A Celebration of Jazz – Contemporary Jazz

In our previous blog post A Celebration of Jazz – A Global Journey we explored a variety of regional jazz scenes. We continue our blog series to celebrate International Jazz Day with an exploration of the contemporary jazz scene. For International Women’s Day we created our playlist Women in Jazz to celebrate the women leading the way today. We explore the international contemporary jazz scene further in our playlists Expansive Jazz and Contemporary ECM. 

Kokoroko

Expansive Jazz

Explore the expansive and experimental sounds of the genre-bending contemporary jazz scene where a new generation of artists are continuously reinventing the sound of jazz. 

It has been a strong start to the year with contemporary jazz releases. We feature new releases from Bassist Derrick Hodge, Kokoroko, Immanuel Wilkins, Sons of Kemet, Ebi Soda, Kamasi Washington, Julius Rodriguez, and Ezra Collective along with some strong leaders in the genre – Robert Glasper’s supergroup R&R = Now and Christian Scott.

The London-based Afrobeat band Kokoroko have released two stand out tracks in their new debut album Could We Be More. In this playlist we feature Something’s Going On with its influences of psychedelic jazz and funk combining African roots and London sounds. In our playlist Sarah Pick’s we feature We Give Thanks, written with the idea of recapturing the energy you get when you get to the end of shows.

Another highlight is Brighton-based jazz quintet Ebi Soda’s Chandler from their new album Honk if You’re Sad which combines psychedelia, dissonance, hip hop, jazz, and electronic music. Chandler features their truly unique sound combined with guest trumpet and flugelhorn player Yazz Ahmed playing an ambient melody.

Oded Tzur

Contemporary ECM

German label ECM has, since 1969, been one of the most influential labels for jazz and classical music. ECM soon became known as the ‘gold standard for sound, presence and pressing’, applying precision and focus to improvised music. We’ve put together some of the more recent jazz masterpieces from their catalog. 

We open with Noam from Saxophonist Oded Tzur’s Isabela. Tzur’s background in the Tel Aviv jazz scene of the 2000’s, included a variety of musical training. An interest in Indian classical music plays into Tzur’s interest in the relationship between ancient and modern musical traditions. Throughout the album, Tzur uses a raga, a melodic framework for improvisation similar to a Chalan in Indian Classical Music.

We highlight Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen twice, with The Circle from his new album Opening, and again with the fantastic The Tunnel from The Other Side. The Tord Gustavsen Trio are known for exploring Scandinavian hymns, jazz, and choral music in their work. In Opening, they explore Norwegian classical and Scandinavian folk songs whilst introducing the artistry of their new bassist Steinar Raknes.

The stand out track comes from Danish guitarist Jakob Bro with his new trio featuring Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen and Spanish drummer Jorge Rossy. There is a sense of a dignified slowness – a solemnity characteristic of ECM recordings.

Elina Duni

Women in Jazz

A celebration of the women paving the way in the contemporary jazz scene, including Grammy award-winning Esperanza Spalding, trumpeter Yazz Ahmed and harpist Brandee Younger.

A highlight of this playlist are the rich vocals of Swiss-Albanian singer Elina Duni. Born into an artistic family in Tirana, Duni began singing at a young age, later settling in Geneva, Switzerland where she discovered jazz alongside her classical piano training. We feature the hauntingly sad Meu Amor from Duni’s solo project Partir where she accompanies herself on guitar. Partir, meaning departure, features songs sung in nine different languages reflecting on movement and her own departure from her homeland. 

Leading the way in the international contemporary jazz scene are five times Grammy-Award winning American jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding, British-Bahraini trumpeter Yazz Ahmed, Yazmin Lacey, and jazz harpist Brandee Younger.

From Norway, we have bassist and singer Ellen Andrea-Wang with Fjord Ferry from her album Diving. Andrea-Wang’s genre-defying style features in Fjord Ferry with her prominent bass fused with ethereal vocals.

To learn more about how to explore Jazz in Roon, revisit last year’s blog piece A New Way to Discover Jazz from our Founder and CEO Enno Vandermeer. All of our playlists are available in Playlists by Roon on your Roon home page.

A Celebration of Jazz – A Global Journey

To celebrate International Jazz Day we would like to introduce you to our jazz playlists in Roon. Through this jazz blog series we hope to showcase the variety of sounds and styles in jazz, and introduce you to the unique ways in which cultures and music traditions are incorporated into jazz. First, we explore the unique sounds coming from different countries and cities with our playlists Icelandic Jazz, Kenyan Jazz, South African Jazz, Cuban Jazz, London Jazz Explosion, and Mountain Jazz.

Icelandic Jazz

Agnar Már Magnússon

Here we explore Icelandic jazz, with its unique combination of influences from Afro-American jazz to Scandinavian jazz and Icelandic folk influences.

To understand the history of jazz in Iceland, it is important to recognise the impact which music had as part of diplomatic relations between the US and Iceland in the 1950s in a time when black artists such as Dizzy Gillepsie and Thelonious Monk held great fame. 

During the cold war, Iceland had a policy banning black soldiers from the Keflavik US air base. Opera singers were allowed to come to Iceland, but jazz musicians were limited both in performance and on the radio. Nevertheless, Afro-American jazz had a huge influence on Icelandic jazz musicians over the years, likely in part due to the American air base present from World War II.

Iceland is geographically closer to the US and the UK, yet culturally aligned with Scandinavia. This unique blend of cultures has produced an interesting and varied sound amongst Icelandic jazz musicians who cover a variety of jazz sub-genres.

Our playlist features contemporary Icelandic musicians, many appearing over the years at the increasingly popular Reykjavik Jazz Festival. We feature Gunnar Gunnarson’s melodic chamber jazz, an example of the mixed influences found in Icelandic jazz from Icelandic folk music, classical music, and jazz. Another highlight is pianist-composer Agnar Már Magnússon who draws on the openness of Icelandic folk music and nature for inspiration.

