Sunday, December 9, 2018

Jazz in Zandvoort with Vincent Koning

I have posted about Dutch jazz guitarist Vincent Koning earlier but somehow I forgot to post this concert later. The concert was recorded on april 1 2012 in the "Jazz in Zandvoort" series that feature guest musicians accompanied by the Johan Clement Trio. I am watching it right now as I am typing these words. A very enjoyable concert indeed. You will see and hear Vincent on a set of standards accompanied by Johan Clement on piano, Eric Timmermans on bass, and Frits Landesbergen on drums. It's a full concert, slightly over 2 hours. Vincent is one of the big jazz guitar cats in the Netherlands for sure. Wonderful playing.

"The Ghost, The King and I"
Vincent (1971) graduated from the Hague conservatory in 1997, where he studied with Peter Nieuwerf and Eef Albers. A year later he graduated from the Hilversum conservatory too. He is part of the drummerless trio "The Ghost, The King and I" (with Rob van Bavel on piano and Frans van Geest on bass) with which he tours and records a lot. You will find a number of vids by this trio if you look for them on the Tube. They recorded several albums. Here's a vid of them:

Jesse van Ruller Trio at the Vic

One of the great things of people carrying cell phones or small cameras all over the place all of the time is that you get to see snippets of jazz concerts on Youtube that you would normally not even know of. I was kind of surprised yesterday to come across some footage of the Jesse van Ruller Trio at the Park Plaza Victoria Hotel - "jazz at the Vic" - that was apparently shot on 4 december last. It is not that often that you can see and hear this great Dutch jazz guitar master on a set of standards in a trio setting. He is playing tunes that you find on much of his earlier work (The End of a Love Affair, Detour Ahead etc.). And his sound on the new guitar is really very vintage Jesse! So I was really excited and the vids - though sometimes dark and shaky - are just marvellous. Sound quality is good. Of course Jesse needs no introduction.

On bass you will hear Ernst Glerum (1955). He teaches double bass at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam and therefore must be a colleague of Jesse. He has had a rich career in Dutch jazz, both as a composer and a performer.

On drums we have Wouter Kühne (1996), a young Dutch jazz talent that is still studying at the Amsterdam conservatory (or has maybe graduated in the mean time) but has already won several jazz awards.

I'd like to thank whoever shot this footage. Enjoy!

My Funny Valentine
                                                                                          The End of a Love Affair
                                                                                            Detour Ahead
                                             With a Song in My Heart

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Take Your Pick

Text and pics by Manfred Junker
Over the last six months or so I did some research on picks that would suit me and my playing best. I feel most comfortable with triangular shapes and I am going for a fat/beefy/warm/dark sound with a minimum of string-noise (both with and without the amp). These are factors that brought down the number of possibilities quite a bit.

It is very interesting to hear the differences between picks and for me it was a great learning experience as it is absolutely important to explore the pick as a vital part of one´s sound. Below you will find an overview of what I spent my money on.

Fender Classic Celluloid (heavy/extra heavy)

These "standard" inexpensive picks are available from several companies and I have used them for a long time. Obviously the extra heavies sound darker and therefore I prefer them. You can make them sound even better by using extra fine sandpaper to bevel the side where the pick meets the string - a process which happens more or less automatically when you play a pick over a longer period. Repeat this procedure from time to time to keep the surface smooth.

Hense Cream Speedy 1,4mm & Happy Turtle Pick (1,4mm)

These picks from Germany are pretty expensive (19,90 € each), but really worth a try. The sound of both goes in the direction that I was looking for (dark, warm, beefy), with a minimum of click-noise. Both have beveled and polished sides, which is always nice to begin with.

The Cream Speedy is one of my favorite picks on my semi-acoustic guitar - to me the sound has a certain amount of "dirtyness" that I like on that guitar. After playing it for several weeks I realised that the material wore off a little bit, but after some sanding the pick was smooth again.

The Happy Turtle Pick is advertised to have the sound and feel of classic turtle picks. However, the special material (in German it is called "Milchstein") is not 100% even, which kind of distracted me, but fortunately one of the three sides felt ok. The sound is very good on electric, archtop and nylon-stringed guitars.

