Music to Listen to in June: Bryant Park, BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn and Summerstage

By Ernest Barteldes 

In spite of a few rainy days and chilly mornings, June is finally here and with it comes the much-awaited outdoor concert series throughout the city at venues such as BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn (which opened on June 4th with an appearance by the great Patti LaBelle, while at Summerstage in Central Park things kicked off that same night with a lineup headed by the also legendary George Clinton & Funkadelic – making this season a promising one.  

Here I have some recommendations for the month of June, highlighting the free concerts. There are several benefits, but they are mostly sold out and honesty they don’t need my input about them anyway. For more details, please refer to the hyperlinks. 

On Friday, June 7th the music of the Caribbean is celebrated at The Bryant Park Latin Festival with a dance party that will include bachata, merengue and salsa. Headlined by La Sonora Nuyorkina and several guests, the five-hour event should be quite interesting – especially for lovers of Latin Music 

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IBEYI

On June 9thBrooklyn receives Cuban-French twins Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Díaz, who together form IBEYI. They are the daughters of late conguero Miguel “Anga” Diaz, a member of The Buena Vista Social Club. Their music is a blend of traditional and modern music, ranging from hip-hop to Yoruba and much more in between. The evening is rounded out by Philly-based one-woman band Orion Sun and Sudan Archives, the latter who also blends traditional and contemporary music into his music.  

The legacy of the great saxophonist John Coltrane is remembered with a concert in Central Park on June 15th featuring an all-star lineup of jazz musicians: The Coltrane – De Johnette – Garrison Trio, formed by Ravi Coltrane (John and Alice Coltrane’s son), veteran drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Matthew Garrison. The opener will be jazz cellist Brandee Younger, It is one of these concerts that is not to be missed. 

The Stonewall Riots that were seminal for the early days of the quest for LGBTQ rights in America (although there had been a solid movement going on for quite some time before that)  celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2019, and this is commemorated with multiple events – at Summerstage, the all-male comedy ballet company, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, perform classic works from their own perspective using great humor and class.  

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Musiq Soulchild (Ernest Barteldes)

Sheila E. is probably best known for her association with Prince in the 80s, but she has had a long career of her own both as a bandleader and a sidewoman for the likes of Marvin Gaye, Ringo and His All-Starr Band and Beyonce, to name a few. For this night, dubbed “Only in Queens Festival,” she leads a band that includes contemporary soul singer Musiq Souchild and local Queens dancehall artist Kranium 

Les Negresses Vertes is a French alternative band with a long history dating back from the 80s. formed by a group of Parisian friends with no serious professional backgrounds, they were originally led by singer-songwriter Helno, but his time in the band was brief- he was a heroin addict and ultimately died from consequences of his drug abuse in 1993. After some lineup changes following his death, the band continued performing and adopted a more dub-influenced sound. They will be heading the lineup for Fete de la Musique on Sunday, June 24 in Central Park.

Chucho Valdés is undoubtedly one of the greatest Cuban pianists of his generation – following in the footsteps of his father, Bebo Valdés (1918-2013) and the father of Chuchito Valdés, he is one of the most respected musicians from his country, and one of the most innovative as well. Still active at 78, he recently released Jazz Bata 2, a sequel of sorts of his seminal 1972 album of the same name. Sharing the bill is Cuban-born, New York-based drummer Dafnis Prieto, another creative voice  that takes the music to the next generation. They appear at Celebrate Brooklyn on June 26.  

The month closes with Concha Buika, a fantastic Spanish singer with a dramatic voice that blends flamenco, jazz, Afro-fusion and R&B into her unique sound. She has collaborated over the years with the likes of Portuguese fado singer Mariza, Brazil’s Ivan Lins and many more. She is one of the few Afro-European flamenco singers out there, and she represents all of her heritage without losing her signature dramatic sound that is recognizable the moment you hear her voice. Buika appears at Celebrate Brooklyn on June 30 

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Music Reviews: Two From Poland, One From Brazil

By Ernest Barteldes

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As I have written here before, Warsaw-based Monika Brodka has had an interesting trajectory over her career.  A winner of Poland’s version of Idol back in 2004, she started out her recording career with two very mainstream albums early on that got her a lot of radio play (the songs from those releases are still featured on pop radio to this day), but then she took a whole different direction: she went through a four-year hiatus and reemerged with Granda (2010, Sony Music), which took her music to a more alternative direction, and followed that up with the English-language EP Lax (Kayax,  2012) and more recently Clashes (Kayax, 2016), which took her music to even more experimental territory.

