Album reviews: Putumayo’s “Cuba Cuba,” Hendrik Meurkens & Roger Davidson’s “Oração Para Amanhã,” MUH Trio’s “Prague After Dark” and Anna Maria Jopek’s “Haiku”

by Ernest Barteldes

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On this Putumayo release, contemporary and more traditional Cuban music come together to form this comprehensive collection of the music of the country whose music has been a global reference in spite of the controversial political issues that have kept  both countries at odds for so long.

The collection opens with Soneros de Verdad’s “A Buena Vista,” a lively tribute to the success of the collective that has had reached global success, and sets the tone for the rest of the album. We delve in the past a bit with Al Valdes’ “Guajira,” an uptempo instrumental recorded in Peru in the mid-sixties that has since become legendary, showing strains of American jazz and other sounds that would later be explored by  groups like Irakere, which at one time featured Arturo Sandoval, Chucho Valdes and Paquito D’ Rivera (which sadly are not featured on this compilation, in band form or solo). Other highlights include a new rendition of “Chan Chan” – arguably Buena Vista Social Club’s best-known tune, and Jose Conde’s “Puente a Mi Gente,” a 2004 tune that reached out to his people on the island (he was born in Miami), hoping for a better connection between the US and his ancestral land.

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Pianist  Roger Davidson and German-born harmonica player/vibist Hendrik Meurkens both have a close relationship with the music of Brazil, and it’s a thrill to hear them coming together for “Oração Para Amanhã (Soundbrush), a live recording made at New York’s Zinc Bar featuring all-original music by Davidson. Backed by Eduardo Belo (bass) and Adriano Santos (drums), the disc kicks off with “September Samba,” an uptempo tune featuring Muerkens on vibes. Muerkens then goes to his harmonica to lead on “Sonho da Tarde,” a complex tune with a low-key feel .  “Oração Para Amanhã” is definitely a love letter to Brazil, and both musicians treat the music with the respect it deserves, using American jazz tendencies to enhance the sound, but never to take it away from where it belongs.

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“Prague After Dark” (JMood Records) came to me all the way from Italy via Facebook friend and pianist Roberto Magris. Recorded in The Czech Republic with his MUH Trio (Magris, Frantisek Uhlir: bass; Jaromir Helesic: drums), it is a highly enjoyable straight-ahead album featuring mostly original music penned by all three members of the trio. I particularly enjoyed “Nenazvana,” an uptempo tune by Uhlir with a samba feel that features an extended solo from its writer. Also notable are “Iraqi Blues,” which takes a more serious tone in what is mostly an upbeat album, and the inspired cover of “Love in Vain.” Make sure to check it out, it’s rare when music like this reaches the other side of the pond.

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Also hailing from Central Europe is Polish singer Anna Maria Jopek, whose Japanese-inspired “Haiku” (independently released) finally got to my hands. Originally released in 2013 alongside her Luso-inspired “Sobremesa” and her Polish folk song dedicated “Polanna” (it could be purchased as a box set as well, but I have never seen it in stores – and I looked hard during my last visit to Poland), it is a collaboration with pianist Makoto Ozone that delves both in more traditional music and pretty hard jazz.  It closes the trilogy well – it is a well-thought record that explores a lot of nuances between Polish and Japanese music – including the kind of jazz played in both countries these days. On an interview I conducted with her a few years back, she stated that “We recorded the “Haiku” album with a Polish-Japanese band lineup in just four hours, as if we were spirited.” Quite impressive results, I should say.

What to hear in June – Summerstage and Celebrate Brooklyn 2017

by Ernest Barteldes

 

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I don’t think I need to tell you how much I love attending outdoor concerts. As much as I appreciate our various indoor venues and how some of them go above and beyond to bring diverse voices to their stages, my one musical love is to stand under the hot sun – or the stars  – and enjoy some music without drink minimums or any other restriction regularly imposed by club managers.

