Album Review: Chuck Loeb’s “Unspoken”

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by Ernest Barteldes

On  Unspoken (Shanachie, 2017) , legendary  Fourplay and Steps Ahead lead guitarist Chuck Loeb explores various sonic  textures over a collection of ten originals he either –except for one –  wrote or co-wrote. He kicks off the album with the up-tempo “Cotton Club,” a funk-driven tune that he dedicates to the staff of the eponymous Tokyo venue, which he describes on the liners as “my favorite jazz club in the world.”  The track was co-written with Jeff Lorber, who also contributes piano – including a dexterous solo – to it.

Loeb plays various instruments throughout the track – on tunes like “Natural Light” and Way Up High” he performs virtually everything except drums.  Though the arrangements to these tunes are relatively sparse, he uses them as a fodder to improvise more freely – on the former, Andy Snitzer contributes a mellifluous solo, while Loeb adds interesting textures on acoustic guitar.

The title track has a more downtempo feel, and features fellow Fourplay member Nathan East on electric bass and Brian Culbertson on piano. It’s the kind of track that makes you appreciate light jazz – accomplished, beautifully written and accessible.

“Si Se Puede” – which he dedicated to Barack Obama – has more of a bossa feel, with a more subtle arrangement that gives guest trumpeter Till Brönner plenty of space to stretch.  Way Up High (written by his daughter, Lizzy Cuesta) also has a bossa feel, featuring gentle vocals by his wife Carmen Cuesta, who also appears on the samba-driven “Voramar” and the trippy  “Via Verde,” which also includes daughter Christina Loeb on vocals and ukulele (the only appearance of the instrument on the album).

Unspoken is a great offering from Loeb – a concise and yet intriguing album that feels fresh after multiple plays – which this writer recommends to any fan of smooth jazz guitar.

 

Music Reviews: The Rolling Stones’ Blue and Lonesome + Putumayo Presentsa

By Ernest Barteldes

The Rolling Stones

Blue and Lonesome

Polydor

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As any fan of the Rolling Stones knows by heart by now, the band started out as mostly a blues band – like the Yardbirds, Alexis Korner and other contemporaries, they fed on the American music and went from there. That is quite evident from their self-titled debut album, which relied heavily on covers; including “Route 66” and Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You” (this was before they recorded Lennon-McCartney’s “I Wanna Be Your Man”).

Though they would often include blues themes in their subsequent records, they never really did a blues album until now. According to the liner notes on Blue and Lonesome, the idea came while they hit a snag while recording an original tune in December 2015 and decided to “clean the palate” with a rendition of Walter Jacobs’ “Blue and Lonesome,” and the idea was planted.  The band played live in the studio with wild abandon, almost sounding like a bunch of 20-year-olds as they went along.  In the studio next door was Eric Clapton, who was invited to contribute on a few tracks, and by the end of only three days the album was done.

The band – augmented by session musicians Darryl Jones (bass), Chuck Leavell (keyboards) and Matt Clifford (Wurlitzer) delivered one heck of disc – they sound energized and clearly happy to be doing this.  Jagger’s harp is second nature to him as well as his trademark voice.  Clapton contributed to “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” but he was subtle, mostly adding to Keith Richards’ lead guitar and doing his best to stay out of the way – you can hear this clearly on the latter, when you hear Richards on the left and Clapton on the right, both with their distinctive sound.

This is the essence of the Stones masterfully doing what they studied deeply for years and throughout their careers, not some opportunistic rock band trying to sell records by taking on the blues and failing miserably – examples abound out there without me having to name names.

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Putumayo Presents: African Rumba

Various Artists

Putumayo

 

When Angelique Kidjo took to the stage at Celebrate Brooklyn in the summer of 2016 for her Celia Cruz tribute, she stated that when she was in her native Benin, there were two artists that had superstar status:  The Queen of Salsa and James Brown – but she also said that Latin artists were highly respected, especially in the western part of the African continent.

As the liner notes of Putumayo Presents: African Rumba state, “in the 1930s a Cuban song called ‘El Manicero’ (The Peanut Vendor) became a worldwide hit reaching even in the heart of Africa The Ensuing popularity of Latin music and dance styles like the rumba, mambo and cha cha cha, which evolved into salsa, had a powerful effect on African music throughout the 1970s.”

“Latin music was so popular in Africa,” the notes add, “that when a 1974 concert featuring an array of international stars was organized in what was then Zaire, it wasn’t James Brown or B.B. King who filled the stadium but Cuba’s Celia Cruz and salsa star Johnny Pacheco who elicited the greatest response.”