The last three releases are the focus of MTV Unplugged (Kayax, 2019), her first release captured live in the southeastern city of Lublin in 2018 in reimagined versions that depart dramatically from the studio versions of the same tunes, starting with “Can’t Wait for War,” which features what at first I thought was a Theremin but turned out to be a saw played with a bow – something that I have only heard before on the New York City subway. Her take on “Varsovie,” an ode to her adopted city is also surprising, with mostly acoustic elements replacing the mostly electronic feel of the studio recording.

Although it’s an “unplugged” album, there are several non-acoustic instruments on the record – Brodka plays a semi-acoustic guitar, and so does her lead guitarist. While her bass player performs with a ukulele bass for most of the set, an electric bass (probably a Fender P-bass) can be heard on some tracks.

Notable tracks include “Syberia,”which brings l guest Krszystof Zalewski on guitar and vocals – it’s quite an intimate setting, with Brodka playing a six-string banjo (tuned as a guitar).  The tune is not that different from the studio recording, which was also played on acoustic guitar, but the two-part harmonies and the banjo bring an extra texture to the song, which is mostly a filler on Granda, and also “Santa Muerte,” an English-language tune from Clashes that features fellow Idol alum Dawid Podsiało. The arrangement that is incredibly close to American bluegrass thanks to Brodka’s banjo, the strings and the wandering saw, which adds an eerie feel to the tune.

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Anna Maria Jopek has a history of collaborating with many respected musicians including Brazil’s Ivan Lins, France’s Mino Cinelu and others, but Ulotne (“Elusive,” Universal Music Polska, 2018) is only her third album done as a full collaboration with another artist (the others being Upojenie, her 2002 collaboration with Pat Metheny and Minione, her 2017 album with Gonzalo Rubalcaba), in this case being legendary saxophonist Branford Marsalis, with whom she recorded a couple of tracks with on 2008’s live Jo & Co (Universal Music Polska).

Featuring mostly original material penned by Jopek and her husband and main collaborator Marcin Kidryński, the album flows beautifully track by track – the musicians (rounded out by Cinelu, Maria Pomianowska, Robert Kubiszyn, Pedro Nazaruk, Marcin Wasilewski, and Atom String Quartet) have all worked together before either on a live format or in the studio, and the chemistry can immediately be felt throughout. Marsalis is featured on every track, while the supporting band gives a solid backup without getting in the way. As in most Jopek album, there are a plenty of multi-tracked vocals, but they are subtler than in earlier releases – the direction here seems to be make everything as organic as possible.

The deluxe version of the album features four extra tracks, one being Pożegnanie z Marią, a song beautifully recorded as a tribute to recently deceased trumpeter Tomaz Stanko, who wrote the tune.

 

Carnaval in Brazil is fast approaching, and given the election of extreme right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro, who was voted in with promises of restoring “traditional values” to the country, it is expected that some will not be too happy about it. One of the first songs to reflect this is “Proibido o Carnaval,” a single by openly gay singer Daniela Mercury and legendary singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso.

The song, which translates as “Forbidden Carnaval” wax against censorship and the anti-LGBT attitude of Bolsonaro and his cabinet, turning his own words against him and vowing not to allow the right spoil the party for those who don’t want to become stereotypes.

I am not sure how the tune has been received in Brazil, but after several plays on my phone I can say that some will frown upon the words – but it’s not like anyone who agrees with Veloso and Mercury will care.

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.

