Music Reviews: Two From Poland, One From Brazil

By Ernest Barteldes

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As I have written here before, Warsaw-based Monika Brodka has had an interesting trajectory over her career.  A winner of Poland’s version of Idol back in 2004, she started out her recording career with two very mainstream albums early on that got her a lot of radio play (the songs from those releases are still featured on pop radio to this day), but then she took a whole different direction: she went through a four-year hiatus and reemerged with Granda (2010, Sony Music), which took her music to a more alternative direction, and followed that up with the English-language EP Lax (Kayax,  2012) and more recently Clashes (Kayax, 2016), which took her music to even more experimental territory.

The last three releases are the focus of MTV Unplugged (Kayax, 2019), her first release captured live in the southeastern city of Lublin in 2018 in reimagined versions that depart dramatically from the studio versions of the same tunes, starting with “Can’t Wait for War,” which features what at first I thought was a Theremin but turned out to be a saw played with a bow – something that I have only heard before on the New York City subway. Her take on “Varsovie,” an ode to her adopted city is also surprising, with mostly acoustic elements replacing the mostly electronic feel of the studio recording.

Although it’s an “unplugged” album, there are several non-acoustic instruments on the record – Brodka plays a semi-acoustic guitar, and so does her lead guitarist. While her bass player performs with a ukulele bass for most of the set, an electric bass (probably a Fender P-bass) can be heard on some tracks.

Notable tracks include “Syberia,”which brings l guest Krszystof Zalewski on guitar and vocals – it’s quite an intimate setting, with Brodka playing a six-string banjo (tuned as a guitar).  The tune is not that different from the studio recording, which was also played on acoustic guitar, but the two-part harmonies and the banjo bring an extra texture to the song, which is mostly a filler on Granda, and also “Santa Muerte,” an English-language tune from Clashes that features fellow Idol alum Dawid Podsiało. The arrangement that is incredibly close to American bluegrass thanks to Brodka’s banjo, the strings and the wandering saw, which adds an eerie feel to the tune.

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Anna Maria Jopek has a history of collaborating with many respected musicians including Brazil’s Ivan Lins, France’s Mino Cinelu and others, but Ulotne (“Elusive,” Universal Music Polska, 2018) is only her third album done as a full collaboration with another artist (the others being Upojenie, her 2002 collaboration with Pat Metheny and Minione, her 2017 album with Gonzalo Rubalcaba), in this case being legendary saxophonist Branford Marsalis, with whom she recorded a couple of tracks with on 2008’s live Jo & Co (Universal Music Polska).

Featuring mostly original material penned by Jopek and her husband and main collaborator Marcin Kidryński, the album flows beautifully track by track – the musicians (rounded out by Cinelu, Maria Pomianowska, Robert Kubiszyn, Pedro Nazaruk, Marcin Wasilewski, and Atom String Quartet) have all worked together before either on a live format or in the studio, and the chemistry can immediately be felt throughout. Marsalis is featured on every track, while the supporting band gives a solid backup without getting in the way. As in most Jopek album, there are a plenty of multi-tracked vocals, but they are subtler than in earlier releases – the direction here seems to be make everything as organic as possible.

The deluxe version of the album features four extra tracks, one being Pożegnanie z Marią, a song beautifully recorded as a tribute to recently deceased trumpeter Tomaz Stanko, who wrote the tune.

 

Carnaval in Brazil is fast approaching, and given the election of extreme right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro, who was voted in with promises of restoring “traditional values” to the country, it is expected that some will not be too happy about it. One of the first songs to reflect this is “Proibido o Carnaval,” a single by openly gay singer Daniela Mercury and legendary singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso.

The song, which translates as “Forbidden Carnaval” wax against censorship and the anti-LGBT attitude of Bolsonaro and his cabinet, turning his own words against him and vowing not to allow the right spoil the party for those who don’t want to become stereotypes.

I am not sure how the tune has been received in Brazil, but after several plays on my phone I can say that some will frown upon the words – but it’s not like anyone who agrees with Veloso and Mercury will care.

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LAMC Showcase at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn

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Girl Ultra

LAMC Showcase at BRIC

Celebrate Brooklyn

Mala Rodriguez, Ana Tijoux & Girl Ultra

July 13, 2018

by Ernest Barteldes

On the Celebrate Brooklyn night of the 2018 edition of the Latin Alternative Music Conference, the audience was presented with three very different female voices with very distinctive styles that gave us a glimpse of what is going on in the Latin music scene.