Nduduzo Makhathini 

South African Jazz

Building on South Africa’s rich and unique musical traditions a new generation of jazz artists are flourishing with a fresh expansive sound. Leading the way are Nduduzo Makhathini, the first South African to be signed onto Blue Note records, keyboardist/singer Thandi Ntuli, and trombonist/singer Siya Makuzeni.

To understand the contemporary jazz scene in South Africa it is important to first understand the historical influences which bred genres such as Cape jazz and Soweto blues. 

African-American jazz started to reach South Africa in the early 20th Century. During the 1960s and 1970s South African jazz was internationally acclaimed, with its unique blend of township dance music with hard bop and free jazz. Artists such as the Jazz Epistles and the Blue Notes produced their own bebop.

During apartheid, black musicians were forced to go underground or perform behind screens to white audiences. Many unique South African genres such as Kwela, mbaqanga and marabi emerged during this time from the influences of American ragtime and dixieland combined with African trance-like rhythm, the pennywhistle, and combining guitar with brass. 

Forced to emerge underground, these genres such as marabi were often not recorded. As with speakeasies in the prohibition era in America, marabi sounds were designed to draw people into the bars or ‘shebeens’. Paul Simon’s Graceland brought attention to marabi in 1986.

Our playlist focuses on the new generation of South African jazz artists emerging with a new fresh sound, combining traditional elements with an experimental sound. 

We open with Keleketla!’s International Love affair from Keleketla!, meaning “response” in Sepedi. Using a call and response style this genre-defying song is a ‘celebration of our need to come together as one and the healing power of music.’ It is an international collaboration featuring musicians from South Africa, Nigeria, UK and USA. The album was recorded in Soweto and mixed in London. 

Another highlight is internationally renowned Nduduzo Makhathini. Makhathini grew up in the hillscapes of umGungundlovu, surrounded by music and ritual practices. Influenced by the church and South African jazz giants such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Makhathini is conscious that South African jazz should retain its unique sounds.

Lisa Uduor-Noah

Kenyan Jazz

Explore the rich variety of sounds coming from Kenya’s jazz musicians, from the new generation pushing the boundaries of jazz to Mzee Ngala, the founder of the popular kenyan genre bango which combines jazz and Kenyan traditional music. 

Kenya has a relatively small but exciting emerging jazz scene. In Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, artists are blending contemporary jazz with traditional local music. 

We open the playlist with Lisa Oduor-Noah, a Kenyan singer who grew up surrounded by a variety of musical styles from Lingala to R&B and blues. Michael Ongaro brings a distinct sound on guitar and flute, fusing jazz, folk and classical traditions. 

Kato Change embraces a variety of influences, from flamenco, blues and rock to African traditions. We feature African Woman from his debut album The Change Experience. Inspired by videos of musicians on YouTube, Kato Change taught himself guitar. Change is part of a global community of musical exchange via platforms such as YouTube, something which has influenced his sound.

Sons of Kemet

London Jazz Explosion

Explore the thriving London jazz scene with this contemporary jazz playlist. Multi-genre and multi-cultural influences are brought together by an emerging scene of collaborative young, fresh artists. 

Shabaka Hutchings has established himself as a core member of the London jazz scene. His group Sons of Kemet draws on influences from the diverse sounds of London’s club culture from house, grime, and jungle, to dub. 

As part of the Caribbean diaspora, Hutchings wants to recreate the jubilant community celebration of music as he experienced with the calypso and soca music of Barbados’ Carnival. Here we feature My Queen is Anna Julia Cooper from Your Queen Is a Reptile, blending funky tuba bass lines from Theon Cross with Hutchings on the saxophone.

Theon Cross features again with deep bass lines on Activate with Moses Boyd Exodus and saxophonist Nubya Garcia.

Other highlights include Ill Considered, Tom Green Septet, Misha Mullov Abbado, and also featured on our Women in Jazz playlist are Yazz Ahmed, Yazmin Lacey and Zara McFarlane.

David Virelles, photo by John Rogers

Cuban Jazz

Explore the variety and richness of Cuban jazz. From traditional influences of Afro-Cuban mambo, cha-cha and salsa, to timba and songo bands Havana D’Primera and Los Van Van, Rumba from Changüí de Guantánamo to genre-bending artist Daymé Arocena.

Highlights include Yissy Garcia and Afro-Cuban pianist-composer David Virelles. We feature Virelles’ Bodas de Oro from his album Igbó Alákọrin, a Yoruba phrase meaning The Singer’s Grove. This album champions the roots and singers from Santiago de Cuba.

Along with Daymé Arocena, composer and drummer Yissy Garcia is leading the way in this new generation of Cuban jazz artists. Known for her versatility, Garcia combines tradition and experimentation in a powerful way, fusing latin jazz, electronics and traditional Cuban music.

Last year we had the privilege of speaking to Daymé Arocena about Cuba’s rich musical history, challenges, and her music in our two-part blog Daymé Arocena: Cuban Music Breakout. Part 1 and Daymé Arocena: Music Roots & Creative Process. Part 2..

Trygve Seim, photo by Antonio Armentano

Mountain Jazz

Mountain Jazz is a selection of the finest tracks from the jazz traditions of the Nordics. Transparent, floating, dreamy and with a constant undercurrent of folk music and dramatic scenery. 

Norway has a proud jazz tradition, from Jan Garbarek’s breakthrough in the 1970s to the fresh sounds of experimental jazz band Pixel and trio Gurls – all featured in this playlist.

Many of the leading contemporary Norwegian jazz recordings come from ECM, introducing many of these artists such as Tord Gustavsen and Mathias Eick to an international audience.

Highlights include Trygve Seim’s beautiful Sol’s Song from Helsinki Songs, and jazz violinist Ola Kvernberg’s Liarbird.

Our next blog post A Celebration of Jazz – Contemporary Jazz will explore our contemporary jazz playlists Expansive Jazz, Women in Jazz, and Contemporary ECM.

