Album reviews: Putumayo’s “Cuba Cuba,” Hendrik Meurkens & Roger Davidson’s “Oração Para Amanhã,” MUH Trio’s “Prague After Dark” and Anna Maria Jopek’s “Haiku”

by Ernest Barteldes

a2160469876_16

On this Putumayo release, contemporary and more traditional Cuban music come together to form this comprehensive collection of the music of the country whose music has been a global reference in spite of the controversial political issues that have kept  both countries at odds for so long.

The collection opens with Soneros de Verdad’s “A Buena Vista,” a lively tribute to the success of the collective that has had reached global success, and sets the tone for the rest of the album. We delve in the past a bit with Al Valdes’ “Guajira,” an uptempo instrumental recorded in Peru in the mid-sixties that has since become legendary, showing strains of American jazz and other sounds that would later be explored by  groups like Irakere, which at one time featured Arturo Sandoval, Chucho Valdes and Paquito D’ Rivera (which sadly are not featured on this compilation, in band form or solo). Other highlights include a new rendition of “Chan Chan” – arguably Buena Vista Social Club’s best-known tune, and Jose Conde’s “Puente a Mi Gente,” a 2004 tune that reached out to his people on the island (he was born in Miami), hoping for a better connection between the US and his ancestral land.

roger-davidson-orac3a7c3a3o-para-amanhc3a3

Pianist  Roger Davidson and German-born harmonica player/vibist Hendrik Meurkens both have a close relationship with the music of Brazil, and it’s a thrill to hear them coming together for “Oração Para Amanhã (Soundbrush), a live recording made at New York’s Zinc Bar featuring all-original music by Davidson. Backed by Eduardo Belo (bass) and Adriano Santos (drums), the disc kicks off with “September Samba,” an uptempo tune featuring Muerkens on vibes. Muerkens then goes to his harmonica to lead on “Sonho da Tarde,” a complex tune with a low-key feel .  “Oração Para Amanhã” is definitely a love letter to Brazil, and both musicians treat the music with the respect it deserves, using American jazz tendencies to enhance the sound, but never to take it away from where it belongs.

muh3

“Prague After Dark” (JMood Records) came to me all the way from Italy via Facebook friend and pianist Roberto Magris. Recorded in The Czech Republic with his MUH Trio (Magris, Frantisek Uhlir: bass; Jaromir Helesic: drums), it is a highly enjoyable straight-ahead album featuring mostly original music penned by all three members of the trio. I particularly enjoyed “Nenazvana,” an uptempo tune by Uhlir with a samba feel that features an extended solo from its writer. Also notable are “Iraqi Blues,” which takes a more serious tone in what is mostly an upbeat album, and the inspired cover of “Love in Vain.” Make sure to check it out, it’s rare when music like this reaches the other side of the pond.

r-4514890-1367069237-9894-jpeg

Also hailing from Central Europe is Polish singer Anna Maria Jopek, whose Japanese-inspired “Haiku” (independently released) finally got to my hands. Originally released in 2013 alongside her Luso-inspired “Sobremesa” and her Polish folk song dedicated “Polanna” (it could be purchased as a box set as well, but I have never seen it in stores – and I looked hard during my last visit to Poland), it is a collaboration with pianist Makoto Ozone that delves both in more traditional music and pretty hard jazz.  It closes the trilogy well – it is a well-thought record that explores a lot of nuances between Polish and Japanese music – including the kind of jazz played in both countries these days. On an interview I conducted with her a few years back, she stated that “We recorded the “Haiku” album with a Polish-Japanese band lineup in just four hours, as if we were spirited.” Quite impressive results, I should say.

Live Review: Laura Cheadle at Piano’s, April 15, 2017

 

Laura Cheadle

Piano’s NYC

New York City

April 15, 2017

article and photos by Ernest Barteldeslaura1

Laura Cheadle traveled light on her recent appearance at Piano’s in New York’s Lower East Side – instead of her full Family Band she was backed solely by her own acoustic guitar, her father James Cheadle on keyboards and a drummer (Cheadle, Sr.  did the basslines on the left-hand side of his instrument), mostly showcasing material from her download-only EP “Chill,” out that day.

