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.

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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.

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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.

Music Preview: Bibi Ferreira at Symphony Space, New York City

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By Ernest Barteldes

Bibi Ferreira

Tuesday, Sept. 20 & 23

Symphony Space

8 PM

I have known about the legendary Brazilian diva Bibi Ferreira for a very long time – she has a long history as a singer, producer, actress and director going from the 1940s to present. She is still active in spite of being 94 years young – and gives no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

I did two interviews with her for The Brasilians over the past few years and was surprised not only by how articulate she was on the phone and also by her fantastic memory – she can remember details of shows she did generations ago as if she had walked out of stage five minutes ago. I was even more amazed to hear her live at Alice Tully Hall – hard to believe is was her New York debut – and heard her sing an array of hard tunes ranging from Verdi to Chico Buarque and Piaf – as if they were nothing.

And then there was Liza Minelli’s hilarious surprise appearance, when they shared the mike for a snippet of “Theme from New York, New York” – a tune made famous by Frank Sinatra but actually introduced by Minelli (go ahead, Google it) in 1972.

On her current show Four Times Bibi, she pays tribute to fado queen Amalia Rodrigues, Piaf, tango legend Carlos Gardel and none other than our own Frank Sinatra – an evening that will bring together various genres together in what promises to be nothing short of amazing – a show that is not to be missed.

Krar Collective + Hakim at Celebrate Brooklyn

 

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Krar Collective

Article and photos by Ernest Barteldes

 

Krar Collective + Hakim

Celebrate Brooklyn

Prospect Park Bandshell

Brooklyn, NY

July 15, 2016

On what turned out to be a very warm night in Brooklyn, things kicked off with the England-based Ethyopian trio named after the harp-like instrument played by  bandleader Temesken Zeleke (the trio is rounded out by drummer Grum Begashaw and vocalist Genet Assefa)  playing a selection of uptempo tunes that showcased the band’s talent and also Zeleke’s skills They kept everything very uptempo except for a short period in which the bandleader switched to a more traditional acoustic version of the instrument.

Assefa has great energy and chemistry with the band and audience, dancing and singing the music with great feeling, being the ideal frontwoman for a trio with two musicians who are extremely focused on their instruments.  During the more uptempo moments, she led the crowd to clap and sing along with the chorus even if most couldn’t understand a word.

Though Krar Kollective’s music is deeply rooted into tradition, they clearly have strong pop influences – Tamesken uses a variety of pedals to create a full band effect with an intensely improvisational sound, while Begashaw’s drumming  has a strong, Ringo-like rock vibe.

There was a strong NYPD presence at the show – I spoke to one officer, who told me that they were there following the recent military coup attempt in Turkey  – He said that they didn’t expect any issues, but stated that city officials would rather be safe than sorry. I smiled when he said that, and he thanked me for understanding, considering the anti-cop attitude that has dominated the media in recent times. I shook his hand and went back to hearing the music – there was some great music to be heard.

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Hakim

After a brief intermission, Egypt’s Hakim came on backed by a 12-piece band that included two keyboardists, a  three-piece horn section, several percussionists and electric guitar and bass.

Hakim’s very tight band  kicked things off with a funky instrumental piece that preceded the singer’s entrance.  As he entered to thunderous applause wearing a t-shirt with the inscription “Visit Egypt” , the singer immediately engaged with the crowd, greeting them in Arabic and getting to the hits, which most of his fans sang along to.

I had never heard Hakim on a live setting before, and was impressed with his command of the stage. He seemed to look straight into the eyes of audience members and was friendly with the photographers on the pit, stopping to pose for them as he belted out the music.

The band was well rehearsed, but they allowed various spontaneous moments  – one of the guitarists played an extended solo, and an accordionist had many opportunities to  throw in a few improvised riffs.

 

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Hakin does his thing

I was a little disappointed that Hakim didn’t even bother to greet non-Arabic speaking fans in English, but you could see he was inside his comfort zone, with many of his compatriots waving Egyptian flags as they lost themselves into the music.

He kept the energy level up during the entire set, and mostly stayed away from ballads except for one moment when he went into a more traditional direction with a 7/8 tempo tune. Apart from that it was party time as the singer got almost entire crowd to their feet to dance.

It was a very nice evening  – the energy was great and the music was highly inspiring, and it made for a fantastic musical discovery.

Outdoor Music: What to hear in July

by Ernest Barteldes

 

Last month I wrote about what to hear in June – since I was away in Poland for half of the month and thanks to the weekend glitches of the MTA, I was only able to hear one, which I recently reviewed for All About Jazz (I was going to run it in these pages, but I felt it would reach more readers there – I am not greedy). But now it’s time to look into July.