To learn more about how to explore Jazz in Roon, revisit last year’s blog piece A New Way to Discover Jazz from our Founder and CEO Enno Vandermeer. 

All of our playlists are available in Playlists by Roon on your Roon home page.

Weekend Playlists

As we described in our post Playlists in Roon, this year our music team started curating more playlists available only in Roon. Our playlists cover a range of genres, seasons, artist profiles, and sounds from around the world. We’ve created a selection of lifestyle playlists for the weekend: Uncorked, Hazy, Pour Over, Sauté, and EDM Party. 

Album cover – Shina Williams & his African Percussionists: African Dances

Uncorked

To accompany your evening drinks, Uncorked is our expansive playlist of afrobeat, disco-funk, electronic pop and jazz funk. Highlights include Nu Guinea, Terrace Martin and iconic 70s Nigerian artist Shina Williams with his fusion of afrobeat, electronics, boogie and disco.

The playlist opens with Quantic, a pseudonym for British producer, DJ and musician Will Holland. Taking its inspiration from Holland’s global travels and move across the Atlantic to New York, Atlantic Oscillations brings out dance oriented sounds with Holland’s world-renowned sound, blending house, disco, soul and jazz.

Lagos-based Shina Williams’ Agboju Logun is the highlight of this playlist. First released on Phonodisk in 1979 on the African Dances album, then in 1984 as an alternative mix on Earthworks, Rough Trade. The track became an Afro disco classic with its innovative fusion of afrobeat, electronics, boogie and disco. 

Williams brought together the best of Nigeria’s percussionists stating “I want to show the whole wide world that Africa is alive with modern musicians to reckon with anywhere”. The album gained little international attention until the 1984 album release. 

We continue with Afrobeat fusion from the Canadian group The Souljazz Orchestra who blend soul, jazz, funk, Afrobeat and Latin-American styles, and Marumo’s, a collaboration of South African blind musicians with Khomo Tsaka Deile Kae, a funk rock setting of a pastoral story of a herder boy who loses his father’s cattle.

Other highlights include French house-electronic duo Polo & Pan and Italian funk, disco, electronic, world music producer duo Nu Guinea (now Nu Genea) from Naples. Nu Guinea draws on 70s and 80s Neopolitan artists such as Tullio de Piscopo’s fusion of jazz, funk, disco and African rhythms. We feature Ddoje Facce from their album Nuovo Napoli which reflects this sound as well as the Neopolitan music scene and local dialect.

Kerala Dust, photo by Orhan Olgar

Hazy

Begin your evening with Hazy, a downtempo playlist of atmospheric favorites. Explore the diversity of sound from deep house to bands such as Kerala Dust who combine influences of psychedelic rock, blues and techno. 

We open with Kerala Dust, formed in London in 2016 and now based in Berlin. Kerala dust blends electronic music with traditional and experimental songwriting, drawing on influences from Tom Waits to CAN and The Velvet Underground. 

Ninze follows with their experimental Ketapop sound, mixing downtempo atmospheric sounds with melancholy melodies. 

A highlight of this playlist is Palomita from the Ouïe imprint release Endup from NU, a Germany-based production outfit. Palomita moves from a mid tempo vibe to a Latin dance influence. 

We feature Modir from Seb Wildblood, co-founder of London club night and label Church. Modir, from his first album and first release on his own label SW Foreign Parts features Wildblood’s hazy organic sound. Wildblood states “This track has a really warm & nostalgic feel for me. It was made using a Juno 106, TR909 & Field Recording sampled at home. Móðir translates to Mother in Icelandic, so shouts to my mum on this one.”

Another highlight is Sueño en Paraguay from Argentine producer Chancha Vía Circuito, known for his fusion of electronic music and cumbia – a complex blend of traditional Latin American rhythms.

Tomberlin, photo by Ebru Yildiz

Pour Over

Enjoy your morning coffee with our mellow selection of indie artists. We feature Iron & Wine’s new melancholic release Calm on the Valley, from an unearthed album of lost recordings Archive Series Volume No.5: Tallahassee recorded in the late 90’s. 

Tomberlin brings the sound of the influences of her first pandemic winter in New York on idkwntht (“I Don’t Know Who Needs to Hear This”), exploring themes of connection and disconnection with guest vocals from Told Slant’s Felix Walworth.

A highlight of this playlist is the moody soft vocals of Adrienne Lenker, lead singer of Big Thief. This song explores the transitions in the natural world, and the importance of embracing change.

We highlight Adrienne Lenker again with her track Heavy Focus from her solo album songs. Lenker recorded songs early in the pandemic, alone in a one-room cabin in the woods. Heavy Focus reveals a folksy sound with honest lyrics, encouraging the listener to focus in.

Another highlight is Norwegian singer-songwriter Ane Brun’s cover of Willie Nelson’s Always on My Mind from her album Leave me Breathless, an album full of unique re-interpretations and covers. 

Arooj Aftab, photo by Blythe Thomas

Sauté

Sauté provides an uplifting yet mellow selection for cooking or eating. We begin with Brazilian singer-songwriter Leo Middea who brings together influences of samba, bossa, and soul.

We follow with funk from Swedish duo Duoya, Gustav Horneij and Dimitrios Karatzios, disco vibes from Jungle, and retro-soul from Durand Jones & The Indications with Love Will Work it Out from Private Space. Private Space pulls on classic soul and themes of longing for post-pandemic connection.

Brooklyn-based, Baltimore-raised, songwriter Aaron Frazer features in our playlist with his retro soulful sound both as co-lead singer of Durand Jones & The Indications and on his debut solo album Introducing… with Ride with Me. 

The highlight of this playlist is Grammy award-winning Pakistani-born, New York-based, vocalist Arooj Aftab. Aftab blends jazz, trance, and traditional Pakistani classical music for her unique and mesmerizing sound. Here we feature Mohabbat, Aftab’s stripped down version of a famous ghazal and song originally written by Hafeez Hoshiarpuri.