This is quite evident in this Putumayo compilation that brings together music recorded   over the span of four decades, which shows how Latin influence shaped the music in that continent. Kicking off with “Aminata,” a duet by Cuban pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa and Senegalese bassist/singer Alline Wade recorded in 2015. The roots of the song are clearly African, but the beat and general feel is purely Cuban.  The same can be felt with Michel Pinheiro’s African Salsa Orchestra. A native of Benin, he found success later in life (he was a farmer for a long spell) in Abidjan, in The Ivory Coast. His “Paysan” has a slower tempo than most of the tunes on the disc, but it is very soulful thanks to his heartfelt vocal delivery.

Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loka were also supposed to appear at Celebrate Brooklyn in the summer of 2016, but the concert was cancelled for unknown reasons. A native of Congo based in Los Angeles, his music has a stronger Central African influence (especially on the guitars and percussion) with more low-key acoustic arrangements that focus more on the vocals and beat – perfect to dance while still enjoying the music, as can be heard on “Tata Masamba.”

Also notable is the earliest tracks in the collection – Orchestre OK Jazz’s “Micorasson,” which is basically misspelled  “Mi Corazón”  (“My Love”) dates from 1956 – the year Elvis made his first recordings for RCA.  The interesting thing is that they sing in phonetic Spanish even though none of them spoke the language but you can hear how hard they try – even if they slip in some of their native words.

This is a great introduction to a genre few Americans – except maybe for a die-hard World Music Fan – have ever been exposed to, and a fantastic starting point for those who want to get to know these musicians better.

My Polish Music Loot

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The vinyl section at Krakow’s Empik

By Ernest Barteldes

Anyone who knows me well is aware that I am a big music scavenger – give me enough time around a store and I’ll unearth some gems. I did that during all our trips to Brazil and also anywhere else we have enough time to stop and shop a bit. That of course happened when we started planning our latest trip to Poland. There are a handful of artists I follow, but imports are way too expensive, and for some reason neither iTunes nor Amazon carry mp3 albums by  artists I am interested in.

This time around it was not just about music.  Shortly before we left for Poland I had finished reading Zygmunt Miloszewski’s “A Grain of Truth” and learned that the movie version had been released on DVD. I had no way to find out if the film (which turned out to be superb – more on that in the future) had been popular in Poland, so I wasn’t sure I’d find it on shelves. Renata and I talked and decided to order a copy of the movie from Empik, a large retailer of music and books that has stores all over Poland (think Barnes & Noble when it was still cool) and ship it to Renata’s parents’ home.

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Secret by Anna Maria Jopek

When we arrived, the DVD was there waiting for us – and a couple of other orders Renata made to the same store. A few days later, I went out to look for music, but found the local store to be a bit scarce. They barely had any music from Anna Maria Jopek  – one of my all-time favorite Polish singers – in stock, and the titles they did have were already part of my collection. I bought Jopek’s Secret, her sole English-language album to date and browsed through their Polish music shelf, and found some albums by Chelm native Ania Dąbrowska.  I stumbled into her name while doing research for an unrelated article and found out she’d covered a Queen song during her participation on the Polish version of Pop Idol. I heard some of her music online and was quite impressed.  When I saw W spodniach czy w sukience? I immediately picked it up. The disc turned out to be a fun, retro-70s feel collection of songs with great arrangements, and I made a mental note to look for more of her music.

I was still a bit frustrated that I hadn’t found all the titles I needed, but then I had the idea of looking them up online and ordering in-store delivery and found her fantastic Id (featuring guest appearances of Branford Marsalis, Minu Cinelu, Richard Bona and Christian McBride) and one of her latest, the independently released Polanna, which she showcased during her recent US tour.  When I picked up the package, I again browsed through the music section and decided to pick up Dąbrowska’s  debut album Samotność po zmierzchu, which I found to be even more interesting than the previous one I got – plenty of clever basslines and jazz-inspired grooves with an uncompromising pop drive that is both radio-friendly and intriguing.

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Ania Dabrowka’s debut CD

As we moved on to Warsaw, Zakopane and Krakow, we kept on stopping at Empik stores – our hotels were all walking distance to local malls, and since we were walking by we would browse around. Renata was interested in health and fitness books and had been looking at some  written by Anna Lewandowska, the wife of Polish soccer star Robert Lewandowski.  While she decided which title to pick one, I noticed that there was a bargain bin, and among music I had no idea about was Bossa So Nice, a compilation of Brazilian music. I usually ignore those because most have tracks I already own, but this one was different – sure, there were those obvious Stan Getz recordings, but there were also a bunch of tunes I had never heard before – at least in those voices. The price was very low for a 2-disc set, so I picked it up – the first time I had ever seen or purchased Brazilian music in Poland.

