Album Review: Unity: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson

By Ernest Barteldes

Michael Jackson might have been a controversial figure as a man due to his eccentricity and sometimes bizarre behavior, but nobody can deny his musical genius. Jackson was a performer and songwriter who entertained us for decades beginning with his early years as a child performer with his brothers all the way to the glories of albums like “Off The Wall,” “Thriller”  and “Bad,” to name a few.

Since his untimely passing in 2009, countless tributes and posthumous recordings have surfaced (including a gorgeous collaboration with Queen), but few of these  – especially when we talk about tributes – have done justice to the music.  I mean, Sheryl Crow did a nice job with her 2010 recording of “I Want You Back,” but did she really come up with anything new?

Which brings us to “Unity: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson,” (Universal Latino) a project spearheaded by Peruvian-American producer and arranger Tony Succar, who brought together a team of performers to recreate some of the music with a salsa-inflected tinge. I found it to be a very interesting album after listening to it a couple of times.

The best tracks are the ones in which the artists do not try to emulate Jackson’s trademark hiccups and screams – veteran singer  Tito Nieves (who was also part of a Beatles tribute album many years ago)  takes ownership of “ I Want You Back,” a tune that lends itself to Latin beats incredibly well. Obie Bermudez and Jennifer Peña share a close duet on the soft ballad “Todo Mi Amor Eres Tu,” a beautiful Spanish-language take on “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” and Jon Secada croons his way into “Human Nature.”

I wasn’t too crazy about Kevin Ceballo’s interpretations of Jackson’s tunes because he came a bit too close to the songs’ creators original enunciation, but I must admit that he does find his voice on “Black or White”  as he improvises around the melody, which ends with a tongue-in-cheek homage to The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”  I also fully enjoyed “Sera Que No Me Amas,” an up-tempo version of “Blame on The Boogie” that had me busting moves on the street.

For more information visit http://www.unitylatintribute.com/

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All-Acoustic With Allergic to B’s at Historic Richmond Town, March 21 2015

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By Ernest Barteldes

Recently Renata and I attended a concert at Staten Island’s Historic Richmond Town’s Tavern, which hosts a series of acoustic shows throughout the winter and early spring – and by acoustic it means that there is no amplification at all – the musicians play without microphones or any kind of electronic resources. In fact, the venue itself has no electricity or running water – it is like a time capsule into the 19th Century.

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The tavern serves no food – they have a limited menu that includes wine, ale and cider (including heated mulled wine – a favorite when days are cold. Incidentally, they have no restrooms on premises, so patrons have to utilize the facilities in Historic Richmond Town’s main building about a block away. Heat is provided by a wood-burning stove placed in the middle of the room – the place gets so cozy that I was quite comfortable in a T-shirt.

The band we saw was Allergic to B’s, a folk-inspired acoustic quartet led by multi-instrumentalist Gary J. Moore and his wife Joan (ukulele). The music they play is a mix of originals and personal takes on covers of The Beatles, Billy Joel, Tom Waits and an assortment of New Orleans-influenced Gospel songs. Gary wanders around the room either playing guitar, dobro or mandolin, often singing lead with his time-weathered, bluesy voice. He often introduces the songs with stories about how certain songs move them and how the original tunes come to life.

I have sat in with the band once – their bass player Al Sklar and percussionist Joanne Gleich (also a married couple) were out of town and they had a short gig at The Bay Street Café (formerly known as Cargo Café – many patrons still call it by its old name), so I subbed for a set of New Orleans music on Mardi Gras. They are avid Beatles fans, and during the one rehearsal we had at their apartment we jammed on a lot on around their canon, including George Harrison’s version of Harold Arlen’s “Between The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea,” the song that partly motivated me to learn how to play the uke.

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It was very interesting to hear the band in a completely acoustic setting. Sklar brought in a u-bass (a ukulele with bass strings), a marvelous instrument that sounds like an upright bass and has a rich, earthy tone. In fact, I have seen that instrument used by touring musicians, and I am compelled to get one due to the convenience and its incredible sound. Joan Moore a very strong voice and  when they do three-part harmonies you feel how their chemistry is strong. At a time when most musicians use numerous embellishments to enhance their sound (even Brian May uses multiple effects on his acoustic side project with Kerry Ellis), it is refreshing to hear a band that relies on talent alone – and what a great set it was.