She opened the set with an uptempo take on Stevie Wonder’s  “I Was Made To Love Her,” a soul ballad whose lyrics speak of finally finding love and being unapologetic about it. She followed that with “Reverberate,” another tune from “Chill” that has a funky feel.  Cheadle and her father have great chemistry together, and that is evident as her body language affects how he plays – stops are clearly unrehearsed, but since they know each other so well musically it is just seamless.

laura3

The audience received the new material well, but things really caught fire when she did a medley of some choice covers including  a low-tempo take on B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” (in which she took over the drums), James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” and two Stevie Wonder tunes, “Superstition” and “Higher Ground,” the latter of which really showcased her vocal range. During the medley, she left the stage and danced around fans (she even surprised me by coming to my side while I was busy with my notes).

The show ended in a high note – everyone seemed to be having a good time – unfortunately there wasn’t a second set (Piano’s has one set by each listed artist) so we didn’t have a chance for a some more of Cheadle’s music.

Album reviews: Nouvelle Vague’s “I Could Be Happy” and Laura Cheadle’s “Chill” EP

By Ernest Barteldes

I first discovered Nouvelle Vague about a decade ago, when someone handed me a copy of 2006’s Bande a Part, an album which contained very creative treatments of tunes like U2’s “Pride – In The Name of Love” in a a samba-bossa groove and Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself” in what could be described as a tongue-in-cheek dance feel.

I have followed them since even though I seem to miss them every time they perform Stateside, this year being no exception. I love the way they recreate the covers they record in a manner that is almost incomparable – tunes feel completely different than the original, and you don’t have that feeling of “why cover this one?” since they have that original feel even if the song is amazingly familiar.

a3697181724_16

Such is the case of I Could Be Happy, the first to contain original material by Olivier Libaux and Marc Colin, the band’s longtime leaders. The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” is played in sleepy down tempo beat reminiscent of the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping” that gives the lyrics new meaning – gone is the rebellious feel of the original and instead is that feeling of someone who simply doesn’t want to get out of bed. Also notable is Richard Bell’s “Love Comes in Spurts,” reinvented here as an electronic ballad that deeply contrasts with the original’s punk arrangement.

lauracheadle

Among the independent artists that get our attention, New Jersey-based Laura Cheadle is one of the most frequent – basically because she has great passion on a live setting, is a gifted songwriter and also because she is fortunate enough have a live band mostly formed by her family members – all gifted musicians in her own right.

Cheadle’s new (download-only) EP entitled Chill kicks off with “Conversations in My Mind,” a soul-tinged tune whose lyrics question the narrator’s judgments about her own life. It has a simple but catchy melodic groove and a nice hook that stays in your head for quite some time. Also notable is “See The World With Me,” a gentle ballad about living life beyond the everyday grind.

I also enjoyed the treatment she gave to the cover of the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love.” While the original (which Phil Collins pretty much copies) was about warning young girls about falling in love too easily, her down-tempo version sends a different message: here is a love-worn woman who is about to give up on finding someone – anyone – but realizes that the best things in life take time even if it breaks your heart every single time.

Though I enjoy hear her on record, the best way to enjoy her music on a live format – those in New York can confirm what am talking about at Piano’s on April 15th – an awesome way to drown out those tax-day sorrows in anticipation of Easter Sunday – or Passover.  Or just another Sunday.

Live Review: Anuhea at The Highline Ballroom, March 18, 2017

 

anuhea1

article and photos by Ernest Barteldes

Anuhea

March 18, 2017

Highline Ballroom

New York, NY

I discovered the music of Maui-born Anuhea quite by accident. Shortly before Renata and I traveled to Hawaii, I started listening to a Hawaiian 105 KINE, a Honolulu radio station to get the place’s vibe, and one song made me smile whenever it was on their playlist. The song’s name was “Forever Summer,” a duet between Anuhea and Justin Young in which they sang about how it was always warm in the company of their significant other even if the weather was less than formidable.

anuhea2

As someone who used to live in a tropical land and now has to face the reality of snow storms and a very short summer, I got the meaning behind the words, and started paying attention to the artist. I eventually got to know other tunes in her repertoire and ‘liked’ her page on Facebook, making a mental note to catch her live if she ever came to town.