Please note that I am only writing about the free shows here – there are some interesting benefit concerts this month, but I chose to shine a light on the ones anyone can attend without shelling out.

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King Sunny Ade

I wouldn’t normally bother about shows during the Independence Day Weekend – everyone’s going to be somewhere else (myself included), but I do have some great recommendations for the next couple of weeks. But please note that the Nigerian legend King Sunny Ade will be at Summerstage on July 3 o what is his first North American tour since 2009  – so in case you will not be sunning yourself, don’t miss that show.

On  Thursday, July 7th,  a performance not to be missed is an evening of Indian-inspired music that begins with DJ Rekha (one of the leading Bangra MCs out there), and two of my personal favorite musicians: Karsh Kale, one of the most inventive songwriters I have ever heard.

About a decade ago, he joined forces with sitarist Anoushka Shankar (the daughter of Ravi Shankar and half sister of Norah Jones) for one of Breathing Under Water, one of the most brilliant World Music albums released in the 21st Century.  Closing the evening is the Sunny Jain-led Red Baraat, dubbed “one of the best party band around.”

I am sure to be there, even if I have an early start on Friday.

The second weekend in  July marks the highly anticipated (as far as I am concerned)  Latin Alternative Music Conference, an event that brings together media, musicians and labels for a smorgasbord of showcases, concerts and industry-related panel discussions – the most interesting for the general public being the free concerts they sponsor both at Summerstage and Celebrate Brooklyn.

On July 8, Rodrigo Amarante,  the co-founder of Brazilian rock band Los Hermanos and Orquestra Imperial (a samba supergroup that also features Moreno Veloso), takes the stage at Rumsey Playfield to showcase music from his debut solo album “Cavalo” (Horse). The evening also features Mexico’s Leon Carregui, one of this year’s breakthrough Latin artists. The next day, head over to Brooklyn to hear local Latin artists Buscabulla and Hurray for the Riff Raff and of course the headlining artist – Mexico’s Carla Morrison.

There aren’t many living jazz singers who I would say are among the greatest in history, but Diane Reeves (Queensbridge Park, July 27)  is surely among them.  Sex and The City fans will remember her belting out “Is That All There Is” on the season 5 finale, but I have paid attention to her for quite a while. She is incredibly versatile and tackles various genres without losing her signature style.  Opening for her is DJ Greg Caz, arguably the the most musically open-minded DJ in New York City – he not only loves music but has a deep knowledge of it that baffles me at times.

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Gregory Porter

Closing my recommendations for July is Gregory Porter (Celebrate Brooklyn, July 28) – his deep baritone and has you at hello, as I discovered when I first heard about him via the Starbucks app (gone are the days that they gave out music, thanks to their current partnership with Spotify). I heard him last year at Summerstage and was fascinated at his command of the stage and his captivating personality, and am eager to hear his music again in a live format.

Concert Review: Brasil Guitar Duo at Americas Society

 

 

 

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By Ernest Barteldes

 

Brasil Guitar Duo

Americas  Society

February 19, 2016

New York, NY

 

 

Playing before a filed room in New York’s  Americas Society, The Brasil Guitar Duo formed by João Luiz and Douglas Lora kicked off their CD release event with Astor Piazzola’s “Zita,” a complex tango that the duo arranged for two guitars and set the tone for the rest of the evening. The duo played with zero amplification (there were two overhead microphones, but I believe those were for recording the set), but the acoustics of the room made it possible for them to be heard no matter where you were seated. They continued with Jean-Phillipe Rameau’s “Les Cyclops,” a tune that showcased their soloing and chord techniques.

They followed with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s “Prelude and The Fugue no. 7,” a very interesting Bach-inspired composition filled with 1/16 notes and changing tempos. They followed that with a selection of tunes by Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti, beginning with “A Fala da Paixão,” a mellow ballad in which Luiz played solos filled with octaves, and followed with “Sete Anéis,” a tune with a strong rural Brazilian feel and a quirky middle section with harmonics and extraneous sounds.

After a brief intermission, they played Leo Brouwer’s “Sonata de Los Viajeros,” a track from their CD dedicated to the works of the Cuban composer, which was released that evening. The composition is divided into four distinctive movements, beginning with “Primer Viaje a Tierras Heladas,” which started with a tranquil mood and then became agitated, as to represent the travelers’ journey from the Caribbean Sea to the North Atlantic. “La Venus de Praxiteles” had more of a contemplative feel, while “Visita a Bach en Leipzig” had more of a classical feel. The piece ended with “Por El Mar de Las Antillas,” which had a traditional Cuban feel.

The concert ended with Marco Pereira’s “Bate-Coxa,” an up-tempo “Coco,” a popular northeastern Brazilian beat. It was a nice closing to the concert, since it got out of the seriousness of Brouwer’s composition, taking the music to a more playful feel.