Learn more about the band https://www.facebook.com/pages/Allergic-To-Bs/110701282323461

Learn more about the Tavern http://www.historicrichmondtown.org/tavern-concerts

Album Review: Mehmet Polat Trio/Next Spring

By Ernest Barteldes

I first heard about Turkish oud player Mehmet Polat a few years ago via Facebook – he sent me one of his CDs but unfortunately I could not find a home for a review at the time. The most obvious publication would have been Global Rhythm, but as fate would have it the magazine had already ceased publication by then, and for a reason or another none of the editors I worked with at the time seemed interested, so I was unable to do anything with it – one of the reasons why I decided to start this music page in the first place.

On his acoustic trio CD Next Spring (Home Records) he is joined by Sinan Arat on Ney (a flute-like instrument) and Malian kora player Zoumana Diarra for an album that blends two distinctive cultures with amazing results. Polat’s oud and Diarra’s kora have this amazing blend, the sound of each instrument complementing each other seamlessly while Arat weaves around the melodies. The music is very soothing, and the musicians’ expertise is unquestionable. Among my personal favorites is the title track, a cheerful welcome to the new season as winter goes away. Polat begins on his own and is joined by the trio one by one – Diarra plays a dexterous solo while Polat creates an intricate bassline on his instrument. “You Are Not Alone” has nothing to do with the Michael Jackson track of the same name – instead, it is a fast-paced number that allows all the musicians to explore their improvisational skills.  I also enjoyed the slow-tempo “Missing You” (another track with a famous rock namesake), a tune that has almost a meditational groove and the closing track “Amarula,” which I am guessing is about the famous South African liqueur made from the fruit of the marula tree. The tune is played in a cheerful tempo and again has plenty of improvisation around the melody.

Polat currently resides in Amsterdam and regularly tours around Europe (you can visit his website for dates). I am not aware of any plans of a U.S. visit, but I am sure that if the trio brought this material Stateside it would be much appreciated not only by World Music fans but also by those who enjoy improvisation – even if it is outside what one would call a jazz format.

For more information visit http://www.mehmetpolat.net/

Album review: Chris Trinidad’s “Certain Times”

By Ernest Barteldes

It is interesting how social media works – for quite some time, I have been “sharing” my published works on various portals (including Twitter and Facebook), but it was only after I decided to go out on my own and start this music blog that some people began to notice. A few days after publishing my review of Alex Conde’s “Descargas For Monk” I received a message on Twitter from San Francisco-area bassist Chris Trinidad asking if I would consider reviewing his album, which also featured Conde on piano. I was intrigued and said yes, and I am glad I did – the album is a work of art that I have been carefully listening to for the last few days, and when I spun it at the end of a dinner party at home, a musician friend asked me if I was planning to review it since he too enjoyed what he heard.

“Certain Times” (Iridium Records) showcases Trinidad’s chops both as a bassist and as a composer as the music goes into various different directions without losing its essence. “Inevitable Evolution” has a contemporary sound that allows for lots of improvisation, but the bandleader seems to step back and let his bandmates take over – and that is especially true for Conde and drummer Aaron Kierbel, who use the tune’s open spaces to masterfully play against each other, and that continues even during Charlie Gurke’s melodic baritone solo. “Something New In The Familiar” has a funk-inspired feel that also allows for a lot of freedom. On the track, his electric bass has a deep but also clear sound (according to the liners, he never changed the strings since he acquired the instrument, which I find astonishing – when I was gigging regularly in Brazil I had to change them at least every six months due to sea air damage). “A Reading In Retrospect” has more of a syncopated feel – Conde and Trinidad play tightly with each other, and Kierbel provides a dexterous solo as Gurke joins the bass line. Another highlight is “Priority,” a tune that starts out as a samba but then switches into a straight-ahead mode and then back to samba for the more improvised moments.

http://iridiumrecords.bandcamp.com/album/chris-trinidads-common-themes-iii

Not having been much exposed to West Coast jazz lately (being in New York, there is so much going on here that a lot gets lost in the shuffle), I must say that I am quite impressed by what I have heard in the last few weeks. Maybe I should accept that invite I got via Twitter – time to check out what is going on out there.

Check Trinidad’s work http://www.christrinidad.com/