 

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Bossa So Nice 

 

I am still working on listening to the stuff, so a more elaborate comment on them will come in due time. So far I have enjoyed most of them but have not formed much of an opinion for a proper review. But do check this music out if you can.

Music Preview: What to Hear in June: SummerStage & Celebrate Brooklyn

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McCoy Tyner

By Ernest Barteldes

 

I love listening to music in clubs or arenas, but nothing really compares to heading outside during the summer to enjoy concerts in the outdoors.  Sure, it’s sometimes sticky and horribly crowded, but on the bright side many of the concerts happen to be free or at a very low cost (Celebrate Brooklyn has a long-standing policy of a $3 donation), so it is a great opportunity to get to know artists that you might not have the opportunity to know about otherwise.

Over the years, I have discovered many new artists from all kinds of backgrounds – the first time I heard Colombia’s Aterciopelados, Mali’s Amadou & Mariam and Puerto Rico’s Calle 13 was either at Central Park SummerStage or at Celebrate Brooklyn. I really cannot tell you how many times I have attended shows at both venues, but many were amazing experiences (sure, there were a few duds too, but let’s forget about those for now) that I will not forget anytime soon.

I was going to write a single preview for the entire calendar for this season. However, I found that to be a daunting task, so I decided instead to pick some favorites for the month of June and give readers of this blog a better preview for every month until the concerts come to an end in August-September. The picks below are based on my own preferences and not by what someone might have told me, and I also avoided paid benefit concerts, so you will not find any listings for those shows even though they might be quite interesting.

Things kick off in an extremely interesting way with a salute to legendary jazz pianist McCoy Tyner – who I heard live for the first time at Central Park SummerStage, the same venue that is paying tribute to him this year on June 4th.  And what a band does he have behind him, all gods of music in their own right –  Ron Carter (bass), Wallace Roney (trumpet) and Roy Haynes (drums).  You could not ask for anything better, really – it is like dying and going to jazz heaven for one evening.

Celebrate Brooklyn is not too shabby either – their season opens with none other than Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings (June 8), who is known for her energetic performance style and overall great voice.  Like many African-American singers of her generation, she started out singing in church in Brooklyn and then gravitated to funk and soul in the 1970s, doing lots of backing session work. She was a late bloomer, and not until the late 1990s did she get her real break – and the rest, as they say, is history.

I have always thought that Yiddish music has not gotten enough attention – especially its more modern incarnations that have incorporated jazz tendencies and garnered more mainstream attention. A chance to catch this new wave of Yiddish music (the first time I heard these new direction was in a documentary about young Jews in Poland a few years back) will happen on June 15, when several stars come together for a mini-festival called Yiddish Soul: A Concert of Cantorial and Chassidic Superstars.

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Baaba Maal

Among the most influential Senegalese musicians around is Baaba Maal, a singer and guitarist who blends various musical influences (Celebrate Brooklyn, June 16). He sings in the unique Pulaar language, blending styles that go from more traditional rhythms to more popular sounds – including salsa. He will be sharing the spotlight with Lakou Mizik, a band formed following the devastating 2010 earthquake in their native Haiti.

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Angie Stone

Angie Stone (SummerStage at Betsy Head Park, June 22) got her first big break as part of the all-female outfit Sequence, when her voice led the hit 1979 “Funk You Up” (not to be confused with the recent hit “Uptown Funk,” which actually seems to borrow a lot from that old track), but it was not until the 90s when she established herself as a bona-fide solo act as one of the leading voices of the so-called “neo-soul” movement (a term many musicians have recently been avoiding). She recently released a new album entitled Dream (Shanachie Entertainment/Conjunction Entertainment/TopNotch Music), which takes her music into a whole new direction.

For fans of Afro-Latin beats, be sure to catch Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loka (Celebrate Brooklyn, June 24), a Congolese musician of Angolan roots. I recall hearing one of their earlier albums and was impressed by their sound – they include songs inspired by the Caribbean and also Brazil – once I had to check if I was still listening to the same disc, because they go into so many different directions that it can be a bit overwhelming – but thoroughly satisfying to the ear.

Come back to these pages for reviews of some of these concerts and also previews of what’s to come in the coming months – it should be a very, very interesting season indeed.