 

Weekend Music in Review: Frank Haye & Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, Brazil Summerfest featuring Elza Soares and Liniker & Os Caramelows at SummerStage in Central Park

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Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir

By Ernest Barteldes 

 

Frank Haye & The Brooklyn Interdenominational  

Gospel Choir 

BRIC at Celebrate Brooklyn 

August 4, 2017 

 

The Brooklyn Interdenominational Gospel Choir  – backed by keyboards, bass, guitar and horns – opened their short set by blending secular and Christian music, including snippets from Nina Simone’s “Ooh Child,” Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” and the Temptations’ “My Girl” and then drifting into a bluesy slow-tempo religious tune that set the tone for the remaining of their set – the music went in various directions, and included a song that challenged the singer as the key was modulated several times.  

One of my favorite moments was a country-inspired number whose lyrics spoke about self-doubt and finding your faith in spite of everything – which then went into the grand finale with the classic “Oh Happy Day” featuring a contralto that blew everyone away with her great energy and vocal prowess.  

The concert was followed by a screening of Creed with a live score performed by the Wordless Music Orchestra, which will be returning to the Prospect Park Bandshell on August 10 for a performance backing Selma fronted by Jason Moran 

 

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Liniker & Os Caramelows

Linikner & Os Caramelows + 

Elza Soares 

Brazil Summerfest at SummerStage 

In Central Park 

August 5, 2017 

 

The annual Brasil Summerfest – a weeklong festival showcasing Brazilian talent –  kicked off at SummerStage with Liniker & Os Caramelows, a large ensemble led by dress-clad Liniker Barros, a powerful singer who prefers to be considered genderless – on an early interview with a Brazilian newspaper, Liniker identified as “gay, black and poor” but hell the band can swing! Their music navigates from blues to funk but their roots are deeply rooted in Tropicalismo – Brazil’s response to Psychedelics that made musicians like Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa and Baby Consuelo household names in their native country. 

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Elza Soares

Elza Soares came on with a selection of music from “Mulher Do Fim Do Mundo,” her first release in over a decade. As Sao Paulo’s Folha de Sao Paulo noted, fans who were hoping to hear familiar sambas might have been a bit disappointed as she focused on new material – she sang seated on a a throne because of current back problems – but it was a stellar performance nevertheless. Due to current political problems in Brazil, the event was politically charged – some fans were screaming “Fora Temer” throughout the set (because many on the left want to get rid of embattled conservative president Michel Temer) – something she encouraged between songs.  

Soares acknowledged the “young Sao Paulo musicians” who made her album possible and kept on going with more alternative material – fans in the audience seemed well-schooled in the material and sang along with every song. Soares did veer into some more traditional material towards the end, but this was definitely her statement – she was not interested in rehashing the past but to look to the future instead – this was definitely not your grandma’s Elza Soares.

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.

People’s Champs + Musiq Soulchild at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn

Musiq Soulchild

With People’s Champs

BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn

July 7, 2017

Article and photos by Ernest Barteldes

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Musiq Soulchild

A near-capacity crowd filled the Prospect Park Bandshell as Brooklyn-based People’s Champs took to the stage with a selection of Afrobeat-inspired, funk-driven original material that blended organic tunes with electronic elements – several of the bandmembers switched instruments while the two vocalists alternated tunes. At one point during their set they delved into contemporary soul and reggae, moving the crowd that was mostly there for the evening’s top-billed artist.

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People’s  Champs

I was surprised to see that Musiq Soulchild came on with a very small backup band – just bass, guitar and drums (even though the bassist often went into the keyboards).  Soulchild seemed proud to keep things simple, and early in the set he mentioned that he had “no backup singers,” and told the audience that they would be handling those vocals instead.

Early into the set heavy rain began pouring but the audience – some with no umbrellas – did not move as they were already involved with the music. He alternated the songs between more mellow neo-soul material to more uptempo tunes. One of the audience favorites was “Don’t Change,” a gentle ballad about the unchanging feelings of a man towards his lover as time goes by.

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The backing band was solid – the rhythm section kept the sound solid, allowing the guitarist to slightly improvise around the melodies. Soulchild had great command of the stage, and got the audience to sing along with his hits – especially the ballads.

It was a highly enjoyable set, which was only dampened by the heavy rain and the fact that he did not return for an encore – something almost unheard of at Celebrate Brooklyn.

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