Mexican R&B singer Girl Ultra (Mariana de Miguel) opened the proceedings backed by a simple band that featured keyboards, bass and drums, and she sang mostly original material. Early on the set, there were some technical problems with the keyboards, and instead of interrupting the set, she just began to improvise with the bassist and the drummer for about five minutes, creating music on the spot to the delight of the crowd, who got the chance to see the artist in an unfiltered format, just being creative with whatever she had in her mind at the moment.

Girl Ultra’s music is clearly inspired by contemporary R&B with a retro feel – she clearly draws from the likes of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston but does not have their vocal power. She does, however, have tons of creativity with her vocals, and uses her limitations to her advantage. I believe what we heard was a diamond in the rough – she has great potential as an R&B singer, and I’m hoping to hear her more down the road.

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Ana Tijoux

She was followed by Chile’s Ana Tijoux, who has evolved incredibly from the first time I saw her at an earlier showcase at Central Park Summerstage. She started out with a Spanish-language song written in the 1970s that she said was “relevant to our times,” and was very vocal against the current U.S. administration. During the set she alternated between her earlier rap hits (which included her signature hit “1977”) and more melodic material. At one point, she brought in a violin trio for a tango-inflected tune called “Asaltemos a Un Banco” (“Let’s Rob a Bank”) which was followed by a “Somos Sur,” socially conscious number which she described (in Spanish) that “is about what Latin America is – it’s not a postcard, it’s about where we live. Our culture comes from the streets – to be Latin is all about the places.” Another tune talked about how the rich put the poor down by denying them access to education and dignity, inviting the listener to “join the fight” against racism and blind capitalism.

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Mala Rodriguez

Closing the evening was Spain’s Mala Rodriguez, who came accompanied by a DJ and two female dancers in very skimpy white outfits, delivering a set of dance-inspired music that seemed a bit out of step with the more acoustic nature of the previous sets, but audiences seemed to dig it – like in every LAMC night, it was an opportunity to hear diverse voices and get a feel for the direction of pop, rock and other genres within the umbrella of Latin Music.

Mariza at Summerstage/Central Park

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The Stage at Central Park

Summerstage at Central Park

June 23, 2018

New York, NY

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Mariza

On her debut Summerstage appearance,  Angolan-born and Portugal-based Mariza took to the stage backed by a five-piece band (accordion, percussion, Portuguese guitar, acoustic guitar and bass) to promote mostly material from her self-titled album (Warner Portugal, 2018), which of this writing was not yet available in the US market even though she mentioned it several times during the show.

The set opened with “Sou do Fado,” a traditional tune that has become a staple on her performances – it is a longing number in which she stretches her vocals, utilizing the melisma that are so common to the genre.  She then followed by a ballad  with few fado characteristics – something that has become more and more common on her records starting from 2008’s Terra, which included tunes by  Brazil’s Ivan Lins and also a cover of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” which she performed during the tour in support of that album that year.

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Mariza

Among the highlights was an original tune named “Ja Passou,” a ballad dedicated to her young son. The expression is common in Portugal, and it means that the “pain is over” (the term was actually used on the Luso-Portuguese version of “Let It Go” from the soundtrack of the movie “Frozen”), and it is usually told to young children when they get hurt in some way.

Hearing Mariza in an outdoor setting was quite refreshing, because in previous U.S. stops she mostly performed in theaters, and was interesting to hear her outdoors, and wondered how the outside temperature would affect her singing.  The truth is, it didn’t, and she sang with the same potency and passion that she has delivered in previous shows.

 

Live Review: Los Lobos at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, June 10, 2018

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Los Lobos at The Prospect Park Bandshell

Los Lobos 

BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn 

Brooklyn, NY 

June 10, 2018 

By Ernest Barteldes 

Rain seems to follow legendary Los Angeles band Los Lobos whenever they play an outdoor venue in New York – at least that seems to be true every time I happen to hear them. That was true when I first reported on their appearance at Summerstage a decade ago, and the tradition seemed to repeat itself as they appeared at The Prospect Park Bandshell.  

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The sextet came on with their usual energy playing a set that included a selection of hits and covers – one classic that was dedicated to the “youngsters” in the audience was “Come On Let’s Go,” their 1987 cover of the Richie Valens tune featured on the movie “La Bamba” with an extended guitar solo and many tunes they seemed to pick out of a personal list. “We are still figuring out the show,” said co-lead singer David Hidalgo halfway through the set during a pause in which the group seemed to disagree on what to play next.  

