Bibi Ferreira 1922-2019: An Appreciation

20180606-bibi-ferreira-2-620x356

Bibi Ferreira in 2017 (Paula Johas/ PCRJ)

Bibi Ferreira 1922-2019

By Ernest Barteldes

 

Bibi Ferreira might not have been a household name in America, where she only performed her U.S. debut when she was already 91 years old – a memorable concert that took place at Alice Tully Hall in the fall of 2013 at Lincoln Center, when she sang a selection of songs from her long career, which spanned almost her entire life – but to Brazilians she was undoubtedly the greatest diva of Brazilian musical theater, cinema and TV.

When I heard that she had peacefully passed away at 96 in her Rio de Janeiro home on February 13, I thought of all the years I had seen her perform on Brazilian TV as a presenter, singer or even director – a role she took later in her years and also her numerous recordings, ranging from soundtracks of her musicals to Natal em Familia, a Christmas album (which turned out to be her last) she did in collaboration with numerous artists from her native country, including the late Emilio Santiago and samba singer Alcione.

IMG_3595

Me and Bibi Ferreira, 2016

Ferreira ran the gamut of pretty much every medium in Brazil, going from performing the songs of Edith Piaf and Fado queen Amalia Rodrigues to directing a full opera, which she mentioned on an interview I did with her for The Brasilians Newspaper was a huge undertaking since she had to rehearse not one but two full groups because sometimes last-minute subs are necessary.

Although she had become hard of hearing and physically frail in her final years, her voice was impeccable, and she reached all the notes without a hitch, not sounding at all line the nonagenarian she was. She had great range and was a great interpreter of pretty much every style she tackled. On her second (and final) New York show at Symphony Space in 2016, she performed a retrospective of her most important shows, going from her Sinatra tribute to the much-appreciated Piaf covers – which even impressed the French when she sang there over the decades.

IMG_6986

Cover of Bibi Ferreira: A Life on The Stage

Ferreira also released a coffee table book-sized book chronicling her career.  I was humbled to learn there was a quote from my review of her New York debut for All About Jazz. I was fortunate to have met her backstage after her second show and had my personal copy autographed – a possession I will cherish forever as a remembrance of this magnificent artist.

IMG_6988

My quote from All About Jazz in Bibi: A Life on Stage

Advertisements

George Michael : An Appreciation

20161226_michael-slide-2b6y-videosixteenbyninejumbo1600

By Ernest Barteldes

I never paid much attention to George Michael during his early Wham! days – of course “Careless Whisper” was impossible to avoid during the mid-80s, but his stuff was not what I was into in the first place – but I had newfound respect for him when I saw him literally steal the show when he fronted Queen during the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert in April 1992 – the way he owned “Somebody to Love” was amazing to see and hear – and his duet with Lisa Stansfield on “These Are The Days of Our Lives” was also heartfelt and sincere.

For the next few years didn’t follow George Michael’s career much except for the songs everyone heard on the radio, but in 1996 I got into a relationship with a woman who was a die-hard fan of his music and thanks to her I got to know the music behind the hits – the ones that were part of an album but that were not necessarily well-known – tunes like “Waiting For The Day” from Listen Without Prejudice or “You Have Been Loved” from Older, which show a different side of Michael’s work – honest tunes written from the heart that he might have known might not have any radio play at all.

I was also amused when he collaborated with bossa nova icon Astrud Gilberto for “Desafinado” – an Antonio Carlos Jobim song released in late 1996 for the charity album Red, Hot & Rio (which also featured contributions from David Byrne, Marisa Monte, Caetano Veloso and others) – it was interesting to hear him softly crooning in Portuguese – a complete shift from his more electronic/dance floor stuff.

I also enjoyed listening to Songs From The Last Century, his Phil Ramone album of jazz covers from – my favorites being his playful take on “My Baby Just Cares for Me” and the depression-era tune “Brother, Won’t You Spare a Dime.”

After I relocated to the US I kind of lost touch with his music. I barely noticed “Patience,” but did listen to “Concert,” his live album recorded with the backing of the London Symphony Orchestra. Though his popularity waned in the US following his arrest for “lewd behavior” in the US, he remained popular in Europe – I recall being in Poland in 2010 and catching a TV special of a performance in support of “Patience” – which included “Shoot The Dog,” an anti-George Bush song I which he performed with a blow-up doll of the former U.S. president – quite controversial at the time.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/125719770″>GEORGE MICHAEL – Shoot the Dog</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user14102033″>MUSIC BOX CHANNEL</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I was saddened to hear of his passing via my CNN iPhone app notifications. At first I thought it was some kind of false alarm – but as the hours passed I realized it had been true. George Michael’s death adds to what has arguably been one of the worst years for the music business – after so many other legends left us.

