Monika Brodka: My 2017 Polish Music Discovery

By Ernest Barteldes

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Brodka (publicity)

Shortly before my last trip to Poland last September (where I attended a wedding and spent a few days exploring Chelm, I had a chat with one of my students and told her how much I admired the work of singers like Anna Maria Jopek and Ania Dąbrowska, and she recommended I check out Monika Brodka, who she described as “really innovative.”

I looked her up and learned that like Dąbrowska, she was an alumna of the popular “Idol” franchise, having won the competition during the 2004 season. She was quickly signed by Sony/BMG and made two very pop-friendly  discs (Album and Moje Piosenki, released in 2004 and 2006) under the production of Bogdan Kondracki (who also produced Dąbrowska’s first three albums).

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“Album” and “Moje Piosenki”

I found both albums at Chelm’s Empik in a two-in-one package labeled “Made in Poland,” apparently part of a series meant to promote the country’s pop-rock artists. Among my favorite tracks from those are a mellow cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “Let Me Make It through the Night” (from “Album) and “Glock” (from “Moje Piosenki”), which showcase her vocal potential and also her ability to make a song her own.

Although very enjoyable, neither album stands out – possibly because of Kondracki’s very mainstream sounding production that made them sound almost undistinguishable from Dąbrowska’s first two discs or anything else he touched during that era. Brodka’s albums were nevertheless well received and are still on regular rotation on Polish radio stations like RMF and Eska.

Brodka took a considerable break from making studio recordings and re-emerged in 2010 with Granda, (“Brawl”), an 11-song masterpiece which is incredibly different from anything she’d done before, with nods to electronica and jazz without losing touch with a more pop-rock feel. It is quite adventurous and goes into various directions. The title track is a punk-ish rocker with a pounding bass and some extraneous background sounds, while “Saute” seems to revisit the psychedelic era without sounding dated.

In between albums she released the EP LAX” (which is simply a reference to Los Angeles, where the tracks were recorded), which contained “Varsovie,” a haunting English-language ode to her adopted hometown.

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Clashes

2016’s “Clashes” took things to an even more experimental direction – since she is now signed to an independent label, she has more freedom to do what she wants without having to compromise to whatever the suits might want her to do.  I believe that she is aware of the shock value of the music and of course her looks – like performing with a shaved head.

“Clashes” is not easy listening – there are clear influences from Bjὄrk, the post-punk sounds of Patti Smith and others I have not been able to identify – it’s a disc that has to grow on you after repeated hearings.

Check out “Clashes” here

 

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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.

Book Review: Horror Stories and Poems

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Book Review

An Anthology of Short Stories and Poems

by Coby Lane, Mason Casey, Patrick Murphy

and Jayson

Bradshaw

(BookRix GmBh)

review by Ernest Barteldes

“Not all of these stories are for the faint of heart,” reads the prologue for this short tome comprising, as the title says, as a collection of short stories and poems. Whoever wrote the preface (as none of the pieces reveal who the individual author is) was being coy to say the least. All of them- including the poems – have an element of supernatural and a bit of gore.

The collection begins with a very short story entitled “Car Crash,” in which the protagonist – a college professor – mourns the death of his wife, who lost her life in the hands of a drunk driver. Completely overwhelmed by grief, he drives to the same intersection where the original accident happens and ends up encountering the same fate. “He fully understood the pain his love had felt,” as the story comes to a close. “With his final breath, the man wept.”

The poems strategically placed are also less than uplifting. Take for instance, “Death”

‘Tick tock, tick tock

Went the old grandfather clock

He knew his life was ticking away

Faster than the average day

In some ways it was good,

Now he was finished with his dreadful adulthood.

The entire collection – which can be read as quickly as in three hours, is of a disturbing nature. What is the purpose of the authors, except maybe to make a bad day worse? The fact that is was published outside the US (and made available as a low-cost e-book by Amazon.com) makes you wonder about the market for horror stories an poems.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually found the book quite enjoyable, but I do have some interests on stories that go against the grain, sometimes going out of my way to avoid best-sellers (at least when everyone is talking about them). I recall being on the R train at the time Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code was all the rage and noticing that at least half the people in the car were holding a copy. Though I had been gifted a copy by my younger sister, I refused to crack it altogether – it sat on my bookshelf for years until I finally decided to donate several books to friends as my move to a new home approached.

Would I recommend this book? The answer would be yes, since it is a nice way to spend a few hours distracting yourself from the current real-life horror story unfolding before our very eyes. But I would certainly not call this literary gold.

 

Concert Review: Mehmet Polat Trio at Drom

Mehmet Polat Trio

Drom

January 19th 2016

New York, NY

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By Ernest Barteldes

 

On the closing concert of their tour in support of Next Spring (Homerecords.be, 2015), the Mehmet Polat Trio (Polat: oud; Sinan Arat: ney; Bao Sissoko : kora) took to the stage of New York City’s Drom for a selection of original songs.  Polat briefly introduced the trio telling the audience what the music was about and immediately set out into their set, opening with a mellow-sounding number based around a simple chord sequence, with all the members freely improvising around the melody.

