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.

Preview: Mariza At Town Hall and NJPAC

Mariza

Saturday, October 15 at Town Hall

Sunday, October 16 at NJPAC (featuring Bebel Gilberto)

For more information visit Mariza.com

By Ernest Barteldes

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Back in 2009 I was fortunate to be in the audience at Carnegie Hall to hear Mariza sing in support of Terra, (2008) an album that was a bit of a crossover for her – in addition to the traditional fados that caused her to be called “the next Amalia Rodrigues,” she included songs like Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” (backed by Gonzalo Rubalcaba) and The Beatles’ “Yesterday” with a jazz-inflected treatment that was quite different from what you hear on the streets of Alfama.

At the time I was not aware that she was about to embark into a half-decade hiatus to dedicate herself to starting a family . I was glad that to hear she was ready to go back on the road when I was assigned to write a preview of her Krakow debut earlier this year, and was eager to hear her in the US again.

I guess I am getting my wish.

Mariza returns with “Mundo” (Nonesuch, 2016), a disc that  takes her music to yet a further direction, embracing pop, jazz and other genres with a little help of several guest artists who sometimes take the spotlight entirely away from her.

Produced by Javier Limon, the album blends more traditional fados with more modern grooves – the first example being “Paixao,” a ballad that begins with a more classical feel then incorporates electric bass and percussion – something not very commonly heard In an album of this genre – the impression I had was as if Queen’s Brian May had decided to produce the tune then decided not to multi-track his legendary Red Special guitar into it. Another great moment is “Padoce de Ceu Azul,” a ballad with a laid-back feel that gives a chance to hear Mariza outside of the usual dramatic sound of fado.

Fans of Lisbon’s signature sound should not worry – most of the tunes keep into the format, but I agree that Mariza should go beyond their comfort zone as Cristina Branco, Ivete Sangalo and others have done before her. But she is not just expanding, but bringing fado to the 21st Century – “Sem Ti” is clearly inside the genre but cleverly brings other elements to it – without completely breaking away.

I am not sure how Mariza is going to bring all the music together on a live format, but am certainly curious. She always has the ability to surprise audiences with unexpected surprises – at Carnegie Hall she had all the mikes turned off and did a few songs acapella the way it is done back home.

I can assure everyone in the audience – wherever they were – heard every note.

LAMC Shows at Summerstage and Celebrate Brooklyn

by Ernest Barteldes

I wish I had more time to attend everything that goes on at LAMC, but the truth is that this blog has not yet become profitable, and frankly I would rather not deal with some of the editors that have taken over some of the publications I used to write for (and the editors that were there before, they have all moved on to something else – as have I in a way).

So I did submit reviews of shows I attended at the venues above as part of the annual Latin Alternative Music Conference, but I’d like to share some of the more visual moments of those two evenings – stay tuned for actual reviews on All About Jazz soon.

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Hurray for The Riffraff played a very interesting World Music Set

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Hurray for the Riffraff at Celebrate Brooklyn

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More from Hurray to the Riffraff

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At Summerstage, Rodrigo Amarante… uh.. not really rocked anything. Just  navel-gazed for his entire set

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Tried to get what this dude was about, but he avoided anything anybody knew

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I tried to get it but… no

Outdoor Music: What to hear in July

by Ernest Barteldes

 

Last month I wrote about what to hear in June – since I was away in Poland for half of the month and thanks to the weekend glitches of the MTA, I was only able to hear one, which I recently reviewed for All About Jazz (I was going to run it in these pages, but I felt it would reach more readers there – I am not greedy). But now it’s time to look into July.

Please note that I am only writing about the free shows here – there are some interesting benefit concerts this month, but I chose to shine a light on the ones anyone can attend without shelling out.

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King Sunny Ade

I wouldn’t normally bother about shows during the Independence Day Weekend – everyone’s going to be somewhere else (myself included), but I do have some great recommendations for the next couple of weeks. But please note that the Nigerian legend King Sunny Ade will be at Summerstage on July 3 o what is his first North American tour since 2009  – so in case you will not be sunning yourself, don’t miss that show.

On  Thursday, July 7th,  a performance not to be missed is an evening of Indian-inspired music that begins with DJ Rekha (one of the leading Bangra MCs out there), and two of my personal favorite musicians: Karsh Kale, one of the most inventive songwriters I have ever heard.

About a decade ago, he joined forces with sitarist Anoushka Shankar (the daughter of Ravi Shankar and half sister of Norah Jones) for one of Breathing Under Water, one of the most brilliant World Music albums released in the 21st Century.  Closing the evening is the Sunny Jain-led Red Baraat, dubbed “one of the best party band around.”

