Anoushka Shankar + My Brightest Diamond at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn

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Anoushka Shankar

Anoushka Shankar + 

My Brightest Diamond 

BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn 

July 20, 2018 

By Ernest Barteldes 

 

On what turned out to be a seasonably mild night in Brooklyn, musical experimentalist Shara Nova, who goes by the “band” name of My Brightest Diamond came on backed by her own programmed keyboard and a drummer showed exactly what is wrong with the whole DYI movement: artists get zero feedback from other people and the room and become far too self-indulgent.  

Nova opened her set with the participation of the Brooklyn Youth Choir, doing two numbers that sounded brilliant and hopeful, but soon after that it was a collection of tunes with strong influence from 70s music, especially the B-52s, David Bowie and Yoko Ono (if that makes any sense). She did go into a quieter mode when she played – on guitar – a lullaby about her young son, but it was mostly electronic music with shrieked vocals and little else.  

After a brief break, sitarist Anoushka Shankar came on backed by bass, percussion and hand pans. The music, as she stated, was inspired by the refugee situation in Europe and also the political situation Stateside – she didn’t dwell on it as she described it, but one could feel the feeling in the melodies.  The jazz influences were tangible, but there was something intensely personal with the music.  

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My Brightest Diamond

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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) 

 

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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) 

Music Review: Alexis Cole’s You’d Be So Nice to come Home To

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By Ernest Barteldes

 

Backed by the celebrated New York-based One For All Sextet (Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone; Jim Rotondi: trumpet; Steve Davis: trombone; David Hazeltine: piano; John Webber: bass; Joe Farnsworth: drums), vocalist Alexis Cole brings a collection of jazz standards taking full advantage of the chemistry among the musicians. The group swings hard on the opening track “Golden Earrings,” with plenty of improvisation from Rotondi, Davis and Alexander.  “Delilah” opens a bit downtempo then evolves into walking bass-dominated blues, which seems to put Cole right in her comfort zone.  The ensemble takes Mancini/Mercer’s “Moon River” to a surprising direction – instead of the slow ballad we have all gotten accustomed to hear over the decades, here it is played quite up-tempo – bringing a new meaning to the “two drifters” mentioned in the lyrics – their quest is a happy one this time around.

Maybe the best known recording of “You’ve Changed” was done by Billie Holiday on 1958’s “Lady in Satin,” which turned out to be her last album released in her lifetime. Alexis Cole does not seem to have sought inspiration on that beautifully sad track, but instead she seems to draw from Ella Fitzgerald’s 1966 version, making it her own with her honestly heartfelt rendition. “A Beautiful Friendship” seems at first to lament the end of a friendship but later it is revealed that the couple is no longer in “the friend zone” and are now lovers. Originally recorded by Ella Fitzgerald as a ballad, here it has more of a bluesy feel in which Cole stretches her vocal range, and it also features a nice call-and-response between Rotondi and Cole throughout.

The title track (by Cole Porter) closes the disc the same way it began: a high-energy, swinging number highlighting all performers.  The disc seems to look back at past eras of jazz vocalists but not as something retro – this is probably indicating where vocal-band jazz should be going into the next decades.

 

You’d Be So Nice to come Home To

Alexis Cole with One For All

Venus Records, Inc.

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

 

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)

SummerStage in Central Park: Chicano Batman & Los Pericos at LAMC

by Ernest Barteldes

Chicano Batman + Los Pericos

LAMC at Summerstage in Central Park

July 15, 2017

 

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Chicano Batman

Los Angeles-based Chicano Batman came on stage with their Psychedelic-inspired sound, complete with Mellotron-based tunes and a look more suited to Ed Sullivan circa 1968 then Central Park in 2017, but I guess that is the message they want to convey. Though mostly a quartet, they were often enhanced by a pair of backing vocalists – one whom took over the keyboards when lead singer Eduardo Arenas either stepped away from the mic to sing lead or played guitar.

I half expected this edition of the LAMC to be a bit political given the current divisions in the United States, but was surprised that no one spoke of walls or anything related to the current president in this country: it was all about the music and little else. The band instead took the opportunity to showcase as many of their influences as possible, including a Cumbia-inflected tune and a ranchera in which the bassist took over the guitar while Arenas took over the bass guitar.

Chicano Batman has great chemistry together, but it seems they are not yet ready to play large stages like Rumsey Playfield.  There is no doubt about their talent – their instrumental moments were quite great – but they seemed a bit overwhelmed about being before a numerous audience like the ones often seen there – I guess we are looking at diamonds in the rough, and would be happy to learn they’ve evolved in coming years.

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Los Pericos

After a short break, Argentina’s Los Pericos brought a mix of funk and reggae with a Latin take – I felt they were very influenced by Brazil’s Paralamas do Sucesso – that got the audience moving from the moment they played their first chord.  They had great energy and effectively communicated with the crowd by calling on the different nationalities represented there.

Los Pericos has been around for three decades, and their set reflected that experience: the music went from disco-inflected moments to salsa and various other rhythms while never losing touch with their original influences. Since there were many in the audience who had probably never heard of them, the band jam-packed their set with their best material so people could know what they were about.  A handful of their tunes were in English – with lyrics that either talked about heartbreak or romantic defiance – but most were in their native Spanish.

It was a wonderful afternoon – I just wish the weather on Friday had been a bit better so I could have caught the showcase at Celebrate Brooklyn the previous night – it would have made for a much better musical experience.