The Lady & the Sax

Claudia Carbo with the Gradischnig - Kent Quartett

Claudia Carbo

Claudia Carbo with saxaphonist H. Gradischnig behind | Photo: Jazzfoto Brunner

Jazzland, Saturday Mar. 14 was a night for the cognoscenti. Every one of the player’s club owner Axel Melhardt had brought together was a draw for those in the know, names trailing glittering resumes of awards and acclaim.

On tenor sax, Herwig Gradischnig the Pied Piper of the Vienna Art Orchestra and 2004 winner of the Hans Koller Award for CD of the Year; on piano, Oliver Kent, also a Hans Koller winner as sideman and sought-after professor of jazz piano in Graz; then Uli Langthaler on bass, who wields his “axe” with the lightness and agility of a fencer’s foil; and supporting it all on drums, the versatile and universally admired Joris Dudli, who is brave enough to let you forget he’s there.

The leading German-Peruvian singer Claudia Carbo, who has become a favorite with German audiences since launching her singing career in 1997, would join them.

Arriving soon after the doors opened at 19:00, the best corner tables in the brick cellar bistro were already occupied. Just one good bench spot was left along the wall, which I quickly grabbed, at one end of a long table that seated three on a side. By concert time two hours later, nine people were sandwiched in around it, in a friendly jumble that led to easy conversation and an exchange of business cards. Not too many places where this happens in Vienna: It always happens at Jazzland.

Our table was full of German visitors, including a young couple from Cologne who had signed on to a last-minute get-away flight for €29. Might have been Barcelona, might have been Athens – both warmer climates. But they were delighted with their weekend here, and the discovery of a pulsing Vienna Jazz scene they never knew existed.

“Why doesn’t anyone talk about this?” wondered the young man, an IT specialist busy scribbling some notes into his Moleskin journal. “There must have been over 100 venues on the website we found, and at least a dozen performances – and that was just tonight!” [See website and print guide information, below.]  There wasn’t a lot to say for Cologne, besides the beer (Kölsch) and the eau de Cologne, the young woman admitted, and not a lot to see; the bombing in World War II destroyed most of the old city.

“Better to visit Bonn,” she confided. No jazz, but lots more to look at, which as a graphic designer, she appreciated.

On stage, the look is black-on-black, with an occasional faded color peaking out between the lapels of a black linen blazer – the uniform of jazz around the world. Behind the microphone, Herwig Gradischnig is boyish in wire rims and a tousle of curls, and exploding with energy, as he leads the other three musicians into an original tune called “Fantasy in D.” This is a congenial, meandering improv, with the feeling of leisure regardless of tempo. Bonded to the sax, Gradischnig weaves with the shape of the line, tumbling onto extended trills, his eyes squeezed closed behind the pressure of spinning the fine line of sound. Then the solo is over, and a wave of applause rolls over the room.

Then in a ripple of dance-like figures, the tune is picked up by Oliver Kent, hovering over a peak and then falling in a languid rush down the keyboard. It is a thick weave, yet the colors are clear, and as he unravels the melody out of the tumult into a clear narrative line again, you can feel the crowd sit back in satisfaction. There is a smattering of applause, and then as the sax reenters, a full roll of approval. They end the number in parallel trills like birdcalls back and forth, masterful and very elegant.

The second number called “In Fashion,” also an original, opens with wide, jutting intervals, like arms and legs blurting out at all angles in a quirky Broadway dance, joints unhinged, impertinent and playful, abstract expressionism in sound. Now came a shift to a tighter rhythmic two-step, as if the piano was struggling to keep the exploding melodies of the sax from unraveling completely and floating away out of reach; repeated seconds, then bouncing up a third and then a fourth, energy springing from within.

A bass solo by Uli Langthaler was a highlight of this number, dance-like and free, riding with the beat and then against it, a repeated figure then a throw-away scale in inverted thirds playing against the piano line. The lightness and precision of Langthaler’s playing appeared so effortless that one has to remind oneself how few people achieve it. More important, it’s simply beautiful.

German-Peruvian vocalist Claudia Carbo was a visual surprise. The former journalist is a delicate creature, and perfectly coiffed in a classic “little back dress” and chunky triple-strands of ivory and brass, she seemed almost too refined and grossbürgerlich for a jazz singer. Then the light dawned: She is a sort of period piece, looking a lot like Ashley Judd playing opposite Kevin Kline in the Cole Porter film portrait, It’s Delovely. Once you roll back the clock, and remember that Carbo’s musical idols are Ella Fitzgerald and the grand dames of post-war jazz, you realize she has achieved a timeless elegance that is beyond fashion.

Which anyway ceases to matter the minute she opens her mouth, as an “Ipanema”-gentleness brushes over the soft calypso rhythms of the first number, to the sandy swishing of her hand-held maracas. Finding her range within the sound itself, she devolves seamlessly into scat, each note perfectly placed. Every motion is rhythm, understated, but speaking to each pair of eyes in the room.

In a charming touch, she slips into an improv rap of all the band members, sliding names, instruments and accolades effortlessly into the lines of the song.

Onto a favorite jazz standard, George and Ira Gershwin’s “You Can’t Take That Away from Me.” Here the influence of Ella Fitzgerald is unmistakable – not parody, but deference, allowing vocal quality to serve rather than dominate the music. The first set closed with the original Spanish setting of “What a Difference a Day Makes,” where her flexibility was given its fullest expression, sliding easily between idioms, colors and voices; each authentic, each convincing. With Claudia Carbo, one thing is clear: whatever the category, it’s never going to be enough.


Vienna has two good jazz websites:

Manfred Kramlinger’s Jazz in Wien,

at, and

the website of alternative weekly, the Falter,



For the most detailed day-by-day information, check out the Falter print edition, available on most newsstands.

For selected jazz highlights and Editor’s Choice, see Vienna Review Events, p. 24.


To order CDs by these and other Vienna jazz artists, see the site of Jive Music, a musicians cooperative, at, complete with jacket blurbs and an easy-to-use credit card ordering program.



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