To open the evening was indie singer-songwriter Mahi, who is also the guitarist for Anuhea’s band. Accompanied by his own Fender strat and drummer Revelation, he did a few covers – including Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” and an original ballad called “Be Mine.” He engaged the crowd by cracking jokes and also getting the audience to sing along to some of the tunes.

After a brief break, Anuhea took to the stage with her band (Mahi, Revelation and a bassist), playing reggae-tinged original tunes. Among the highlights was “Big Deal,” the first of her tunes to catch the attention of radio stations in Hawaii, and “A Simple Love Song,” a recent single whose video was actually shot during her first appearance in New York.

Her band has great chemistry together, and feed off each other quite well. They had wonderful three and four-part harmonies on many of the tunes, and that made for a very enjoyable experience. While she played mostly original material, she included a cover of Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing” with an arrangement closer to her own style. To my personal delight she included the aforementioned “Forever Summer” with Mahi taking over Justin Young’s vocal parts. There was a joke around the recent Disney cartoon “Moana,” and the band played a snippet of “How Far I’ll Go” as part of it to great response.

The set was short but highly enjoyable – I hope I get another chance to hear her live again soon.

Music Review: “Fio da Memoria” by Luisa Maita

a0273735417_16-351x351

By Ernest Barteldes

Six years is a long time to wait between albums for a new artist, but Sao Paulo-born Luisa Maita seemed to have made the right choice in this case.  Since the release of her much acclaimed debut album Lero Lero (Cumbancha), she did a lot of touring (including many stateside appearances), collaborated with various Brazilian musicians and collected various awards in recognition of that first album.

The formula of Lero-Lero was quite simple: a modern take on bossa and samba-inspired tunes with a creative edge.  When I heard that album, she reminded me a bit of Marisa Monte, who does a lot of experimentalism with her music but keeps a firm grip on more traditional beats.  She could have simply stayed the course and done more of that, but she clearly decided to go into a completely different direction with her second album.

Fio da Memoria” is more of a rock-fusion album:  distorted guitars are front and center, but the rhythm is pure Brazil. For instance, “Olé” has a lot of electronics going on, but the percussion is clearly influenced by the sounds of Northeastern Brazil, while “Porão” has a Maracatu feel. The title track is a refreshing electric samba (close to the work of +2 , the leaderless music collective formed by Moreno Veloso, Kassin and Domenico Lanceloti), while “Folia” is pure Bahia samba, with a full percussive group behind Maita’s voice – and little else.

“Fio da Memoria” takes a few plays to totally sink in – though most of it is fun to listen to, it is also music that makes you think thanks to its clever arrangements and the way the instruments are played – there are quite a few surprises as the music plays. An example of this is “Volta,” a tune that begins with layered vocals and a curious line –  until the drums come in behind a three-part harmony  that take you into a 70s-influenced slow funk.

In a year filled with so much music that made little sense, “Fio da Memoria” is quite refreshing – the music is both smart and enjoyable, and makes this one of the best World Music releases of 2016.

 

Preview: Mariza At Town Hall and NJPAC

Mariza

Saturday, October 15 at Town Hall

Sunday, October 16 at NJPAC (featuring Bebel Gilberto)

For more information visit Mariza.com

By Ernest Barteldes

p1adr5s9t71f4g1jushup100gphka

Back in 2009 I was fortunate to be in the audience at Carnegie Hall to hear Mariza sing in support of Terra, (2008) an album that was a bit of a crossover for her – in addition to the traditional fados that caused her to be called “the next Amalia Rodrigues,” she included songs like Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” (backed by Gonzalo Rubalcaba) and The Beatles’ “Yesterday” with a jazz-inflected treatment that was quite different from what you hear on the streets of Alfama.