R3HAB by weraveyou

EDM Party, by Noris Onea.

Get ready for the weekend with our high energy EDM party mix from our Senior Technical Support Specialist Noris Onea. Noris tells us about his playlist:

Right from the start of the playlist, we kick off with several well known Big-room House artists such as Armin van Buuren, Dimitri Vegas, R3HAB and David Guetta with their highly energetic tracks. Later on we dive into Tiësto, Avicii, and Martin Garrix.

As we progress through the playlist, we have some notable mentions from Electro House, Progressive House, Trap, Club and Deep House music to keep the blood pumping through your veins and your subwoofers vibrating.

The playlist contains a few really unique tracks, such as Dimitri Vegas’ “Opa”, which features a Greek Zorba theme, New World Sound’s “Flute” which features a flute-heavy EDM beat, German DJ Tujamo’s down-and-dirty “Who”, and of course plenty of DJ remixes such as RL Grime’s “Satisfaction”, Coldplay’s “Paradise”, and Major Lazer + MOSKA’s “Despacito”.

This playlist has also been optimized for track-to-track transitions, so if you just hit play (or shuffle, it is up to you!) you’re sure to have a great experience from start to finish. This is one playlist where the DJ can “Save My Night”, as mentioned in the intro track from the playlist and keep the memories alive for the following “Years”!

Listen to Uncorked, Hazy, Pour Over, Sauté, and EDM Party in Playlists in Roon on your Roon Home Page.

Playlists in Roon

At Roon our team of self-proclaimed music fanatics have a broad range of musical interests and a shared goal of creating the best experiences for our community of music lovers. 

We started sharing playlists of our favorite music with our community in partnership with our streaming partners TIDAL and Qobuz. We collaborated with artists and our own music team to bring you editorial content and playlists over the past year. 

We’ve worked with artists including Patricia Barber, Daymé Arocena, AHI, and Stephen Moccio to bring you exclusive interviews and editorial, as well as producing weekly playlists with a particular genre or theme.

Up until now, our playlists have only been available on TIDAL and Qobuz, and haven’t been accessible in Roon. In our latest 1.8 Fall 2021 release, you can now access everything our music team has curated, directly from your Home Screen on both streaming platforms. 

This year our music team started curating more playlists available only in Roon, along with our playlists made in collaboration with Qobuz and TIDAL. We will also feature guest playlists, such as our recent playlists Jazz Waltz Decades by one of our founders Brian Luczkiewicz and Maestros of the Screen by composer Matt Wang.

Here are some of our recent playlists which you can find in the home screen of Roon.

Simphiwe Dana

Welcome to Joburg explores the sounds coming from Johannesburg’s progressive music scene. Enjoy the unique South African blend of electronic house, traditional African percussion, multilingual vocals, jazz, soul, reggae, R&B and rap.

HiFi JoyRide explores old and new music with a significant sound that shows how your hifi responds to different types of music. Some obvious, some out there. Take your system for a joyride and discover new favorites.

Phoebe Pearls explores Phoebe Bridgers steady climb from indie artist to icon. This playlist includes some of the pearls in the collection of well crafted songs that makes Phoebe Bridgers the tour guide of her generation.

Last Train to Lagos takes you on a musical journey to Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, for an introduction to Afropop, a style of music that is dominating in global influence.

Future Icons highlights new music from new artists poised to reach iconic status.

Jazz Waltz Decades ​​focuses on the art of the jazz waltz, with a playlist of recordings spanning the 1950s to the 2010s.

Jonas Nordberg

Melancholic Lute explores music for the lute family, from the Renaissance lute to the theorbo. We highlight works by Hurel, Dowland, Josquin Des Prez, Kapsberger, Piccinini and J.S. Bach.

Maestros of the Screen is a collection of brilliant film and tv scores from composers Hildur Guðnadóttir, Shirley Walker, Mandy Hoffman, Thomas Newman, and more.

Eclectic Spirit is a mix of spiritual and electronic tunes for chilling, relaxation, or reading. Overall an electronic chill mood with a few pop pick me ups!

Mountain Jazz highlights a selection of the finest tracks from the jazz traditions of the Nordics. Transparent, floating, dreamy and with a constant undercurrent of folk music and dramatic scenery. 

Lieder A selection of songs from the Romantic era. We highlight German composers Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Schubert, Mahler, Swedish composers Peterson-Berger, Rangström and Alfvén, and Czech composer Korngold.

All of our playlists can be found in the Home Screen in Roon.

Roon Music Editorial

We had the pleasure of speaking with some fantastic artists and recording teams last year about their creative process. We spoke to cuban jazz artist Daymé Arocena, jazz pianist and singer Patricia Barber, the engineering team behind Patricia Barber’s grammy nominated album Clique, songwriter and pianist Stephan Moccio, and singer-songwriter AHI.

Daymé Arocena: Cuban Music Breakout. Part 1.

In celebration of International Jazz Day, we spoke to the Havana born and raised 28-year-old singer, choir conductor, and composer Daymé Arocena about her music journey and Cuba’s rich music history.

Daymé Arocena: Music Roots & Creative Process. Part 2.

We continued our conversation with Daymé, discussing her musical upbringing, creative process, and her song Homenaje from our Cuban Jazz playlist.

Recording Patricia Barber’s Clique

Husband-and-wife engineering team Jim Anderson and Ulrike Schwarz discussed the making of Patricia Barber’s latest album Clique which has since been nominated for a 2022 Grammy for Best Immersive Album. Between them, Jim and Ulrike enjoy decades of combined recording and technical experience, awards and Grammys. 

The Patricia Barber Interview

We then spoke to jazz pianist and singer Patricia Barber about her album Clique, her creative process, and her inspiration.

A Conversation with Stephan Moccio

Canadian Oscar-nominated and Grammy-nominated pianist, songwriter and producer Stephan Moccio spoke to us about his new album Lionheart. Stephan discussed the relationship between his pop songwriting and his solo classical piano work, the inspiration behind Lionheart, and his career highlight of composing the 2010 Vancouver Olympics theme.