To avoid unwanted warps, see to it that the pick does not get wet.

To conclude, I do not regret spending that kind of money for a piece of plastic, but now I always do double-check my floor before vacuum cleaning!

Two picks by Jim Dunlop that really surprised me

The 3,0mm Large Tri-Flatpick (the left one in the picture) is obviously pretty thick. If you can handle that, it gives you a really dark, warm sound (the darkest out of all the picks I checked out). I was surprised that it works best on my nylon-string guitar! Especially when playing chords, there is more click noise than with other picks (and it certainly depends on the guitar and the strings you play) - some guitarists might even like this and call it a "percussive quality". It´s quite inexpensive: 8,65 € for a pack of 3 picks.

The Dunlop 1.50 Primetone Triangle Pick has turned out to be one of the favorite picks for me. 10,24€ for a pack of three is a very modest price for a hand beveled pick that sounds just the way I like it on each of my guitars! For me the quality is at least on the same level with picks that are much more expensive (like the Hense picks and the Blue Chip pick which you can read about below. Try it!

The Blue Chip TAD60

This is by far the most expensive pick that I bought. 46,90€ (!) really is a crazy amount of money - and

1. This was before any punitive custom tariff had been imposed against US products.
2. Yes, I told my wife about it 😊

Nevertheless, this 1,5mm pick sounds very good on all my guitars. As advertised, the material does not wear out and the beveled sides do not have to be polished - my pick looks exactly the same after several months!

The sound is pretty close to the Dunlop Primetone 1,5mm which is much more inexpensive - not better or worse, just a little bit different. That is the reason why I probably would hesitate to buy it again - it is simply way too expensive. But as it is I am glad to have it.

Two Duralin picks

Here are two picks made of Duralin. They are both availaible from Planet Waves and D´Addario - which I believe is essentially the same company. Whereas the heavy one on the left side feels and sounds ok (somewhere in the region of a Fender x-heavy celluloid), the black one (1,5mm) is a real surprise. It sounds very good, much warmer than the purple pick, with a minimum of click-noise.

For me the only problem is the teardrop-shape which I do not feel as comfortable with as with the triangular shape. I contacted D´Addario and asked if there was any chance to have the black one in that shape. For reasons I cannot understand, it is not - all the other slimmer picks are available in both shapes!

So if you are happy with the teardrop shape, you should really check that one out.

Two really disappointing picks

The yellow Dunlop Ultex pick sounds way too bright for my taste with lots of click-noises. Sanding it did not help at all... maybe it is a good one if you are playing other styles than I do.

Even though I did not have good experiences with wood picks before, I fell victim to the beautiful ads of Thalia, which praised their "Exotic Wood Picks" and promised a "warm tone that sounds better with each use." Made up of two or three layers of wood this pick produces a thin, scratchy sound that comes with excessive click noises. I even tried to make it sound better by sanding way, sorry, forget it!

D'Andrea Pro Plec 346 Rounded Triangle (Shell 1.5mm)

After several friends mentioned this pick, I thought I really should try it.

Hard to get - I found it nowhere in Germany and the only source seemed to be a dealer in Italy who charges 30€ for the postage alone! But I finally got it from for very little money: 10 picks for $7,90 plus $5,74 postage!

And it is really great - a nice warm sound on all my guitars with very little click-noises. Even though it is not beveled or polished, it easily matches or even beats the quality of all those expensive picks I checked.

In short, an exceptional pick!

Manfred Junker is a Jazz-Guitarist from Konstanz, Germany. To listen to his music and read about his projects, click here.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Peter Beets Trio with Kurt Rosenwinkel

It is not often that I watch full concerts on Youtube. It's usually isolated clips that I view. It's pretty incredible what is available on Youtube and there's so much to see ... However here's a concert that I enjoyed so throroughly that I watched all the 9 clips of the playlist in one go. The musicianship is outstanding (Peter Beets' solos are pretty out of this world too and the trio is really tight) and Kurt's modern jazz guitar sounds blend wonderfully with the more traditional, acoustic setting of the classic piano trio format. Club jazz at its best. What's more, you get to hear to hear one of the best modern jazz guitar players both on a set of standards and more modern tunes such as "Inner Urge" and the Coltrane tunes "Satellite" and "26-2." Kurt is a much more lyrical player than I thought he was. His ballad playing on "Turn Out the Stars" and "More than You Know" is superb. You can select individual tunes by clicking the icon in the left upper corner.