Terence Blanchard at Summerstage/Clove Lakes Park – August 5, 2016

DSC_2040

Terence Blanchard at Clove Lakes Park

Article and pictures by Ernest Barteldes

Terence Blanchard & E-Collective

Summerstage at Clove Lakes Park

Staten Island, NY

August 5, 2016

 

 

On an evening dedicated to the memory of Eric Garner, the Staten Island African-American dad killed while in police custody (members of his family were in attendance) in 2014 there were a handful of performers and activists on stage before the headlining artist went on stage – including a young  woman who did a spoken word piece on police violence and the consequences it has on the different communities around the nation and a statement by New York City Councilwoman Debbie Rose.

DSC_2029

Spoken word, beautifully made. 

Shortly after that Terence Blanchard came on stage backed by a quartet (bass, keys, drums, guitar) starting with the complex title piece from his album “Breathless” – entirely recorded in tribute to Garner – that included a four-part harmony on his synth trumpet.  The piece was very contemporary and pretty much centered on his instrument –  he had little connection with the audience and didn’t seem interested on their feedback  – something he seemed to be focused on doing for the entire evening.

DSC_2034

Blanchard and his synth trumpet

The pieces went from contemporary jazz to jazz-rock but with no New Orleans connection – something I had hoped to hear that night considering the bandleader’s roots.  The band was incredibly well-rehearsed and tight but seemed unable to connect except for one moment when the guitarist really rocked out and had the audience applauding.  Blanchard used a lot of effects on his trumpet and sometimes drowned out the band entirely as he experimented with the various extraneous sounds he was able to create with his horn.

This was an evening of hard jazz – probably a bit off for a park on Staten Island, but I guess audiences need to be taken out of their comfort zones at times. I did not expect to hear this kind of music there, but I did enjoy it at times.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that Blanchard is a fantastically talented musician, but from what I have been listening live over the years  he seems to have become one of these jazz cats who play at the peak of their  intellectuality and technique and not seem to care about fans. Then again, being this a concert in memory of a victim of police brutality maybe the tone was appropriate – but most of the audience was not aware of that)

It was not a bad show overall, but it was not what I was expecting to hear. He barely communicated with the crowd, and when he did he seemed a bit uncomfortable doing so. A show clearly aimed at jazz purists or those interested in really out there material – suitable for a club or a jazz festival. Another reviewer focused on the social part of the evening, but I’d rather look at the music on its own.

CD/DVD Review: George Fest

By Ernest Barteldes

gh_

When I first heard about George Fest, I thought it was really great idea: bring together a new generation of rock performers (alongside a handful of more established ones) to take stabs at George Harrison’s canon to younger fans who might not even had been around when Harrison released his final hit records in the late 80s.

 

I recall receiving an e-mail from a publicist about the release of the concert film and CD from the 2014 tribute show in Los Angeles shorty before its release , but due to my workload at the time it kind of fell through the cracks and it only came back to my mind when I caught the end of the film on MTV – when the entire ensemble ran through The Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle with Care.” I was intrigued and ordered the box from the New York Public Library (no, I don’t do Netflix) and sat down to listen to it as soon as it came in.

It was a fun show to watch, but I felt that the musicians could have been a bit more inventive with the music.  After all, these were bands like The Flaming Lips (who took on “It’s All Too Much,” and oft-overlooked track from “Yellow Submarine”) and members of The Strokes, Heart, Spoon and other bands. However, with few exceptions they played most of the tunes a bit too closely to the original arrangements, sounding more like cover bands than they should have.

There were, however, some brilliant moments: San Francisco’s Black Rebel Motorcycle Club took on “The Art of Dying (from “All Things Must Pass”) and slowed it down, playing with distorted guitars and deadpan vocals that better translated the tune’s mood than Harrison’s overproduced version. Norah Jones (who also did “Something”) took advantage of the country feel of “Behind the Locked Door” to make the tune her own with a soulful vocal delivery and her own acoustic guitar accompaniment. The Cult’s Ian Astbury gives a chillingly beautiful take on “Be Here Now,” an obscure track from “Living in the Material World.”

The deeper cuts were the best surprise here – while standards like “My Sweet Lord” (with an honest delivery from Brian Wilson) and “Taxman” (by The Cold War Kids) were on the set list, we also got to hear seldom-heard tunes like “Savoy Truffle” (Dhani Harrison, who sounds and looks too much like his father) and “Any Road” (from George’s last album, “Brainwashed”). But there were a few missed opportunities – for instance, why have ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic do a straight version of “What is Life” when he could have amused us with “This Song is Just Six Words Long,”  his hilarious parody of “I’ve Got My Mind Set on You” instead?

<BR>

One could say such a rendition would offend hardcore George Harrison fans, but then again that was not even a Harrison composition in the first place, but a cover of an obscure track originally recorded in the early 60s by African-American R&B singer James Ray (go ahead, Google it).  The tune, incidentally, is also on the set, played by the numbers by The Killers’ Brandon Flowers.
I am not in any way going to say it is a bad album – it is nice to hear all these young artists take on this music of my favorite Beatle with such gusto, but as I have said earlier, I would have liked if more of them had tried to be more inventive with the tunes, just as George himself did whenever he played live. You pay tribute not by imitating but by reinventing the music – and giving it your own take.