The band continued with a medley that included the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” that merged into an up-tempo take on “Crossroad Blues” played close to the classic 1966 arrangement popularized by Cream with extended guitar solos showcasing the dexterity of Hidalgo and co-lead guitarist Cesar Rojas.  

Halfway through the set the ensemble switched to the Mexican rancheras that popularized the band in their early years, including a cover of Vicente Fernandez’s “Volver,” with Hidalgo on accordion. They then went back to more electric blues-based material, including a fast-paced number that featured drummer Enrique Gonzales. 

The band left the stage and returned after a few minutes with a punk-rock inspired number “because we are in New York” and ended the set with “La Bamba,” the traditional Mexican song adapted by Ritchie Valens in 1959 and later made a global hit by Los Lobos two decades later – it has become a mandatory tune during their sets since then. 

The only sour note I could say about their set it the omission of “Beautiful Maria of My Soul,” their Oscar-nominated tune from the soundtrack from 1992’s Mambo Kings – it is a beautiful tune that has pretty much been ignored since its release and deserves to be revisited in a live format.  

Los Lobos keep the energy high, and their fans are die-hards: the rain kept falling but no one was interested in leaving until the last chord of “La Bamba” was played, and the ensemble seemed to feed from that, extending tunes and improvising a lot throughout the set.  

Free Concerts: What to Hear in June

by Ernest Barteldes 

 

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Gregory Porter

As I have written before, the summer months are my favorite time of year – not only because we have the nice weather and the opportunity to grill or go to beach trips and also get to wear flip-flops to the supermarket (at least I do), it is also the time for the countless outdoor concerts that take place all over town that are for every taste. 

Ever since I moved to New York – eighteen years ago this year – I have been attending these shows and have lost count of how many I have seen. The other day Renata and I were going through old photos that I covered at Summerstage in those early years and I was shocked at how many prints I had (those were the days before going digital) and how many shows I’d pretty much forgotten about – something that happens when you attend more than 50 concerts a year – most during the summer season.  

This year’s season at Celebrate Brooklyn, Summerstage and other venues across New York City have incredible lineups, which I will write about over the next few posts, either previewing or reviewing for this blog or other pages.  

On this post I will highlight some of our picks for the month of June – but bear in mind I will only highlight the shows that are free of charge, so if you don’t see say, The Decemberists (June 13, Celebrate Brooklyn) on this list it’s because it’s a benefit event and you have to pay more than the suggested donation asked for at the door.  

If you want more information, check out the hyperlinks, which direct to the actual events’ pages.  

The month begins with jazz vocalist Gregory Porter (June 2nd, Central Park), who makes his second appearance at the event (he also made an appearance at Celebrate Brooklyn in during the 2016 season). his deep baritone gets your attention at once, as I discovered when I first heard of him back in the day when Starbucks gave tunes out for free every week. I heard him at Summerstage in 2015 and was fascinated at his command of the stage and am eager to hear his music again in a live format. 

 

We then head to Prospect Park Bandshell for their opening night on June 6th, when rapper, actor, activist and Oscar Winner Common gets the party started for Celebrate Brooklyn. Little needs to be said about him – he has been a mainstay in the hip-hop scene since the 90s, but more recently he has reached mainstream audiences – never mind the song “Glory,” which earned him an Oscar AND a Golden Globe alongside John Legend.  

 

David Bowie left us too soon back in 2016 (what a shitty year that was for music, by the way) but left us one last gift: his much appreciated album Blackstar, released a few days after his passing. In tribute to the great musician and actor, an orchestra led by Evan Zyporin featuring cellist Maya Beyser will play the album in its entirety (June 9th, Central Park) in a show entitled Bowie Symphonic – the evening will also feature The Donny McCaslin group, who played with Bowie on that final album.  

 

One of the most memorable shows I attended at Summerstage was back in 2008 (has it been that long?) when Los Lobos played alongside Los Lonely Boys. It was a soggy night in which the rain did not relent – everyone got absolutely soaked but no one left until the last song was played. They have a high-energy set that include their most danceable hits that had everyone engaged to the very end – and yes, they included their 80s cover of La Bamba, from the movie of the same name. They return to New York for what promises to be a lovely afternoon in Brooklyn (Celebrate Brooklyn, June 10). 