The concert was recorded on may 1, 2015 at the Kurhaus in Scheveningen. The mix is not the most balanced (especially for the bass player, he deserves much better) but on the whole the sound quality is decent enough. Enjoy!

Peter Beets - piano 
Kurt Rosenwinkel - guitar 
Frans van Geest - double bass 
Joost Patocka - drums

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Thomastik Infeld Jazz Swings versus d' Addario Chromes

A few years ago the Thomastik Infeld company was so kind to send me a few packs of TI Jazz Swings so I could test and review them on my Blog. Well, as it happened I have strung all my guitars with them in the mean time (on some 012 and on some 011) and have been playing them ever since. So that review is long overdue. But here it is ...

Prior to my conversion to the TI Jazz swings in 2015 I had been using d'Addario Chromes for about 20 years. To great satisfaction I must add. I still think Chromes are great sounding strings for Jazz archtops. So why the conversion? Let's have a look. I'm going to focus on 3 variables: feel, sound and durability.

This is undoubtedly the main reason for my conversion. TI Jazz swings feel much more comfortable than Chromes due to the lower strings tension when using similar gauges. As a matter of fact, the string tension on a set of 0.12 TI will be more or less equal to a 0.11 set of Chromes and, consequently, a set of 013 TIs will feel like a set of 012 Chromes. That's partly because the string gauges are slightly different starting from the G string and partly because Chromes feel "stiffer" somehow. The TI's smoothly polished nickel winding on a round core versus the Chromes' stainless steel winding on a hex core will make the TIs way more flexible and therefore more comfortable to play. Steve Brauner sent me a string tension chart showing the differences in string tension on a guitar with a 25.5" scale and remarked how well balanced a TI Jazz Swing set is. If you look at the standard deviation of TI Jazz Swings it is clear that they have the most even tension between strings from all sets that were measured. This explains why they feel so comfortable.

TIs sound more mellow than Chromes. Chromes are brighter. This makes sense, because hex core strings like Chromes do tend to sound brighter than round core strings. In addition, it is argued that round core TIs will have more sustain than hex core Chromes and that TIs sound more vintage. For, in the old days simply all strings were round core ... The superior flexibility and sustain of round core strings is explained in this short vid:

Both brands will last a long time, that's for sure. Both TIs and Chromes will easily be on one of my guitars for at least a year. Sometimes the only reason I change a set is because the intonation finally goes bad.

This is only a minor advantage but I do like the TIs red wrapping on the wound string ends and the brass plated high e and b strings!

Though I have always liked Chromes, I will stick to TIs from now on. Over here in Europe they are cheaper than Chromes and I really prefer the superior feel of the TIs. Sound wise, I prefer the TIs too but the brands are not worlds apart. The TIs have more sustain and are more mellow and lively sounding. Heck, I finally found a guitar related advantage of living in Europe! I get the best strings for half the money but you guys in the US get the vintage Gibsons for 1-2 k cheaper and have way more to choose from ...

To sum up, the TI Jazz Swings are very reasonably priced in Europe, they sound great, are a joy to play and they last forever. End of story.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Night of the Jazz Guitars

The Night of the Jazz Guitars is a guitar project that was initiated by the German jazz guitarist Andreas Dombert in 2002. He recorded two CDs (2002, 2006) with his former teacher Helmut Kagerer. With the addition of Paul Morello in 2010, the duo became a trio. A year later, Morello invited Larry Coryell to do a quartet album in 2011 and a tv concert of this quartet was recorded in the same year at the International Jazz Week at Burghausen.

Since 2014, "The Night of the Jazz Guitars" has been touring and recording in different line ups and with different guests such as Philip Catherine, Michael Sagmeister, Ulf Wakenius, Pat Martino and Jesse van Ruller. The line up is only guitar, no rhythm section!