For this reason, it is with great expectation that I look forward to the summer months when music comes outdoors, because these musicians have a chance to reach audiences they might never reach out to otherwise –  things would be segregated among the ‘jazz,’ ‘world’ or whatever pocket genre your next tastemaker might come up with.

Among the various events I love to attend are Summertage (once limited to Central Park but now a citywide event) and Celebrate Brooklyn – they are both works of love for all those involved, including this writer –   there is no price to pay for the many memories created by each of the shows I have attended over the years.

Which brings me to my selections for the month of June for both venues – but let me note that I am only commenting on the non-benefit shows – the others get plenty of coverage on their own without my help.

Summerstage gets things running on June 3rd with an opening event featuring the great Mavis Staples (remember “I’ll Take You There?” ), who I wrote about when she played at the same stage in 2008, generating one of the best quotes I have ever heard on stage in my life: “Mississippi is a great place to come from, but it is even a better place to get away from” following a rendition of “Down in Mississippi,” a tune that reminded us of the pain so many went through during the Jim Crow era, which she helped – at least legally – get rid of.

 

Over at Celebrate Brooklyn things begin to get interesting with some soul that brings together Alice Smith, Bilal and Kris Bowers (June 10th) ,all fantastic artists in their own right. Bilal is one of my personal favorites of the three due to his ability to bridge between genres, often contributing with jazz, Latin and rock artists and sounding comfortable among all of them.

Another legend – one of the engineers of funk – is George Clinton, who will be playing with his longtime band Parliament Funkadelic on June 11th  as part of the Only in Queens Festival (associated with Summerstage). It should be a magical night at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, and will certainly be worth the ride on the 7 train.

Fête de La Musique (June 26th)  brings some new French music to the foreground – my personal highlight is German-born Ayo, whose 2006 debut single “Down on My Knees” has stayed with me and has also become attached to memories of a 2014 trip to Europe, when the song played at a restaurant in Krakow  – whenever I hear the tune it takes me back to that unlikely place in my life. It is a song in which the narrator pleads for her lover not to go away and reminds him (her?) of the things they have shared.

My great appreciation for Robert Glasper (June 25, Central Park)  is not a secret – I have reviewed his albums and live performances over the years. His approach to jazz is quite unique as he blends elements of jazz and contemporary music (hip-hop, soul) with a political edge – he collaborates with folks you don’t usually associate with jazz, such as Erikah Badu and Bilal, to name a few – and is humble enough to go on the road as a supporting musician for Maxwell – one of the pioneers of the contemporary sould movement.

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Lila Downs

June closes with Lila Downs (Celebrate Brooklyn, June 29) , who is one of my top 10 favorite female singers. She is one of the few musicians I know who can tackle pretty much any genre while staying true to her Mexican roots. I have been following her music since I saw her at a downtown concert in which she shared the bill with Brazil’s Luciana Souza – I was immediately hooked by her expressive voice and stage presence. I must have seen her live at least ten times since and am surely looking forward for this one.

Album reviews: Nouvelle Vague’s “I Could Be Happy” and Laura Cheadle’s “Chill” EP

By Ernest Barteldes

I first discovered Nouvelle Vague about a decade ago, when someone handed me a copy of 2006’s Bande a Part, an album which contained very creative treatments of tunes like U2’s “Pride – In The Name of Love” in a a samba-bossa groove and Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself” in what could be described as a tongue-in-cheek dance feel.

I have followed them since even though I seem to miss them every time they perform Stateside, this year being no exception. I love the way they recreate the covers they record in a manner that is almost incomparable – tunes feel completely different than the original, and you don’t have that feeling of “why cover this one?” since they have that original feel even if the song is amazingly familiar.

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Such is the case of I Could Be Happy, the first to contain original material by Olivier Libaux and Marc Colin, the band’s longtime leaders. The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” is played in sleepy down tempo beat reminiscent of the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping” that gives the lyrics new meaning – gone is the rebellious feel of the original and instead is that feeling of someone who simply doesn’t want to get out of bed. Also notable is Richard Bell’s “Love Comes in Spurts,” reinvented here as an electronic ballad that deeply contrasts with the original’s punk arrangement.

