Tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake is one of the big voices in contemporary jazz. He’s everywhere in New York, playing with everybody who’s somebody. I’m not exaggerating! As well as his own groups (including an electronic project where he plays the Electric Wind Instrument, or EWI), a shortlist includes John Scofield, Victor Lewis, Antonio Sanchez, Maria Schneider, Brad Mehldau, Jeremy Pelt, Mark Turner, Kenny Barron…
He comes out of the Coltrane school, so he’s all over the sax. But he’s got his own sound—bright, imaginative, sophisticated. He’s got the language everybody else has, but he does it differently, he has a certain lightness. People who heard him here at the Jazz Festival with Robi Botos and Terreon Gully will know what I mean. It’s beautiful.
Blake grew up in Vancouver, studied at Berklee, then took first place in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition in 2002. By that point, he’d already established a great reputation as a performer and recording artist. I was honoured to do a couple of gigs and recording sessions with him in New York. He’s really friendly and easy-going, and I came to find out that’s his Canadian side—I had never really hung out with a Canadian before that!
Seamus Blake is back in Winnipeg at the end of January fronting the quartet of a young piano whiz, Florian Hoefner. Hoefner grew up playing accordion, piano, and trumpet in a German village outside Nuremberg. He studied piano, drums, and composition at the University of the Arts in Berlin, where his teachers included David Friedman and Kurt Rozenwinkel. In 2008, he headed to New York in 2008 to immerse himself in jazz studies at the Manhattan School of Music and the jazz culture of the city. During the course of his studies, he performed frequently in both the US and Germany, and was recognized with the ASCAP Young Composer Award in both 2010 and 2011. In 2014, he moved with his wife to St John’s, Newfoundland. This past summer, he received the 2015 Stingray Rising Star Award at the Montreal Jazz Festival.
The Florian Hoefner Group, with Sam Anning on bass and Peter Kronreif on drums, fronted this time by Seamus Blake, is releasing Luminosity, the third recording of Hoefner’s original music. He says his first CD, Songs Without Words, was an attempt at locating his own voice, with his second, Falling Up, pushing into new territory. “I tried to write songs with a specific atmosphere, a vibe that doesn’t sound like generic jazz. I started writing specific drum grooves in interesting meters, to give Peter a starting point and influence a bit what he would play. On Luminosity I took that process even farther. The pieces are longer, with more complex forms and rhythms, and very detailed parts for each player.”
Hoefner’s work is clear and expressive. He has a contrapuntal imagination, and leaves lots of space for all members of the band to express themselves. With the powerful Seamus Blake in front, the evening will be one for the record books at the Centre culturel franco-manitobain. You’ll be wise to arrive early!