A Conversation with AHI

Canadian songwriter AHI talked to us about his new album Prospect. We covered the influences behind the album and certain tracks, AHI’s songwriting process, and the ways in which AHI’s extensive travel have influenced his music.

We look forward to speaking with more artists and recording engineers this year. Keep an eye out on our blog and socials for more editorial content.

For each interview we created an accompanying playlist, these can all be found in the Roon Playlists section of the Home Screen in Roon.

Holiday Playlists

We created a set of playlists for the winter holidays, covering a range of genres. We start with Fireside Jazz on TIDAL, a playlist of festive and winter-themed jazz, with a significant proportion from Norwegian artists. Acoustic jazz highlights include winter-themed tracks from Hoff Ensemble, Rob Luft, Stan Getz, Esbjörn Svensson Trio, Pat Metheny and Stephan Moccio.

For those who enjoy a more festive feel, we feature acoustic arrangements of Christmas carols from Bugge Wesseltoft, Vince Guaraldi, Jan Gunnar Hoff, Ola Gjeilo, Charles Lloyd & The Marvels and Cyrus Chestnut. Vocal highlights include Norah Jones, Katie Melua, Dianne Reeves, and Norwegian singers Ellen Andrea Wang, Helene Bøksle, and Solveig Slettahjell.

Solveig Slettahjell. Photo: Andreas Frøland

Our playlist Christmas Carols, for TIDAL, is a celebration of traditional choral Christmas music. This playlist contains carols ranging from Renaissance composers William Byrd and Tomás Luis de Victoria to contemporary composers such as John Rutter and Philip Stopford. The playlist begins with Voces8’s Praetorius: Est Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen, a composition dating back to 1609, and Cornelius: The Three Kings. English composer Benjamin Britten’s choral works have become a staple of many Christmas concerts. A Ceremony of Carols: Balulalow and A Hymn To The Virgin are performed here by The Sixteen.

Highlights from award-winning choir Tenebrae are Tchaikovsky: Legend (The Crown of Roses), Tavener: The Lamb and Rathbone: The Oxen. Siglo de Oro takes us to Renaissance Mexico with composer Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla’s Joseph Fili David from Christmas in Puebla. Other highlights include carols from Rodolfus Choir, Stile Antico, Oxford Camerata, Cambridge Singers and Trinity College Choir, Cambridge.

We end with carols from The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge and The Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge with german composer Otto Goldschmidt’s A Tender Shoot and the traditional carol The Linden Tree arranged by Reginald Jacques.

Stile Antico. Photo: Marco Borggreve

Our playlist Winter Warmers for Qobuz is full of festive favorites, both old and new. Many of us tire of hearing the same Christmas pop classics played on repeat during the winter months. Here we highlight some less well known festive music along with classic Christmas crooners such as Nat King-Cole and Ella Fitzgerald.

We begin with new releases from Norwegian rising star Sigrid’s Home to You (This Christmas), Norah Jones’ Christmas Glow, and ABBA’s Little Things. We then feature the iconic Joni Mitchell’s River, followed by Brit-award Rising Star Celeste’s soulful A Little Love. The silky vocals of jazz-band Pink Martini’s A Snowglobe Christmas brings a peaceful cheer, along with female crooners Stacey Kent, Carole King, Holly Cole, Natalie Cole, Emmylou Harris, Aretha Franklin, Jane Monheit and Doris Day.

Kandace Springs brings a jazz-inspired rendition of (Everybody’s Waitin For) The Man With The Bag, followed by Amy Winehouse’ I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus from new release The Singles Collection.

We then turn to a blues and country Christmas with The Teskey Brothers’ Dreaming of a Christmas With You and Brandy Clark’s Merry Christmas Darling. We end with the festive nostalgia of Leonard Cohen, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Simon & Garfunkel, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Otis Redding.

Norah Jones: I Dream of Christmas

Our playlist Soulful Season is full of old-school Soul, R&B, Jazz, and Blues holiday classics and originals. Motown and Stax Records heavies Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, The Temptations, and The Staple Singers stir up sounds that warm the spirit. We include soul giants James Brown, William Bell, Solomon Burke, and Donny Hathaway.

Early R&B, Doo-Wop, and New Orleans sounds come courtesy of The Drifters, The Penguins, The Harmony Grits, The Moonglows, and Huey ‘Piano’ Smith, adding fun and rhythm to your holiday party. Kenny Burrell contributes jazz guitar groove that’s matched in kind by two kings of the blues, B.B. and Freddie King.

Chuck Berry brings his rocking homage to the most famous reindeer to lead Santa’s Sleigh. Perennial favorites from the classic 1963 Phil Spector LP A Christmas Gift for You From Philles Records are sprinkled in liberally, and plenty of other surprises await.

Donny Hathaway. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Enjoy these and all of our playlists directly from your Home screen in Roon. Happy holidays from all at Roon, we hope you enjoy this music.

A Conversation with AHI

AHI

We had the pleasure of speaking with Canadian songwriter AHI about his new album Prospect, out today. In Prospect, AHI reflects on his own identity and that of his community, fully embracing himself for the first time by putting his face on the album cover. AHI is known for his storytelling, with a unique voice full of influences from his travels, community and his West Indian upbringing.

[Editor] What can you tell us about your new album Prospect and the meaning and inspiration behind it?

Prospect is the title track of this album, and it’s also the opener. As the hook says, “I just want to live like someone before my time is counting on me…and walk beneath the wings like someone from another life is looking out for me.” For me, Prospect is a reflection on our shared humanity and what it means to be a link in a chain that stretches both forwards and backwards through time for eternity.

It’s a heavy concept, but I truly believe that our lives are part of something bigger and more meaningful than we understand. You and I are the prospect, and the gravity of our impact on one another is far greater than we can ever imagine.

Can you tell us about your songwriting process? Has anything in particular shaped or influenced it?