The concert was hosted by WQXR’s Terrance McKnight, who talked with the musicians between songs, tracing their musical influences and their beginnings and also their working relationship and their musical choices. They also talked about their beginnings in Brazil and the guitar teacher who first had them play together when they were younger.

 

Remembering Natalie Cole

By Ernest Barteldes

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Natalie Cole didn’t really register into my musical radar during her early career – in the 1980s I was deep into doing musical research on the origins of blues and jazz and was listening to stuff no one my age did – my ‘pop’ was stuff like Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Otis Redding, Etta James and Chuck Berry plus jazz icons such as Dave Brubeck and Louis Armstrong (thanks to this, I am able to write about music for all of you).

But when Cole released her now-classic Unforgettable… With Love (Elektra, 1991) I paid attention. I had been a fan of her father’s work, and it was refreshing to hear an album recorded with actual musicians at a time when everyone else seemed to rely synthesizers and computers. The title track, a duet with Natalie and her dad, became her signature song and was a bit overplayed at a time, but listening to the whole album reveals a burgeoning jazz singer with great pipes that completely changed her career.

I remember hearing another less-famous duet – one she recorded with Frank Sinatra on his “Duets” album (Capitol, 1993). The song was George and Ira Gershwin’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” in which she marvelously scatted during the instrumental break, making me remember of how Ella Fitzgerald improvised when singing alongside Sinatra over the years. That made me really pay attention to her, and from that point on I found myself with great respect to her talent.

I only got to hear her live once –  I am not sure if it was 2001 or 2002 – on a double bill at the City Center with Ray Charles. It was a memorable concert for many reasons: it was only my second show in New York, and I was thrilled to be able to hear two living legends on a single day.  We had lousy seats on the sixth floor, but the sound quality was great. Ray Charles kicked off the proceedings, doing classic songs such as “Hit The Road, Jack” and “Georgia on My Mind” – a tight set in which he played as many tunes as he could with the time he had.

Most of the audience was apparently there for Ray, so when he ended his set a lot of people left, which gave my companion and I a chance to sneak into a lower floor with better seats (we could have been ejected, but the person I went with had a bit of a devil-may-care attitude about things).  She came on after about half an hour. She was dressed in a form-fitting red dress and was very charming with the audience.  She sang mostly tunes from “Unforgettable” and “Stardust” (Elektra, 1996), closing with her R&B hit “This Will Be,” the sole song from her early career.

When I heard about her untimely passing, I found myself thinking about that one show I saw – a very happy occasion and a great memory of not one but two great performers who are now no longer among us – but still with us through the music they left behind.

Concert Review: DJ Sets by Quantic, Gilles Peterson and AFrika Bambaataa

Afrika Bambaata Singer

By Ernest Barteldes

Gilles Peterson + Quantic +

Afrika Bambaataa

Central Park Summerstage

New York, NY

August 8, 2015

I’ve  never quite  understood the point of featuring DJs at Summertage in Central Park. I say this meaning no disrespect to the profession –  I actually think that a good DJ can sometimes be even more entertaining than a band at times, but the atmosphere has to be right. At the Rumsey Playfield they are doing their thing in the middle of the day, when most clubbers are not even thinking about heading out. I understand having one at hand to warm up the crowd for a musical act, as DJ Greg Caz did a couple of years back when Bebel Gilberto was featured as part of the Brazil Summerfest Festival.

There was a celebratory mood at Summerstage when Renata and I arrived – the evening was promoted by Giant Step, the former label that now concentrates on event promotion and marketing. DJ Quantic was at the booth doing a mix of Latin, pop and even a few New Orleans-inspired cuts (specifically a brass version of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”) Most of the fans were clearly there for the headliners Afrika Bambattaa, but they followed the music attentively.

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Having nothing but a guy on the booth in the middle of the stage makes the stage feel a bit empty – I mean, this is a space that usually holds as many as 20 people. Sure, the music was quite intriguing but I did feel a lack of energy there.

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 Gilles Peterson soon followed and did a more uptempo set that included some Brazilian tunes with a concentration on psychedelic sounds. He had more of an upbeat groove and got the audience moving quite quickly – he got people moving with his smart selection.

Afrika Bambaataa  (born Kevin Donovan) was clearly more successful than the other two – he came on with several folks on stage that got things jumping – while he manned the equipment, rappers did their thing enticing the crowd to dance and follow the music.

It was certainly an enjoyable evening  – it was likely my last stop at Summerstage for the season (there still is  the Charlie Parker Festival late in August) since this year’s edition of the Brazilian Film Festival was canceled due to apparent financial constraints.