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Among the independent artists that get our attention, New Jersey-based Laura Cheadle is one of the most frequent – basically because she has great passion on a live setting, is a gifted songwriter and also because she is fortunate enough have a live band mostly formed by her family members – all gifted musicians in her own right.

Cheadle’s new (download-only) EP entitled Chill kicks off with “Conversations in My Mind,” a soul-tinged tune whose lyrics question the narrator’s judgments about her own life. It has a simple but catchy melodic groove and a nice hook that stays in your head for quite some time. Also notable is “See The World With Me,” a gentle ballad about living life beyond the everyday grind.

I also enjoyed the treatment she gave to the cover of the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love.” While the original (which Phil Collins pretty much copies) was about warning young girls about falling in love too easily, her down-tempo version sends a different message: here is a love-worn woman who is about to give up on finding someone – anyone – but realizes that the best things in life take time even if it breaks your heart every single time.

Though I enjoy hear her on record, the best way to enjoy her music on a live format – those in New York can confirm what am talking about at Piano’s on April 15th – an awesome way to drown out those tax-day sorrows in anticipation of Easter Sunday – or Passover.  Or just another Sunday.

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

By Ernest Barteldes

Colecao

Marisa Monte

Universal Music

David Feldman

Horizonte

Self-released

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music Review: “Fio da Memoria” by Luisa Maita

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By Ernest Barteldes

Six years is a long time to wait between albums for a new artist, but Sao Paulo-born Luisa Maita seemed to have made the right choice in this case.  Since the release of her much acclaimed debut album Lero Lero (Cumbancha), she did a lot of touring (including many stateside appearances), collaborated with various Brazilian musicians and collected various awards in recognition of that first album.

The formula of Lero-Lero was quite simple: a modern take on bossa and samba-inspired tunes with a creative edge.  When I heard that album, she reminded me a bit of Marisa Monte, who does a lot of experimentalism with her music but keeps a firm grip on more traditional beats.  She could have simply stayed the course and done more of that, but she clearly decided to go into a completely different direction with her second album.

Fio da Memoria” is more of a rock-fusion album:  distorted guitars are front and center, but the rhythm is pure Brazil. For instance, “Olé” has a lot of electronics going on, but the percussion is clearly influenced by the sounds of Northeastern Brazil, while “Porão” has a Maracatu feel. The title track is a refreshing electric samba (close to the work of +2 , the leaderless music collective formed by Moreno Veloso, Kassin and Domenico Lanceloti), while “Folia” is pure Bahia samba, with a full percussive group behind Maita’s voice – and little else.

“Fio da Memoria” takes a few plays to totally sink in – though most of it is fun to listen to, it is also music that makes you think thanks to its clever arrangements and the way the instruments are played – there are quite a few surprises as the music plays. An example of this is “Volta,” a tune that begins with layered vocals and a curious line –  until the drums come in behind a three-part harmony  that take you into a 70s-influenced slow funk.

In a year filled with so much music that made little sense, “Fio da Memoria” is quite refreshing – the music is both smart and enjoyable, and makes this one of the best World Music releases of 2016.

 

Music Review: Ania Dąbrowska’s Dla Naiwnych Marzycieli

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by Ernest Barteldes

 

As I have written in earlier posts, I stumbled into the music of Polish pop singer Ania Dąbrowska quite by accident – I was looking into something I can’t even remember and her name sort of popped up. I got curious and found out she is from Chełm, , the southern Polish city my wife also comes from.

During our recent visit to my wife’s homeland, we visited several stores looking for music to bring back home (sure, I could have used iTunes for some titles but prices for regular CDs are much better there), so during a stop at the local Empik  I picked up a few of Dabrowska’s first few releases and proceeded to check them out. I was impressed with how she seems to want to surprise listeners from time to time with interesting arrangements that include bass solos (she does play the instrument, but the liners don’t give us much information on that matter),  flutes and other instruments that you don’t often come across in pop albums.