For me, songwriting is all about conveying a message that will reach people in a meaningful way. Sometimes it starts with a melody, and sometimes it’s a word that will spark inspiration, and other times songs will simply come to me in my dreams. But no matter how the inspiration may come, my first step is almost always to grab my guitar and record it while it’s fresh. From there, I usually let the feeling of the melody inform its lyrics. 

My songwriting has definitely been influenced by the greats – Bob Marley, Tupac Shakur, Tracy Chapman, Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill, Bill Withers – artists who found ways to express the most complex human emotions in the simplest of ways that we can all relate to. It might sound simple, but as a songwriter, that’s often the hardest thing to do. 

AHI

You wrote Coldest Fire during the pandemic, can you tell us what it means to you and what you hoped it would bring to your audience?

I wrote this song at the height of the summer 2020 protests. While I’m often advised to stay safe and neutral with the hope of bringing people together, the world was more divided than I had seen in my lifetime and at times trying to find a balance felt like warfare inside. For me and countless other Black people, it can often feel like we are constantly living in a duality, where we have to silence a part of ourselves just to exist peacefully.

Coldest Fire represents the vulnerability that comes with that duality, but it also reminds us that we can find solace in our relationships with one another. I hope that anyone listening to that song can hear it with empathy and find comfort in knowing they’re not alone. 

We understand that Danger came to you in a dream, can you tell us what story this song tells?

Music comes to me in my dreams all the time. Danger was one of those songs where I dreamt I was singing the chorus to a huge crowd as they sang along to every word, and I immediately woke up and recorded it with a sense of urgency. This particular dream song was about a young man who falls victim to a stray bullet and his mother Evelyn who immediately senses trouble.

Little did I know, my song told the story of a real mother whom I would later meet for the first time, a woman named Evelyn Fox from my hometown of Toronto, whose son had been lost to gun violence in a manner eerily similar to the lyrics of the song I had dreamt. As I later learned, Evelyn now works tirelessly as an activist for community safety alongside other mothers who have lost their children and loved ones to senseless gun violence.

We finally met face-to-face for the first time on the set of my music video for Danger, and hearing her story affirmed for me that the solution and healing we are looking for is rooted in the realization that every life is fragile and precious.

AHI

We understand you’ve done extensive travel through the Ethiopian Highlands and jungles of Trinidad. Can you tell us how your travels have influenced your music?

Throughout my travels, I often relied on the kindness of strangers who helped me on my journeys, let me into their homes, and just plain cared about me a lot. When we’re not thinking about it, at the core of humanity we all just want to see the best for each other and see the good in all people.  

As corny as this might sound, traveling the world has shown me that we are really more alike than we are different. We’re all looking for purpose, connection, community and human connection, and I think these have become underlying themes in my music, which makes it almost universally relatable. 

Roon is all about enjoying your music listening experience at home. Can you tell us whether you have a specific home set up for music playback, how do you listen to music as a fan?

My family and I love to blast anything out of our living room speakers, and as a father of four, one of the best feelings in the world is watching your children fall in love with great music from before their time.

The other day I awoke to hear my 11-year-old daughter playing Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life on the record player, completely of her own choosing, and it’s now one of her favourite albums. Some days it’s Mavis Staples or BB King, some days it’s Mos Def & Talib Kweli, and other days it’s Carole King & Fleetwood Mac. But whatever the mood, I think the best way to listen to music is always to enjoy it with the family. 

AHI

AHI’s new album Prospect is now available on TIDAL and Qobuz.

Listen to our playlist AHI on TIDAL.

A Conversation with Stephan Moccio

Stephan Moccio

We had the pleasure of speaking to Canadian Oscar-nominated and Grammy-nominated pianist, songwriter and producer Stephan Moccio about his new album Lionheart. Moccio has achieved nearly 400 million streams on his solo work, and co-written hit songs for Celine Dion, The Weeknd, and ‘Wrecking Ball’ for Miley Cyrus. Having been classically trained at the Royal Conservatory of Toronto, Moccio returns to his classical roots on the piano in Lionheart. Stephan’s classical influence can be seen in this performance of ‘Wrecking Ball’. 

Stephan Moccio on composing Wrecking Ball (Miley Cyrus)

[Editor] You’ve written seven hits on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, earned three Grammy nominations and an Oscar nod for co-writing The Weeknd’s seven-times-platinum ‘Earned It’. Coming from a classically trained background, do you feel that your writing of pop songs has influenced your solo piano style?

100%.  As a matter of fact, for my composition process for Lionheart, I relied on my aptitude as a pop songwriter and producer.  Firstly, I am trained as a classical musical musician, however, for Lionheart I intentionally arranged my compositions as if they were pop songs, treating them in proper form (for the most part) with verses, pre choruses, choruses and a bridge. This helped me arrange the pieces effectively and succinctly. It is not to say that I didn’t have improvised moments, I still believe that contemporary piano must always be authentic, and not feel forced, however, I clearly pulled out my pop artistry.   

Can you tell us about any inspiration or meaning behind Lionheart?

The title track/composition has a nobility to it. I felt it needed a strong title. Therefore I began searching for famous knights, and eventually came across Joan of Arc. In my research, the adjective ‘lionhearted’ popped up, which means bravery and determination. I felt it summed up my current psyche, and mantra on life. I no longer need approval from people, or care for vapid opinions about things. 

You’ve co-written so many hit songs, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics theme, and music for TV/film, do you have any particular personal highlights from your songwriting career?

Hands down composing the theme for any Olympics, particularly your homeland, is one of the greatest honors bestowed upon a composer. My Olympics theme and song has become a national treasure which will outlive me. 

Stephan Moccio and Celine Dion

What made you take a step back from the pop music world and return to the piano and the studio on Sounds of Solace in 2020, and again on Lionheart?

I love this question. Simple. Life (for me) was way too complicated, and the return from what I was putting into it when I was producing and creating pop music, wasn’t worth it anymore. I craved and continue to crave simplicity… I never pursued music to become a famous pop producer or songwriter, I pursued music to impact lives emotionally. And frankly, in this moment of my life, I am able to do so as a solo pianist.   

