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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My Polish Music Loot: Anna Maria Jopek, Monika Brodka and… The Beatles

By Ernest Barteldes

 

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Cover art for Brodka’s “Clashes”

Whenever we travel abroad, I always try to bring home some of the country’s local music, and I make a point of visiting local music stores and pick out some interesting albums not easily found in the US market or on download – so on our fourth trip to Poland (for a wedding – more on the travel blog) I made a stop at Chelm’s Empik  and picked out a few albums.

The quantity was not as high as in previous trips since we were in the country for just a few days and there were only a few titles I was thinking about – but there were a few discoveries that I am glad to have found just by browsing through the store.

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Cover art for Niebo by Anna Maria Jopek

Regular readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of Polish World Music singer Anna Maria Jopek, and that I have been slowly purchasing her full collection – in the last a few months I found many of her albums on Walmart.com (don’t ask me why they carry imported albums, but they do) but one that eluded me was Niebo (Universal, 2006), her tenth release in which she continued to branch out into different musical styles, moving away from her previous pop and jazz-inflected albums and into a more diverse sound.

On that online order I also included a DVD copy of the 1981 film “Blind Chance” (Pzypadek), whose plot shows the consequences of the main character making a train or not. According to critics, the film inspired both Sliding Doors (1998) and Run, Lola, Run (1998) in which separate scenarios influences the outcomes of one’s reality.

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Brodka’s Moje Piosenki cover art

A few days before the trip, one of my students at ASA told me about a young singer called Monika Brodka, a contestant – like Ania Dąbrowska before her – of her country’s version of Pop Idol.  I heard some of her clips on Youtube and decided to check out her albums once I got to Poland. On my first visit I picked up a 2-CD set of her two first albums, “Album,” and “Moj Piosenki” (both on Sony Music) – they’re both well-crafted pop albums, but since they were produced following her Idol win, they sound very similar to Dąbrowska’s first discs – after all,  they had the same producer (Bogdan Kondracki) and likely some of the same musicians.

 

What really got my attention was Clashes (2017), her fourth release – no longer constrained by big corporate labels but now with the independent PIAS Recordings, the album is incredibly personal and experimental with no songs in Polish – the music has a unique texture, and she explores the music in a fearless manner that embraces World, jazz and pop tendencies.

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My last music purchase there had zero to do with Polish music – it was actually the 2-disc 50th Anniversary edition of The Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I just decided to buy it there because the price was considerably lower than what I could find in the US. It was definitely worth it since I saved about $10 and this album has been on my list for a while – and upon hearing the new mix I was immediately blown away by the new mix, which enhances Ringo’s drumming and also has a more centered sound more similar to its original mono mix.

While I have ripped all the music to my iPhone, I haven’t had the chance to fully appreciate them in the little time I have had since purchasing them – but that time will eventually come – not soon enough.

 

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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 Reviews: Marisa Monte’s Colecao and David Feldman’s Horizonte: Two From Brazil

By Ernest Barteldes

Colecao

Marisa Monte

Universal Music

David Feldman

Horizonte

Self-released

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Marisa Monte is not what you would call a conventional performer – in spite of having a very successful career spanning almost three decades (yes, her debut was released in 1989), she was reportedly not too happy with the idea of releasing a collection of her greatest hits. However, since her contract with Universal Music (which merged with EMI in 2011) called for a compilation, the solution was to put together a selection of lesser-known tunes that either appeared as duets in other performers’ albums or in movie soundtracks – plus a handful that had never seen the light of day until then.

Being the perfectionist that Monte is, this is no hastily thrown-together compilation but a carefully curated tune selection. A couple of those tracks might be well-known to World Music fans, such her duet with David Byrne on the Jobim classic “Waters of March” that appeared on the first Red, Hot and Rio album in 1996 – it is a welcome update on the bossa nova compositions, filled with electronic sounds and the Afro-Brazilian percussion of Carlinhos Brown. Another is the gentle balad “Ilusion,” a bilingual (English/Portuguese duet with Mexican singer Julieta Venegas from the latter’s MTV Unplugged disc.

Among the highlights is “Nu Com a Minha Musica,” a Caetano Veloso composition originally featured on the criminally ignored Red, Hot & Rio 2, a celebration of the Tropicalia Generation led by Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Ze and others. Also great is “Chuva No Mar,” a duet with Portuguese fado singer Carminho.

Because Monte is such a versatile singer, many fans don’t realize how good she is at belting out a traditional samba – in fact, she has done considerable effortsto record voices from samba, and “Volta Meu Amor” and “Dizem Que o Amor” are excellent examples of that – she loses herself in the music with zero pretension and emerges with very enjoyable moments.

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I first encountered the sounds of pianist David Feldman as part of the Brazilian side of Scott Feiner’s “Pandeiro Jazz” project (he recorded his second album of that concept with a band based in Rio). A few years later, he participated in drummer Duduka Da Fonseca’s contemporary-driven trio. In recent years I heard he’d been performing Stateside, but I didn’t have the chance to catch him live.

In spite of his English-sounding name, Feldman was born in Rio and lived in New York for a number of years following his graaduation from the New School of Jazz and Cotemporary Music until he returned to Brazil, where he has a solid career both as a bandleader and a sideman with the likes of Leny Andrade, Maria Rita and Leo Gandeldman, to name a few.

On “Horizonte,” Feldman showcases his bossa nova chops in tunes like “Tetê,” a gentle samba that evokes memories of mid-career Jobim with a touch of Dorival Caymmi, featuring guitarist Toninho Horta on guitar and vocals. “Esqueceram de Mim no Aeroporto,” however, goes into more contemporary direction. Marcio Bahia’s drums have rich polyrythms that complement Feldman’s groove in a perfect manner – bassist Andre Vasconcelos completes the backdrop with gusto with his bassline (plus an accomplished solo halfway through).

Ceu e Mar” follows a similar direction – a modern piece with clear influence from samba jazz, specially via the rhythm section, who keeps the feel in Rio even if Feldman takes the music somewhere else. “Sliding Ways,” on the other hand, sounds like a jazz homage to gafiera samba, the kind played in ballrooms in Brazil. Trombonist Raul de Souza guests, giving the tune a hummable feel rarely found in jazz albums these days.