 

 

 

 

Single Review: Karar by Duke Guillaume

By Ernest Barteldes

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    “Karar” by Duke Guillaume

For those familiar with saxophonist and bandleader Duke Guillaume’s devotional work both as a solo artist and with The Metropolitan Big Band, this single is quite a departure. “Karar” seems to draw inspiration from the sonic mix more closely identified with South Florida, blending electronics with classic jazz and Latin-esque sensibilities (which probably explains the cover, which pictures the musician embracing the sun and the beach), tending to follow more a dance vibe than trying to sound too improvisational

While the main melody keeps on a straight dance beat, things get quite interesting in the chorus, where a Latin samba-reggae mood kicks in, taking you away from Florida and more into the streets of Bahia, where the Afro-inspired drums play as the crowds follow them through the narrow streets of the Historical District every Tuesday night. I also felt a bit of Puerto Rico’s reggaeton into the mix – a beat that has yet to be explored by jazz musicians.

You can check out the track below:

 

Concert Review: Laura Cheadle Band at Pianos

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Laura Cheadle Family Band

Pianos

Saturday, March 5th

New York, NY

 

Backed by James “Papa” Cheadle on keyboards, a Tina Young on drums and her own electric guitar, South Jersey-born Laura Cheadle took to the stage of New York’s Pianos opening with B.B. King’s 1980 hit “The Thrill Is Gone,” played in a faster groove than the original recording, showcasing her vocal range and rhythm guitar. Given the intimate setting, she ventured into the audience, encouraging everyone to dance along with her. She followed that with a very personal take on The Beatles’ “Come Together”, taking it into a more bluesy direction, contrasting with Lennon’s more psychedelic feel. Her mother was present at the gig, so she dedicated an inspired rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Love The Little Things About You” to her.

She then featured a few originals including a funk-laden tune about the end of a love affair, and also debuted a new tune called “Blues Hangs Out,” which got great applause from the audience, and then did a nice cover of James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” sticking close to the original. This was the first time I had heard Cheadle do so many covers in a single set. She also included a take on the classic soul tune “Train, Train,” a song that she said her parents – who recently celebrated their anniversary – danced to early in their relationship.

The stripped-down format (no lead guitar or extra keyboards, usually handled by her two brothers) specially showcased “Papa” Cheadle’s talents. He not only handles the keyboards, but also adds the bass textures to the music. He is an incredibly talented artist, but I do think that he would sound even better if Laura Cheadle added a bass player to her ensemble. Quite a few years ago she did have a bassist, but apparently things didn’t work out, and since Mr. Cheadle does handle the low frequencies on his keys (as The Doors did) I guess they probably decided that it was best to keep things that way.

Laura Cheadle is a highly gifted singer and songwriter with fantastic rapport with the audience. She is one of the few artists I have seen who integrates her family into the entire picture, acknowledging not only her father and musical director but all of those who have helped make who she has become.

Album Review: Hiromi/Spark

By Ernest Barteldes

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I have been following Hiromi’s career for quite a while – I have always been in awe not only of her unique approach to jazz piano but also her fiery performances  either as a bandleader or a side player with Stanley Clarke, which I was fortunate enough to hear not once but twice – at the Blue Note (with Lenny White on drums) and later that year at Central Park Summerstage.

When playing live, she becomes almost one with the music, using her entire body to deliver the music. She has incredible speed and her tunes mix more traditional contemporary jazz with electronic elements.  When performing with her band, the sound is incredibly tight, and their chemistry is palpable.

On Spark (Telarc/Concord), Hiromi reunites with the trio project from 2010’s “Move” (Telarc/Concord), which is rounded out by Anthony Jackson (electric bass) and Simon Phillips (drums).  The disc opens with the title track, a nine-minute tour-de-force that begins with a mellow, classically inflected piano solo that evolves into a progressive piece in which the bandleader exercises her creativity with a solid backbeat from the rhythm section.

“In a Trance” is a fast-paced in which Phillips doubles the entire piano’s notes with the drums – everything is played with incredible speed that it takes a few hearings to fully grasp everything, but just as you adjust the song changes pace into a Brazilian-like, laid-back feel before it goes back to the original melody.  Things don’t quite slow down until “Wake Up and Dream,” a mellifluous solo piano ballad reminiscent of 2009’s “Place to Be,” her only solo piano album to date. “Spark” closes with “All’s Well,” a straight-ahead, bluesy tune that allows the band to stretch and showcase a more playful side.

With “Spark,” Hiromi has not veered from her path of musical exploration, and the tunes have welcome twists that surprise even fans familiar with her previous works.

Hiromi

Spark

Telarc/Concord

2016