You’ve referred to the making of Lionheart as a personal cathartic process of healing. Is it a more personal process to write these songs compared to songwriting for others?

It is an absolute pleasure to write for myself, as I am able to hold more accountability.  One of the most painful lessons in life is disappointing oneself. It is therapeutic, and healing. Writing songs for others can be thankless, and oftentimes, your best work remains shelved, because it is out of your control. I have had incredible success as a writer for others (which I will continue) which I am grateful for, however, this lane as a pianist feels very right for me.   

Stephan Moccio

How do you divide your focus between songwriting for other artists and composing your solo piano music? Your solo piano work has been hugely successful, earning nearly 400 million streams. Will you continue to do both, or focus more on the piano now?

I will continue to do both. I can’t shut off the deep well of creativity, inspirations and ideas which just come at me at any time of the day. I have developed a sophisticated system to organize my musical brain over the last 20 years or so, to catch and organize how, and to whom, I want to give specific melodies.

Stephan Moccio on writing Earned It for The Weeknd

Roon is all about enjoying your music listening experience at home. Can you tell us whether you have a specific home set up for music playback, how do you listen to music as a fan?

I am blessed to have a set of vintage JBL speakers which I listen to my music on. I am old enough to remember what quality speakers sound and feel like. It is extraordinary how accessible music is for us today, however, the ability to listen to well recorded music on ‘proper’ speakers gives us the ability to appreciate the artistry, the love, the time and details which passionate and dedicated artists inject and emotionally invest into their work. 

Thank you for your thoughtful questions and for your support of solo piano music, it is not lost on me.

Listen to Lionheart on TIDAL and Qobuz

Listen to our playlists Stephan Moccio Songwriting (on TIDAL) and Stephan Moccio on Piano (on Qobuz).

The Patricia Barber Interview

Image: Patricia Barber. Photo Credit: Jimmy and Dena Katz

We had the pleasure of speaking with jazz pianist and singer Patricia Barber about her new album Clique out today. In our last post, we sat down with the production and engineering team behind the album, and here, we had the opportunity to ask Patricia Barber questions about her creative process.

Clique features Barber’s trio members Patrick Mulcahy on bass and Jon Deitemyer on drums, with the addition of Neal Alger on acoustic guitar, and Jim Gailloreto on tenor saxophone. This album features covers frequently performed by this group at the Green Mill, Chicago, including works by Stevie Wonder, Alec Wilder and Thelonious Monk.

[Editor] Higher finishes with three covers and now we have the follow-up, Clique. What does the title mean? Is there a relationship between the songs on each album? 

Clique would be a great name for a nightclub. Perhaps it is another term for the “In-Crowd.”  

Higher is most definitely a song cycle. The harmony is more expansive than the prescribed harmony of jazz and/or the American Songbook. They are art songs and can be performed by classical singers as well as jazz singers. 
On Clique the songs are what my trio uses on tour between the original material to inject some rhythm and fun into the sets. 

Image: Patricia Barber. Photo credit: Jimmy and Dena Katz

What can you tell us about your songwriting process? 

My songwriting process is like reinventing the wheel every time. I wish I had a tried and true method, but it isn’t quite so easy. 

Sometimes a hook draws me into a lyric idea. Sometimes I scratch out a harmonic framework first and decide how the lyrics rhythmically will fall into the measures, I put dots on the staff. Then I start a poem/lyric with approximately that many syllables, then the melody carries the lyric. 

If the song is narrative driven, funny, witty, full of information, the lyrics come first, and I keep the music simple enough that the audience can understand the lyrics. It’s all different.  

How do you challenge yourself? 

I write the music I’d like to hear.  

Are there any tips you can share for other songwriters? 

Up your game. The world has enough treacle. Study the great songwriters, poets. Never underestimate your audience. Don’t expect to be paid until the streaming companies start paying composers/artists per play.   

You have a wide range of albums, from your own compositions of song cycles based on Greek mythologies to well-known covers. Is it a different experience recording an album of covers compared to your own compositions? 

With Higher the music is difficult, so we had to concentrate. But my trio is a very professional group of musicians and they bring a high level of concentration and artistry to everything we record. 

Do you have a muse? 

I have many muses, but I keep them private. They function as inspiration. 

Which artists/composers have influenced you the most?

Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Shirley Horn, Elis Regina, Jobim, Fauré, Schumann, Chausson.   

Listen to Clique on TIDAL.

Recording Patricia Barber’s Clique

Clique

We are big fans of Patricia Barber at Roon and so are many of our community members. We had the privilege of going behind the scenes of the making of Patricia’s latest album, Clique, with the album’s husband-and-wife engineering team, Jim Anderson and Ulrike Schwarz, who enjoy decades of combined recording and technical experience as well as many well-deserved Grammys, awards, and wonderful accolades.

Clique was recorded at Chicago Recording Company (CRC) and mixed at Skywalker Sound in January 2019 by Jim Anderson, and mastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering in 2020. Patricia Barber’s previous album Higher was recorded in the same sessions, and mixed at Skywalker in 2019.

Jim Anderson 

[Editor]: During the recording process, were all the musicians in the same room, or in separate booths with individual microphones?

The studios at CRC are built for recording and allow for flexibility in recording and mixing. 

All of the musicians are in the studio at the same time, but in their own separate areas: Patricia is in the main room with her piano, a Fazioli, and vocal microphone. She can see directly through the glass doors to the band, all in their own areas. It’s one giant visual circle. 

I’ve found that if the musicians can see each other well, that can make up for any deficiencies they might have hearing each other in their headphones. Good visuals in the studio can allow for snap decisions to be made while recording, allowing musicians to have spontaneity in their performances. 

These separate recordings allow me to have the maximum amount of flexibility when it comes to mixing either in stereo or in surround, and I can optimise the sound of each instrument without worrying about acoustic interference from other instruments’ leakage. 