After we came back home I purchased the MP3 version of her sixth release, Dla Naiwnych Marzycieli, and gave it a few spins.  Though I haven’t heard all of her albums yet, I can say this is arguably her best album yet. She has veered a bit from the retro feel of earlier efforts and embraced a more contemporary direction – that can be felt immediately on the opening track, “Nieprawda,” a keyboard-led reggae with a catchy hook that gets you moving from the start, and also on “Gdy Nic Nie Muszę,” a jazz-inflected tune led by brush drums, keyboards and woodwinds.

Other notable tracks include “Bez Chiebe,” an R&B-inspired ballad with multi-layered vocals and a nice guitar-centered arrangement and “I’m Trying to Fight It,” the sole English-language track on the disc, whose lyrics speak about the hardships of moving on after the end of a breakup. The piano-based title track has poignant vocals, and “Nie Patrzę” sounds like something that could be played in American Top 40 radio – but good.

The lead single on the album is the power ballad “W Głowie” – its accompanying video plays as  a short action movie in which she escapes a couple of assassins inside what seems to be a shopping mall parking lot with the help of a mysterious black man – most of her videos play like that, telling the story in an almost cinematic manner.

Dąbrowska is a singer worth checking out. She has clearly evolved since her early Polish Idol days (I read somewhere that she has appeared on her country’s version of The Voice as a judge, but I didn’t have a chance to see an episode while I was there). Her music is smart and quite engaging – even if like me, you don’t have a clue what she is singing about.

Terence Blanchard at Summerstage/Clove Lakes Park – August 5, 2016

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Terence Blanchard at Clove Lakes Park

Article and pictures by Ernest Barteldes

Terence Blanchard & E-Collective

Summerstage at Clove Lakes Park

Staten Island, NY

August 5, 2016

 

 

On an evening dedicated to the memory of Eric Garner, the Staten Island African-American dad killed while in police custody (members of his family were in attendance) in 2014 there were a handful of performers and activists on stage before the headlining artist went on stage – including a young  woman who did a spoken word piece on police violence and the consequences it has on the different communities around the nation and a statement by New York City Councilwoman Debbie Rose.

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Spoken word, beautifully made. 

Shortly after that Terence Blanchard came on stage backed by a quartet (bass, keys, drums, guitar) starting with the complex title piece from his album “Breathless” – entirely recorded in tribute to Garner – that included a four-part harmony on his synth trumpet.  The piece was very contemporary and pretty much centered on his instrument –  he had little connection with the audience and didn’t seem interested on their feedback  – something he seemed to be focused on doing for the entire evening.

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Blanchard and his synth trumpet

The pieces went from contemporary jazz to jazz-rock but with no New Orleans connection – something I had hoped to hear that night considering the bandleader’s roots.  The band was incredibly well-rehearsed and tight but seemed unable to connect except for one moment when the guitarist really rocked out and had the audience applauding.  Blanchard used a lot of effects on his trumpet and sometimes drowned out the band entirely as he experimented with the various extraneous sounds he was able to create with his horn.

This was an evening of hard jazz – probably a bit off for a park on Staten Island, but I guess audiences need to be taken out of their comfort zones at times. I did not expect to hear this kind of music there, but I did enjoy it at times.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that Blanchard is a fantastically talented musician, but from what I have been listening live over the years  he seems to have become one of these jazz cats who play at the peak of their  intellectuality and technique and not seem to care about fans. Then again, being this a concert in memory of a victim of police brutality maybe the tone was appropriate – but most of the audience was not aware of that)

It was not a bad show overall, but it was not what I was expecting to hear. He barely communicated with the crowd, and when he did he seemed a bit uncomfortable doing so. A show clearly aimed at jazz purists or those interested in really out there material – suitable for a club or a jazz festival. Another reviewer focused on the social part of the evening, but I’d rather look at the music on its own.