Without interruption, they went right into the second number, a syncopated tune mostly based around Sissoko’s instrument. The trio kept at this pace, going from seamlessly from song to song without pausing – the end of each tune prompted the next, but the differences were quite noticeable as the rhythm and melodic groove constantly changed.

The chemistry that Polat, Arat and Sissoko have is very evident – just a glance at each other is enough to communicate where the music might be going, and during improvised moments they just find themselves in great synchronicity, finishing off a solo where one of them left off. During a short break between songs, Polat talked about their instruments’ origins and their sonic particularities, and then went on to play two final tunes, beginning with a composition by Sissoko that had a strong West African feel with some traditional Turkish tones in between. The groove seemed to go around a single chord with lots of improvised moments. They closed the set with a tune that was based around the kora and that picked up speed every few bars, which kept audience members wondering when it was actually going to end – a simple melody that stayed in my head for at least a few hours.

The Mehmet Polat Trio rarely performs stateside, but they should be returning in the summer – it would be great to hear them again, since we don’t have many opportunities to hear a group to dares to take traditional music to the next level – one that so greatly integrates two cultures in such an amazing manner.

Disc Review: Gal Costa/Estratosférica

By Ernest Barteldes

Distorted guitars and rock drums kick off Brazilian singer Gal Costa’s 30th studio album, almost making a statement about the fact that the singer is not staying within the bossa nova comfort zone that she is best known to American audiences. The song, entitled “Sem Medo Nem Esperança” was penned by Antonio Cicero and Arthur Nogueira could be described as visceral and daring.

Costa takes full use of her vocal range, allowing her voice to crack at certain points. On an interview with Brazil’s G1 website, she said that she personally chose the tune to be the opener “because of Antonio Cicero’s lyrics that is really about my moment, it’s fuck-tastic. It’s an autobiographical song, it talks about me – it’s as if I were talking to people. Cicero did something that Caetano Veloso knows how to do well: to write for me, to say what is true for me.”

Gal Costa’s more traditional fans will not be disappointed – unlike her previous disc “Recanto” (Universal Music, 2011); she doesn’t really go into much experimentation. There are some hummable sambas, such as the Mallu-penned lead single “Quando Você Olha Pra Ela,” which has a mellow arrangement that reminds listeners of the material she recorded in the mid-70s after her early Tropicalismo phase. Another great moment is “Amor Se Acalme,” a mellow ballad by Marisa Monte, Arnaldo Antunes and Cezar Mendes.  The tune is quite characteristic of Monte’s work: lots of words crammed in a few bars and then long notes on a single vowel – this is certain to appear on local radio stations in the near future.

Some tunes left my head scratching – “Muita Sorte” has a very nice melody, but the mostly electronic arrangement does not do it justice. The same thing can be said about “Por Baixo,” a Tom Zé composition filled with extraneous sounds behind Gal Costa’s sincere delivery.

On the other hand, there are songs that are amazingly written – “Dez Anjos” is collaboration between Milton Nascimento and young singer-songwriter Criolo (who as of this writing is on a Tim Maia tribute tour with Ivete Sangalo) that is melodically and lyrically beautiful. Also notable is “Espelho d’Agua,” a Marcelo Camelo-Thiago Camelo (who frequently write for Maria Rita) rock ballad that has a well-constructed acoustic arrangement.

“Estratosférica” was produced by Kassim and Moreno Veloso of The +2’s, who gave the album a fresh feel without going too crazy on the arrangements. It is quite accessible, reaching out to younger fans without losing touch with her more classic fans – thus the presence of the bonus track “Ilusão à Toa,” a pre-bossa nova era song by the underrated Johnny Alf that could have been part of 2004’s “Todas as Canções e Eu,” which was dedicated to songs of the 1940s and 50s.

Gal Costa

Estratosférica

Universal Music Brasil

Available for download on Amazon and iTunes.

Disc Review: Altas/Tiempo de Bestias

By Ernest Barteldes

The band formerly known as Panal S.A. de C.V. (a  Colorado-based trio formed by Enrique Jimenez, Juan Carlos Flores and Israel Jimenez)  defines itself as an experimental instrumental band, but I see them as more than that. Their songs could easily lend themselves to extended jams that could go beyond the confines five or six minutes of the seven tracks on their (sort of debut) EP Época de Bestias.

 The album kicks off with “Altepetl,” a distortion-heavy rocker reminiscent of the early days of Black Sabbath with a touch of psychedelics. There are no virtuoso moments – guitars scream at you with gusto as to announce that the show has begun. Things move into a different direction with “Aokigahara,” a trippy tour-de-force  in which electronics plays a central role around  guitars and jazz-inflected drums. My personal favorite is “Black Sand,” a tune that is quite surprising. A gentle piano starts the song out, and then for a while the song evolves into a progressive-style ballad. Around the fifth minute things completely change and things become much heavier with a greater emphasis on guitar and drums.

“You Knew I Was A Snake” begins with a snippet of a Spanish-language oath of office of a Mexican president (not sure who that was, but by the sound it seems like something quite ancient) that introduces an uptempo number based mostly around keyboards.

I have run into band member Enrique Jimenez various times during the annual Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York City, but they have never (to the best of my knowledge) participated in any of the showcases. I think it is time for the organizers to give these guys a shot, because it is clear their time has come.

To purchase the album visit http://www.altasiscoming.com/