I first saw Rhiannon Giddens solo work at Celebrate Brooklyn in 2015 – before that, I had seen her with her band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, at a showcase at GlobalFest (don’t ask when, I can’t remember). It was a lovely show that featured roots Americana and folk music coupled with some historical themes. It should be another interesting evening for sure (Central Park, June 16)   

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Mariza

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written about Mozambique-born fado singer Mariza over the years – one of the few artists I wrote about for a European magazine. But to call her simply a fadista is unfair – on her latest works, she has incorporated elements of jazz, pop and other rhythms but without losing touch with her roots. And her chosen genre is best heard in an outdoor format (just check out her Concerto Em Lisboa DVD) instead in theaters. She is a sensational, emotional performer and this is one performance you should not miss. (Central Park, June 23) 

 

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/201866719″>Mariza – Concerto em Lisboa</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user62259790″>eduardo carrasco pontes</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p> 

Closing our picks for June is Branford Marsalis, one fifth of the New Orleans’ “Royal Family of Jazz,” who will be playing two sets with his longtime quartet, bookending Roger Guenveur Smith’s one man show, Frederick Douglass Now. This is another show you shouldn’t miss (Celebrate Brooklyn, June 29) 

What to Hear in August: BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, Bryant Park, Brasil Summerfest, SummerStage and Charlie Parker Jazz Festival

By Ernest Barteldes

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I kind of hate the month of August, because that is when most of the outdoor events begin winding down – Celebrate Brooklyn wraps halfway through the month, while SummerStage continues hosting free shows until pretty much the end of the month, capping the program with the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Harlem and the East Village, the locales of reference for the annual event in honor of one of the heroes of the bebop era.

For those who missed it in theaters (and still haven’t watched it at home), Creed tells the story of Donnie Johnson – the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed – who goes after his own dream of becoming a champion boxer. To help him on his quest, he seeks the help of an aging Rocky Balboa to become his coach –  possibly closing the Rocky saga. The movie will be screened with a live score performed by The Wordless Music Orchestra conducted by its composer Ludwig Gorannson. Opening the evening is a selection of Gospel music by Frank Haye & The Interdenominational Choir – should be a good one and I will certainly be in attendance (Celebrate Brooklyn, Aug. 4)

Things take a Brazilian flavor at Summerstage with the kickoff of Brazil Summerfest, a weeklong event that showcases various  talents from my other country: legendary singer Elza Soares – still unstoppable at 80 – headlines an afternoon at Central Park that also features Youtube-discovered Linkner e os Caramelows and a DJ set by Teleseen. During the following week there will be concerts in various venues featuring Forro in the Dark (Brooklyn Public Library, August 9).  Aline Muniz (Joe’s Pub, August 10), Zabele ( The Django, August 13) and many others, ending with a massive Brazilian-inspired street fair  (Hester Street Fair, August 14) .

Bryant Park continues its summer program with a concert by the Asian Cultural Symphony to the US – an ensemble of more than 60 musicians, followed by Shoko Nagal’s TOKALA, which explores sonic influences from classic and contemporary Asian sounds (August 11, Bryant Park)

Most people know about Senegalese singer-songwriter Youssou N’ Dour from his iconic tune “7 Seconds,” but  he is beloved among World Music lovers – he has a long career that includes many records and countless collaborations with artists from across the globe – a fitting closing to what has been a stellar run at Celebrate Brooklyn (August 12, Celebrate Brooklyn)

Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ are blues legends in their own right, and I cannot wait to hear how they sound as they join forces – it is sure going to be a meeting of generations and it is a show I am sure not to miss under any circumstance – just imagine how much great music will come from those two together on stage. (Central Park, August 13)

I have heard Anat Cohen in various formats both as a side player with Duduka Da Fonseca with her two brothers in their Three Cohens ensemble  and also leading her own chorinho-inspired group. She is a phenomenal clarinetist and at The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival she will be leading her Tenet in a program that will include her many influences, going from Brazilian to Middle Eastern and some New Orleans material in between (Marcus Garvey Park, August 25)

We wrap up the list with quite a stellar line-up of saxophonists: Joshua Redman, Lou Donaldson and Tia Fuller will close the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival – one can’t help but wonder if they will get together at the end of the day for an improvisational threesome. It might be unlikely, but one can only hope — and then we go over to Labor Day with a nice taste of great music (August 27, Tompkins Square Park)

What to hear in July: Summerstage, BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn and Bryant Park

By Ernest Barteldes

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Esperanza Spalding – July 30 at Celebrate Brooklyn

July is one of the busiest months in the summer outdoor concert schedule here in New York, and I am one who fully enjoys this – First of all, the Latin Alternative Conference comes to town, bringing tons of Latin talent both to Celebrate Brooklyn and Summerstage (plus many other venues – it’s a music smorgasbord for sure), so things get even more interesting.  Not only that, the public pools are also open so there is a lot to do even if you want to spend the hot days in a lazier fashion.