I am sure to be there, even if I have an early start on Friday.

The second weekend in  July marks the highly anticipated (as far as I am concerned)  Latin Alternative Music Conference, an event that brings together media, musicians and labels for a smorgasbord of showcases, concerts and industry-related panel discussions – the most interesting for the general public being the free concerts they sponsor both at Summerstage and Celebrate Brooklyn.

On July 8, Rodrigo Amarante,  the co-founder of Brazilian rock band Los Hermanos and Orquestra Imperial (a samba supergroup that also features Moreno Veloso), takes the stage at Rumsey Playfield to showcase music from his debut solo album “Cavalo” (Horse). The evening also features Mexico’s Leon Carregui, one of this year’s breakthrough Latin artists. The next day, head over to Brooklyn to hear local Latin artists Buscabulla and Hurray for the Riff Raff and of course the headlining artist – Mexico’s Carla Morrison.

There aren’t many living jazz singers who I would say are among the greatest in history, but Diane Reeves (Queensbridge Park, July 27)  is surely among them.  Sex and The City fans will remember her belting out “Is That All There Is” on the season 5 finale, but I have paid attention to her for quite a while. She is incredibly versatile and tackles various genres without losing her signature style.  Opening for her is DJ Greg Caz, arguably the the most musically open-minded DJ in New York City – he not only loves music but has a deep knowledge of it that baffles me at times.

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Gregory Porter

Closing my recommendations for July is Gregory Porter (Celebrate Brooklyn, July 28) – his deep baritone and has you at hello, as I discovered when I first heard about him via the Starbucks app (gone are the days that they gave out music, thanks to their current partnership with Spotify). I heard him last year at Summerstage and was fascinated at his command of the stage and his captivating personality, and am eager to hear his music again in a live format.

Concert Review: Tito Nieves at East River Park

Tito Nieves at East River Park

Tito Nieves at East River Park

By Ernest Barteldes

Tito Nieves

Summerstage at East River Park Amphitheatre

August 4, 2015

New York, NY

Playing before a filled to capacity East River Park Amphitheater,  salsa legend Tito Nieves took to the stage backed by a 10-piece band and kicked the set with a high energy number that had those standing next to the stage pairing up to dance. He paused briefly to thank the audience for being there and saying he was happy to be ‘back home’ to the Lower East Side.  He then followed with the English-language “I’ll Always Love You” (not to be confused with the Dolly Parton hit of the same name).  He also coached the audience to scream at the top of their lungs (“for New York”) during an up-tempo number that celebrated being part of this city’s community.

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Nieves then stepped back to the backing microphones as he brought his three backing vocalists to the spotlight as each sang lead in one number – something you don’t usually see with major stars. One of the tunes name-called several Latin American countries and got a screaming ovation when Puerto Rico was mentioned. When Nieves returned to the lead microphone, he briefly spoke of the various Latin clubs he performed in New York, and tricked the audience when he mentioned a place that was not a club but a popular hotel.

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Nieves is regarded as “The Pavarotti of salsa”, and deservedly gets that nickname.  He has great energy and a potent voice – he has great communication with his fans, and sings each number with great feeling. That is especially true with tunes that have something deeper to say – an example of this is “Fabricando Fantasias,” a mid-tempo ballad about a bitter breakup and a man’s refusal to accept the end of a love affair.

Towards the end of the set, the pace picked up and became almost relentless – Nieves had a burst of energy at this point – songs just came one after the other with no pause.  At the encore he did a very up-tempo song in which he jumped and stopped the band for several fake endings that made the audience scream.

I was half hoping that Nieves would include a couple of songs from Unity (Universal Music), the Michael Jackson salsa tribute album he participated in earlier this year. That didn’t happen, but the choices were clearly crowd-pleasers for his core fans.  It was a lovely evening of Latin Music in just the right atmosphere.

Festival Review: The 2015 Latin Alternative Music Conference

By Ernest Barteldes

Latin Alternative Music Conference

Various Locations

July 8-12, 2015

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I must say that at first I felt reluctant to register for the LAMC this year – after all I now have a day job that does not allow me to fully participate events like these – sure, I do enjoy being part of them, but I feel bad that due to my hours I am unable to say, attend panel discussions or late-night music showcases when I have to be at work for most of the day and up and ready to face classrooms full of students.