Remembering George Martin

george-martin_3593607b

By Ernest Barteldes

 

Like most Beatles fans, I got to recognize George Martin’s name by looking at the credit printed on the back of every one of the band’s albums except Let It Be (ironically, the first Fab Four album I have ever heard), which was Phil Spector’s one shot at salvaging a train wreck of a record that would probably have tarnished the reputation of one of the greatest groups ever.

As I grew up, though, I realized that Martin was way more than this – over the years, I discovered many fantastic recordings he had been involved with, including Jeff Beck’s “Beck-Ola” and the soundtrack of the infamous Peter Frampton-Bee Gees soundtrack of “Sgt. Pepper’s” movie (the picture sucked but the music was pretty amazing). As I researched music, I realized that Martin was beyond being the “Fifth Beatle” – he was an amazingly special musical personality, and if it were not for him, those four guys might not have gotten far.

The proof goes by listening to the material they recorded before Martin came into the picture. Anyone with half a brain that has heard “The Decca Tapes” realizes that the Beatles were little more than a garage band, and that the guy who rejected them was right – I mean, without someone with a vision behind the controls, they might have turned out to be just another guitar band on the way out.

I will not elaborate much about Martin’s career because every single obituary has said the same. Instead, allow me to bring to light one of the best pieces of music he ever created, the underrated “In My Life,” a record that he created to mark his retirement (that didn’t really happen – he did work on a handful of albums after that), in which he re-created some of the gems he had worked with the Beatles with a plethora of guests that included many of the greatest music and screen stars of the time.

  1. george_martin_-_in_my_life

The idea was to end his illustrious career by inviting some of his favorite artists to do some Beatles music from more of a symphonic point of view – and then some. The tunes he chose were least obvious one – for instance, he avoided big hits like “Yesterday,” opting instead for tunes like “Here, There and Everywhere,” “Come Together” and “I Am the Walrus” instead – hearing these tunes in a new light convinced me his talent was intact.

“A Hard Day’s Night” was performed by actress Goldie Hawn with a big band, using a slower tempo that made it more like a blues, while Robin Williams and Bobby McFerrin took on “Come Together.” McFerrin did the famous bass line with his voice, and also sang co-lead with Williams. Celine Dion took ownership of “Here, There and Everywhere” by delivering what was arguably her best studio performance to date.

Among my personal favorites on that disc is the spoken-word version of “In My Life” with backing of Martin’s piano and the trademark voice of Sean Connery, who speaks the lyrics with the feeling of someone who has experienced much in life (never mind the song was written by a 25-year-old John Lennon).  Also marvelous is Jeff Beck’s instrumental take on “A Day in the Life” with the backing of a full orchestra – the version is so perfect that it was ultimately re-released on the soundtrack of the movie “Across The Universe.”

Although this was planned to be Martin’s final opus, full retirement ultimately (and fortunately for his fans) eluded him.  After the disc was released, he still produced Elton John’s remake of “Candle In the Wind” in tribute to Princess Diana and worked on the Cirque du Soleil’s “Love” mash-up with his son Giles.  He was a force of nature in his own right – who happened to be at the right place at the right time when The Beatles auditioned to him.

Remembering David Bowie

By Ernest Barteldes

david-bowie-last-photo

I think I was 13 years old when I first heard David Bowie’s voice.  The year was 1981, and a local radio station I used to hang out around (those were the days) got an advance copy of his collaboration with Queen. I was one of the first in the room to hear what was to become John Deacon’s iconic bassline that kicked off “Under Pressure,” the most memorable tune from the band’s “Hot Space” album, which would go into history as one of the least appreciated of the band’s career – except for this tune.

A couple of years later, Bowie released what would have become his most commercial album – the disco-inflected “Let’s Dance,” whose title track is still in rotation in many classic rock and oldies stations. I recall not being very impressed by that one song, but hearing the other songs on the disc showed me that he had not really sold out – he was just experimenting, as ever, with new sounds and textures.

Around that time, he was very much in the spotlight not as a musician but as an actor in films like “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” “The Hunger” and others. Those films were really unmemorable, and I am glad that he turned back to music after that, even if he never really quit appearing in film and TV – even SpongeBob Squarepants.

Though I was not a huge fan of Bowie’s canon, I did have great admiration for his body of work – how many musicians have been able not only to reinvent themselves but to remain relevant over a period of five decades without relying on crowd pleasers during live performances? The only equivalent would be Bob Dylan, who still raises eyebrows whenever he makes an album – that no longer happens to folks like Paul McCartney or Sting – and I am a fan of both artists.

David Bowie was an inspiring artist who was not a bullshitter in any way or form. Fellow journalists and musicians who were fortunate enough to meet him have said that he was a down-to-earth, unpretentious guy in spite of his musical genius – and this is not something you see every day

He will be sorely missed.