As I did before, I am only highlighting the free shows, since the ticketed benefit concerts are either sold out or have their own publicity machine behind them – it’s not like they need the likes of me.  For detailed times and locations please refer to the hyperlinks included here.

Things kick off on July 1st in Central Park with a celebration of French and American jazz with a lineup that simply doesn’t feel enough for a single evening, including gypsy guitar virtuoso Stephane Wrembel,  upcoming jazz/pop singer Kat Edmonson and singer Catherine Russell alongside bandleader extraordinaire Vince Giordano. It should be one hell of the night which as usual I am missing because I have plans out of town.

Over at Celebrate Brooklyn Musiq Soulchild does free concert on July 7th – he is regarded as one of the best soul singers of his generation and deserves it – his delivery is fantastic and so is his performance – I expect it to be packed that night.

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Jimmy Heath

On July 8th jazz great Jimmy Heath heads to Queens with his big band – the man has played with the likes of John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis (to name a few) and is still here to tell the tale. Look forward to lots of bebop but also contemporary and straight-ahead jazz.

Those not willing to head all the way to Queens that night might want to check out New York’s own Mariachi Flor de Toloache and cumbia queen Totó La Momposina in Central Park. I heard the former during an LAMC concert at Celebrate Brooklyn  few years back – from what I remember it was a lively concert that paid tribute to the traditions of the music of their native Mexico but also looked ahead, using  complex vocal arrangements a few tunes in English; some songs were played with the addition of the cajón and also the ukulele, which both enhanced the songs and gave them an intriguing, innovative sound.

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Mon Laferte

The LAMC kicks off on July 12 in Central Park with Puerto Rico’s ÌFÉ, New York’s own Princess Nokia (an interesting use for the virtually defunct cellphone brand, no?) and Chile’s Mon Laferte, a self-taught powerhouse of a musician who blends electronic, rock and R&B in her own unique manner – her video for “Amarrame” (feat, Juanez) is on heavy rotation on Latin music channels (I happened to catch it while vacationing in the Dominican Republic a few weeks ago), and I really want to see how this translates in a live format

The late Fela Kuti is celebrated in music and theater for his contribution to what became the Afrobeat movement, and his legacy is being memorialized on July 16 in a concert  that brings together his son Seun Kuti and Roy Ayers, one of the elder Kuti’s many collaborators during his career and beyond – Ayers is one of the godfathers of the neo-soul movement and a highly respected artist in his own right.

I can’t remember the last time I heard Mali’s Amadou & Mariam on stage – I recall it was at Summerstage about a decade ago when I was still writing for the now-defunct Global Rhythm and New York Press. They are a married blind duo who play their own brand of African blues, and have this magical sound to them. It will be good to catch them again after all this time in Brooklyn on July 21st

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Accordion Festival 

On the same day, The Accordion Festival – closing up the Accordions Around The World program happening in Bryant Park – takes place, with tens of players over a five-hour period. Something for those who want to hang in midtown Manhattan and have a good time.

During her tragically brief career, Amy Winehouse left us a memorable canon of songs over two albums (only one released in the US market) and (as far as I know) a single guest appearance – her last recording – on Tony Bennett’s Duets II album. Her music is certainly remembered, and will be the basis for the program developed by BalletX / YY Dance Company on July 26 in Central Park.

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Andrew Bird

The month closes in Brooklyn (July 30)  with two of my favorite young musicians: multi-instrumentalist, whistler and vocalist Andrew Bird, who I discovered in a completely unusual way: on the soundtrack of the 2011 Muppets movie, Towards the end of the movie, newcomer Walter did a surprise performance of “The Whistling Caruso” – which was actually played by Bird.

The other favorite is Esperanza Spalding, the genre-bending bassist who began her career doing avant-garde jazz and then went on to make extremely diverse albums that explored a variety of sounds, going from straight-ahead jazz, soul and more recently Emily’s D+Evolution (Concord), an experiment that blends musical theater, jazz, funk and much more – something that some fans heralded and others failed to fully comprehend (me being the latter) – when she first emerged, Spalding was a breath of fresh air in the jazz world, and continues to evolve throughout the years – I can only imagine what she is going to bring to the fore this time.