Maybe if I had a desk job I could spend the day drinking coffee and dealing with paperwork, but students notice when a teacher looks hungover from lack of sleep – and probably assume your appearance has to do with something else. So ultimately I did the Brazilian thing and registered at the last minute, and decided to cover the event to the best of my abilities – something I will have to do until this blog grows into something – ahem – gainful.

On Wednesday afternoon I headed to the Affinia hotel in midtown Manhattan hotel to pick up my credentials and the gift bag that comes with various goodies, which included a compilation CD of some of the artists showcased at the event, the official T-shirt for the conference and some things – including a power pack for smartphone provided by Verizon, one of the event’s main sponsors this year and sat down to study the program and made plans for the shows I would attend. I knew the indie showcase that evening would be impossible but there would be a lot I could check out with my time availability.

After I wrapped up my classes at work, I returned to the hotel to check out the vendors – Gibson had a beautiful display of new guitars, and I spent some time trying them out. I am a huge fan of the brand (I actually own two of them) and I was eager to check out the new semi-hollow Les Paul model. It certainly did not disappoint – it had that sweet, mellow sound of the 335 with a very lightweight body.

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Later that evening I headed out to SOBs to catch the acoustic showcase.  Each band or soloist plays two songs to give the audience (mostly LAMC attendees) an idea of what the music is about. The evening kicked off with Argentina’s Estelares, who played two tunes – some were singing along with them, and they played with great confidence although they were out of their more electric comfort zone. They were followed by Raquel Sofia, a Puerto Rican singer-songwriter who has worked with several big-name artists and is now doing her own stuff.  She accompanied herself on guitar, and sang with lots of soul. I stayed for just one more singer – Chile’s Rodrigo Solo, who came backed by a small ensemble behind him – unfortunately I had a few personal things to do and could not stay any longer.

On Friday Renata and I headed over to Prospect Park, where Chile’s Astro was already on stage. Their music blended Latin electronica with psychedelic influences and other sounds.  Their sound was heavy on percussion but went into various directions. Some tunes were synth-heavy, almost with a 80s feel. The band members are very versatile, switching instruments throughout the set  – at one point there was something wrong with their electronic equipment, and they just played a punk-inspired tune on guitar, bass and drums with no apparent embellishments, proving their ability to adapt when something goes wrong – other bands might have just stopped playing until the problem had been solved.

After a brief break, Argentina’s Los Autenticos Decadentes took to the stage. They started out with a strong disco-influenced sound but their music is not limited to that at all – they play traditional music, cumbia, rock, drinking songs and other genres.  The band has a total of 12 members, and they switch lead vocals throughout the show.  The band is clearly meant to party to, and the audience responded to that by jumping and dancing through most of the set – the only exception being ballad they played halfway through. They overstayed their time and a presenter tried to make them stop – they responded by going into a short encore that left fans asking for more.

On Saturday we headed to Central Park to hear Mexico’s Ximena Sariñana. We almost didn’t make it in because the security guard at the press entrance questioned me why I don’t carry press ID (I am a freelance writer, this has never been an issue EVER) and then took issue with a selfie stick that had been given to me at the Affinia a day earlier.   I got angry and was ready to leave, but Renata had a cooler head and suggested we go through the main entrance, where no one gave us any problems. We then headed to the press table and got our passes and headed inside, where Uruguay’s No Te Va Gustar were wrapping up their set.

Sariñana came on backed by a six-piece band and kicked off with two fast-paced tunes, quickly going into a funky tune. Her set was packed with her singles including   “Sin Ti No Puede Estar Tan Mal,” the lead single from her 2014 album “No Todo Lo Puedes Dar” and also “Different,” an English-language tune from her second self-titled album.

Ximena

She is a highly talented artist who is poised to be the next Shakira if audiences are willing to pay attention. She is quite charming and is also a skilled keyboard player. She has yet to develop the stage presence of someone like Ivete Sangalo or Julieta Venegas, but at 29 she is definitely on the write path.

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The evening closed with an appearance by former Los Fabulosos Cadillacs’ vocalist Vicentico, who brought a mix of hard-hitting rock songs and romantic ballads reminiscent of Eros Ramazotti. He had fans singing along with him for many of the tunes – including some from his former band. One of the highlights was “Tengo Derechos,’ a poignant song about those who disappeared during Argentina’s brutal military regime, which he sang solely accompanied by his own acoustic guitar and a crowd of thousands.

The Latin Alternative Music Conference has been instrumental in bringing these and many Latin artists to the spotlight and also has brought some great stars to larger stages. I would probably not be aware of many of the bands I have written over the years if not for this conference – which I haven’t missed since I first heard about it.