Patricia’s experience with accompanying herself, live, and working with her band comes into play in the studio. She innately knows how to balance her voice with the piano and doesn’t overplay. This makes recording possible without having to blanket off the piano and disturb her performance.

Patricia Barber in the studio

Can you tell us more about the Horus/Pyramix digital recording system that you used?

For every album of Patricia’s that I’ve recorded, I’ve always looked to see what is the ‘state-of-the-art’ (SOTA) available at the time. For Cafe Blue SOTA was using a full 16bit analogue to digital converter. Modern Cool SOTA was using a Sony 3348 open reel digital recording system. Now with Higher and Clique we’re recording at 352.8 kHz and 32 bit.

Over the years, we’ve managed to increase the transparency and texture of our recording through increasing the sampling and bit rate of the digital systems that we use. 

The Horus/Pyramix system is used, for the most part, in classical recording, where one wants the most compelling and revealing sound possible. This also allows us to release in high resolution.

For Higher and Clique we recorded ‘double system,’ using the studio’s ProTools system, which is what the musicians heard in the studio and in the control room. While the recording was taking place, Pyramix and ProTools were synced, allowing us to use the studio system as a back-up, in case anything happened to the high resolution recording. 

All of this detail should be transparent to the performers and to the listeners. They should just think: “This sounds really good!”

For our readers, can you explain why you decided to mix the album in analog and why you chose the Neve 88 Legacy board?

I am an “old school” mixer, I’m most comfortable sitting at a large format recording console. At the Neve, I have access to everything that I need right in front of me and I don’t have to look at a computer screen or anything that can slow me down.

We use computers when we mix primarily as a playback device. I like the sound of how analogue signals sum, over how sounds can sum when combined in the computer.

All the words associated with analogue sound, warmth, depth, transparency, etc., come into play. I don’t have to ‘emulate analogue’ in my recordings and mixes.

Roon supports MQA decoding. It’s interesting you also did an MQA CD as one of the formats for the album. Can you tell us more about this?

I’ve not worked with MQA in the past. Knowing about MQA, I thought that we were missing a large part of Patricia’s audience and they would enjoy having her music available in as high a quality as possible. 

MQA allows listeners to hear in their homes the music in the quality as it was recorded, mixed, and mastered. 

I love Roon! Listening to Roon has drastically upgraded my opinion of listening to music streaming in the home and on the computer, as well. Thanks, Roon!

Jim Anderson

Ulrike Schwarz

Clique is being released on vinyl. Were the vinyl masters cut from the digital or analog master?

Bob Ludwig presented the DXD (352.8kHz/32bit float) mixes and the mixes on ½” tape (15 IPS, Dolby SR, +0/185nWb) at the start of the mastering session in A/B comparison to me. It was immediately apparent that the DXD mixes were far superior in frequency range, localization and overall stability of the image. 

They sounded so much better and transmitted the bounce of the bass and the music that is happening on this album. 

It was clear that the DXD files were the source for mastering. The DXD master Bob made from this source is the basis for the vinyl cut.

Can you tell our readers more about the MERGING+CLOCK-U technology which was used in the engineering process?

We were very excited to get our hands on such an exquisite piece of gear. The more precise and low noise the clock, the less jitter and more stability your recording/mix/mastering will have. The Merging+Clock-U is the Ultra Low Noise version of their digital clock spectrum. It is precise to 20 parts per billion (per second).

We had the Merging+Clock-U shipped to Skywalker for the mix of Clique 2.0, 5.1 and Higher 5.1 Surround. Higher was recorded in the same sessions and mixed in 2019 at Skywalker Sounds. Clique was mixed in 2020. 

If you compare the 2.0 versions of Higher and Clique you will hear the difference of the Merging+Clock-U versus the regular Merging Clocks. Patricia’s voice sounded freer, the bass had more bounce, there was more spaciousness in the overall sound.

We also didn’t have any fatigue listening and working for long hours. Another advantage we want to keep.

The album was mixed at Skywalker Sound, a legendary studio. Are there any unique tools available in that studio and/or did you bring anything with you to the sessions?

Skywalker is in many ways a legendary place. The staff’s attention to detail and willingness to let us bring in any sort of extravagant gear is unique. 

For this project we brought in our Pyramix/Horus system as a playback and recording system, with the added perk of the Merging+Clock-U. 

The base frequency of this ultra high clock needs to work with the automation of the analog mixing board. Since the Merging+Clock-U is designed as a standalone consumer piece, it needed a bit of convincing to work in a studio environment. This is where the excellent technical staff of Skywalker shines.

Skywalker also have access to the analog reverb chamber that we like to use in our mixes.

Mixes we do at Skywalker hold up in any other environment. What we hear at Skywalker is what we get. If it is great there, it will be great anywhere. There is no higher praise than that for a mixing location.

Are there any unique technical approaches that were used in the mix to prepare the album for mastering?

For this recording session we exchanged every power cable in the recording chain at CRC with custom made power cables and/or power accelerators of Essential Sound Products to lower the noise floor to infinity. 

We also used custom made IX-3 AccuSound cables for all interconnections in the recording chain. We took them to Skywalker for the mixing process. 

The laptop that was used for the recording was custom built and was the first of its kind in the world, allowing 64 channels of DXD recording.

Those are technical details that support the magic of the sound. The real brilliance is in the recording and the mixing.

Other than that, Bob Ludwig worked according to his principle of “Do no harm” to the mixes and carefully mastered Clique to its brilliance. Bob presents every master he does for us also in MQA and we decide if we want to embrace the MQA version for the download or CD version. Clique was a prime example to do so. I am very happy that we decided to have this as our streaming and CD version.

Ulrike Schwarz & Jim Anderson

Follow Jim Anderson on Instagram. Follow Ulrike Schwarz on Instagram. Stay tuned for our next post where we speak to Patricia Barber.

Listen to Clique on TIDAL and Qobuz.