But let's go back to the original 2011 quartet line up with guest star Coryell which was recorded wonderfully for tv. IMHO this is currently one of the most enjoyable live jazz guitar concerts available on Youtube. Sound and image are excellent. The music is highly arranged and at times almost chamber music like but the interplay is gorgeous, inventive enough and even adventurous at times. Both standards and originals are featured. Enjoy!

The studio album is available at Amazon here.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Joe's Guitars

I have always considered Joe's guitar tone in the mid and late sixties to be the best recorded archtop sound ever. I have written about that earlier. I am talking about the sound that you hear on records such as "For Django", "Joy Spring", "Simplicity" and "Intercontinental." Surely, this is a subjective statement, however, I do know that many agree with me on this. On these records Joe is playing a Gibson ES 175. For much of Pass' early recordings he employed the ES175 that was given to him as a gift right after he got out of drug rehab, when a wealthy real estate jazz fan discovered that Pass didn't own his own guitar, but was using a Synanon-owned solid body Fender. A solid body? Yes, while Joe Pass was at Synanon (drug rehab clinic) to kick his habit, Joe recorded his first album album as a leader  and used a Fender Jaguar because he did not own a guitar at the time. Somehow he managed to sound absolutely great on it. Amazing how fully developed his single line playing already was at the time, after a mostly wasted and drug ridden decade in the 50s ... In this post I'd like to have a look at the other guitars he used too throughout his career. 

But let's first go back to the ES 175. Joe used that guitar on all his classic recordings in the 1960s and continued to play it way into the 70s too. I'm pretty sure he used it on the seminal "Virtuoso" albums too and of course his duos with Ella feature this guitar. Anyway, a good example of the classic 175 tone that I dig so much is (of course) "Joy Spring." I have written about the 60s Joe Pass here.

In the 1970s Joe had James D'Aquisto build him a guitar with a single pickup installed. This guitar, too, made it onto several recordings. Here's a solo recording on the D'Aquisto.

In the 80s Joe played the Ibanez Joe Pass signature JP-20 model guitar that Ibanez made for him. Much has been written about whether Pass did or didn't like this guitar, but he was faithful in using it over the life of the endorsement deal. I'm not that impressed by the sound of this particular guitar, neither by my own experience with it, nor by Joe's recordings that he made with it. Compared with his earlier sound on the 175 it always sounds tinny and trebly. Many argue the pick-up placement is wrong on that guitar but the following observation found on a guitar forum may be a more accurate assessment:
The problem is actually that Ibanez added two frets - gratuitously - to the fretboard. Pass didn't even realize this, nor did he use those frets. You can tell this when he wanders up there in his first Hot Licks instructional disk (in 1986 it was actually a videotape). He was surprised to discover that the JP20 went to "D." The extra two frets pushed the relative position of the pickup beyond the node of the 24th fret.

So the bottom line is that the 175 is 20-fret guitar, whereas the Ibanez JP20 is a 22-fret guitar with the pick-up in a position further removed from the neckYou can hear Joe on the Ibanez on many recordings and live performances of the 80s and on the left you can see and hear it in action. Of course it should be noted that Joe would sound great on any guitar but hey ... this is a nerdy place to begin with so we have our preferences :)

Sometimes Joe played an acoustic guitar. I read somewhere that he recorded "Summer Winds" and "Appassionato" with a 1942 Epiphone Deluxe owned by John Pisano that originally belonged to John's father.

Joe finally went back to a Gibson ES 175 when Gibson built him a custom model in 1992. This particular model had the pick-up placed closer to the neck and it was slightly thinner than a regular ES 175. It was one of a kind. And it sounded great. IMHO, Joe was back to the guitar that has best fit him over the years. Listen to the warm and lush 175 sounds here:

He also used it on my favourite later recording, "In Hamburg" that he recorded in 1992 with the NDR Big Band.

It's a darned shame that Gibson never marketed this particular custom made ES 175 model as a Joe Pass Signature Model. Over the years they have had a Tal Farlow, a Barney Kessel and a Herb Ellis model and not a Joe Pass model? Why a Steve Howe and not a Joe Pass 175? Incomprehensible. For many people Joe's sound on the 175 has become the archetypal jazz guitar sound to begin with. The perhaps greatest of them all had to forego his own Gibson Signature ES 175 ...