pianists have often produced their most exploratory work in the trio format.

One of the noteworthy recent exponents of the jazz trio is Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen. His Trio, featuring drummer Jarle Vespestad and bassist Harald Johnsen, toured between 2003-08, releasing three recordings, Changing Places (2003), The Ground (2005), Being There (2007), all on the ECM Records label.

Changing Places wasn’t, as it happens, my first encounter with Gustavsen’s playing; he had previously recorded sessions with fellow Norwegian chanteuse, Silje Nergaard, one of my absolute favourite singers. Gustavsen’s understated but deeply felt piano lines in her early recordings certainly made their impression on me, but hearing him let loose in a trio format really bought home the delicate brilliance and originality of his playing.

Following on from the three trio albums, which established Gustavsen’s voice as the preeminent lyrical pianist of the Nordic school, with colourful tinges of blues and gospel never far from the surface in his playing, he developed larger ensembles. The Tord Gustavsen Quartet added saxophonist Tore Brunborg, while the Ensemble added the vocals of Kristin Ambjørnsen.

And for his 2016 release What Was Said (my personal favourite, by the way) he was joined by German-Afgan jazz singer Simin Tander alongside regular drummer Jarle Vespestad.

Along the way, Gustavsen added experimentation with electronic instruments and treatments to his already gorgeous sonic palette.

The Other Side marks Gustavsen’s return to the basic format of the standard Trio after more than a decade of exploring these other musical possibilities. As I listened to preview track The Tunnel over the late summer, I wondered whether this new album would be somewhat a return to Gustavsen’s roots, or be markedly different from the earlier Trio albums ….

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How to Play Jazz Piano

Sheet Music Review

It’s turned into a great Autumn for players and students of jazz piano!

Already this week I have reviewed  Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Jazz Piano Solos  (Alfred Music) and  Tim Richards’ Jazz, Latin and Modern Collection  (Schott Music) – both outstanding.

Now let’s see whether Pam Wedgwood’s How to Play Jazz Piano, published by Faber Music this week, can make it a hat-trick.

The book aims to provide a solid introduction to jazz playing and claims to be ideal for young players with a basic knowledge of how to play the piano (approximately Grade 2 standard)”.

As a standalone course suitable for players at this level, there is little competition – perhaps the nearest comparison would be with the (excellent) support materials for the ABRSM Jazz Piano syllabus.

So far, so interesting, so let’s take a closer look …


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