At the time I was not aware that she was about to embark into a half-decade hiatus to dedicate herself to starting a family . I was glad that to hear she was ready to go back on the road when I was assigned to write a preview of her Krakow debut earlier this year, and was eager to hear her in the US again.

I guess I am getting my wish.

Mariza returns with “Mundo” (Nonesuch, 2016), a disc that  takes her music to yet a further direction, embracing pop, jazz and other genres with a little help of several guest artists who sometimes take the spotlight entirely away from her.

Produced by Javier Limon, the album blends more traditional fados with more modern grooves – the first example being “Paixao,” a ballad that begins with a more classical feel then incorporates electric bass and percussion – something not very commonly heard In an album of this genre – the impression I had was as if Queen’s Brian May had decided to produce the tune then decided not to multi-track his legendary Red Special guitar into it. Another great moment is “Padoce de Ceu Azul,” a ballad with a laid-back feel that gives a chance to hear Mariza outside of the usual dramatic sound of fado.

Fans of Lisbon’s signature sound should not worry – most of the tunes keep into the format, but I agree that Mariza should go beyond their comfort zone as Cristina Branco, Ivete Sangalo and others have done before her. But she is not just expanding, but bringing fado to the 21st Century – “Sem Ti” is clearly inside the genre but cleverly brings other elements to it – without completely breaking away.

I am not sure how Mariza is going to bring all the music together on a live format, but am certainly curious. She always has the ability to surprise audiences with unexpected surprises – at Carnegie Hall she had all the mikes turned off and did a few songs acapella the way it is done back home.

I can assure everyone in the audience – wherever they were – heard every note.

Music Review: Ania Dąbrowska’s Dla Naiwnych Marzycieli

aniadabrowska_front_96dpi_rgb

by Ernest Barteldes

 

As I have written in earlier posts, I stumbled into the music of Polish pop singer Ania Dąbrowska quite by accident – I was looking into something I can’t even remember and her name sort of popped up. I got curious and found out she is from Chełm, , the southern Polish city my wife also comes from.

During our recent visit to my wife’s homeland, we visited several stores looking for music to bring back home (sure, I could have used iTunes for some titles but prices for regular CDs are much better there), so during a stop at the local Empik  I picked up a few of Dabrowska’s first few releases and proceeded to check them out. I was impressed with how she seems to want to surprise listeners from time to time with interesting arrangements that include bass solos (she does play the instrument, but the liners don’t give us much information on that matter),  flutes and other instruments that you don’t often come across in pop albums.

After we came back home I purchased the MP3 version of her sixth release, Dla Naiwnych Marzycieli, and gave it a few spins.  Though I haven’t heard all of her albums yet, I can say this is arguably her best album yet. She has veered a bit from the retro feel of earlier efforts and embraced a more contemporary direction – that can be felt immediately on the opening track, “Nieprawda,” a keyboard-led reggae with a catchy hook that gets you moving from the start, and also on “Gdy Nic Nie Muszę,” a jazz-inflected tune led by brush drums, keyboards and woodwinds.

Other notable tracks include “Bez Chiebe,” an R&B-inspired ballad with multi-layered vocals and a nice guitar-centered arrangement and “I’m Trying to Fight It,” the sole English-language track on the disc, whose lyrics speak about the hardships of moving on after the end of a breakup. The piano-based title track has poignant vocals, and “Nie Patrzę” sounds like something that could be played in American Top 40 radio – but good.

The lead single on the album is the power ballad “W Głowie” – its accompanying video plays as  a short action movie in which she escapes a couple of assassins inside what seems to be a shopping mall parking lot with the help of a mysterious black man – most of her videos play like that, telling the story in an almost cinematic manner.

Dąbrowska is a singer worth checking out. She has clearly evolved since her early Polish Idol days (I read somewhere that she has appeared on her country’s version of The Voice as a judge, but I didn’t have a chance to see an episode while I was there). Her music is smart and quite engaging – even if like me, you don’t have a clue what she is singing about.