Anoushka Shankar + My Brightest Diamond at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn

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Anoushka Shankar

Anoushka Shankar + 

My Brightest Diamond 

BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn 

July 20, 2018 

By Ernest Barteldes 

 

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

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

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

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My Brightest Diamond

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Mariza at Summerstage/Central Park

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The Stage at Central Park

Summerstage at Central Park

June 23, 2018

New York, NY

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Mariza

On her debut Summerstage appearance,  Angolan-born and Portugal-based Mariza took to the stage backed by a five-piece band (accordion, percussion, Portuguese guitar, acoustic guitar and bass) to promote mostly material from her self-titled album (Warner Portugal, 2018), which of this writing was not yet available in the US market even though she mentioned it several times during the show.

The set opened with “Sou do Fado,” a traditional tune that has become a staple on her performances – it is a longing number in which she stretches her vocals, utilizing the melisma that are so common to the genre.  She then followed by a ballad  with few fado characteristics – something that has become more and more common on her records starting from 2008’s Terra, which included tunes by  Brazil’s Ivan Lins and also a cover of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” which she performed during the tour in support of that album that year.

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Mariza

Among the highlights was an original tune named “Ja Passou,” a ballad dedicated to her young son. The expression is common in Portugal, and it means that the “pain is over” (the term was actually used on the Luso-Portuguese version of “Let It Go” from the soundtrack of the movie “Frozen”), and it is usually told to young children when they get hurt in some way.

Hearing Mariza in an outdoor setting was quite refreshing, because in previous U.S. stops she mostly performed in theaters, and was interesting to hear her outdoors, and wondered how the outside temperature would affect her singing.  The truth is, it didn’t, and she sang with the same potency and passion that she has delivered in previous shows.

 

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

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By Ernest Barteldes

 

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

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

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

 

You’d Be So Nice to come Home To

Alexis Cole with One For All

Venus Records, Inc.

Monika Brodka: My 2017 Polish Music Discovery

By Ernest Barteldes

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Brodka (publicity)

Shortly before my last trip to Poland last September (where I attended a wedding and spent a few days exploring Chelm, I had a chat with one of my students and told her how much I admired the work of singers like Anna Maria Jopek and Ania Dąbrowska, and she recommended I check out Monika Brodka, who she described as “really innovative.”

I looked her up and learned that like Dąbrowska, she was an alumna of the popular “Idol” franchise, having won the competition during the 2004 season. She was quickly signed by Sony/BMG and made two very pop-friendly  discs (Album and Moje Piosenki, released in 2004 and 2006) under the production of Bogdan Kondracki (who also produced Dąbrowska’s first three albums).

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“Album” and “Moje Piosenki”

I found both albums at Chelm’s Empik in a two-in-one package labeled “Made in Poland,” apparently part of a series meant to promote the country’s pop-rock artists. Among my favorite tracks from those are a mellow cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “Let Me Make It through the Night” (from “Album) and “Glock” (from “Moje Piosenki”), which showcase her vocal potential and also her ability to make a song her own.

Although very enjoyable, neither album stands out – possibly because of Kondracki’s very mainstream sounding production that made them sound almost undistinguishable from Dąbrowska’s first two discs or anything else he touched during that era. Brodka’s albums were nevertheless well received and are still on regular rotation on Polish radio stations like RMF and Eska.

Brodka took a considerable break from making studio recordings and re-emerged in 2010 with Granda, (“Brawl”), an 11-song masterpiece which is incredibly different from anything she’d done before, with nods to electronica and jazz without losing touch with a more pop-rock feel. It is quite adventurous and goes into various directions. The title track is a punk-ish rocker with a pounding bass and some extraneous background sounds, while “Saute” seems to revisit the psychedelic era without sounding dated.

In between albums she released the EP LAX” (which is simply a reference to Los Angeles, where the tracks were recorded), which contained “Varsovie,” a haunting English-language ode to her adopted hometown.

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Clashes

2016’s “Clashes” took things to an even more experimental direction – since she is now signed to an independent label, she has more freedom to do what she wants without having to compromise to whatever the suits might want her to do.  I believe that she is aware of the shock value of the music and of course her looks – like performing with a shaved head.

“Clashes” is not easy listening – there are clear influences from Bjὄrk, the post-punk sounds of Patti Smith and others I have not been able to identify – it’s a disc that has to grow on you after repeated hearings.

Check out “Clashes” here

 

My Polish Music Loot: Anna Maria Jopek, Monika Brodka and… The Beatles

By Ernest Barteldes

 

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Cover art for Brodka’s “Clashes”

Whenever we travel abroad, I always try to bring home some of the country’s local music, and I make a point of visiting local music stores and pick out some interesting albums not easily found in the US market or on download – so on our fourth trip to Poland (for a wedding – more on the travel blog) I made a stop at Chelm’s Empik  and picked out a few albums.

The quantity was not as high as in previous trips since we were in the country for just a few days and there were only a few titles I was thinking about – but there were a few discoveries that I am glad to have found just by browsing through the store.

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Cover art for Niebo by Anna Maria Jopek

Regular readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of Polish World Music singer Anna Maria Jopek, and that I have been slowly purchasing her full collection – in the last a few months I found many of her albums on Walmart.com (don’t ask me why they carry imported albums, but they do) but one that eluded me was Niebo (Universal, 2006), her tenth release in which she continued to branch out into different musical styles, moving away from her previous pop and jazz-inflected albums and into a more diverse sound.

On that online order I also included a DVD copy of the 1981 film “Blind Chance” (Pzypadek), whose plot shows the consequences of the main character making a train or not. According to critics, the film inspired both Sliding Doors (1998) and Run, Lola, Run (1998) in which separate scenarios influences the outcomes of one’s reality.

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Brodka’s Moje Piosenki cover art

A few days before the trip, one of my students at ASA told me about a young singer called Monika Brodka, a contestant – like Ania Dąbrowska before her – of her country’s version of Pop Idol.  I heard some of her clips on Youtube and decided to check out her albums once I got to Poland. On my first visit I picked up a 2-CD set of her two first albums, “Album,” and “Moj Piosenki” (both on Sony Music) – they’re both well-crafted pop albums, but since they were produced following her Idol win, they sound very similar to Dąbrowska’s first discs – after all,  they had the same producer (Bogdan Kondracki) and likely some of the same musicians.

 

What really got my attention was Clashes (2017), her fourth release – no longer constrained by big corporate labels but now with the independent PIAS Recordings, the album is incredibly personal and experimental with no songs in Polish – the music has a unique texture, and she explores the music in a fearless manner that embraces World, jazz and pop tendencies.

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My last music purchase there had zero to do with Polish music – it was actually the 2-disc 50th Anniversary edition of The Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I just decided to buy it there because the price was considerably lower than what I could find in the US. It was definitely worth it since I saved about $10 and this album has been on my list for a while – and upon hearing the new mix I was immediately blown away by the new mix, which enhances Ringo’s drumming and also has a more centered sound more similar to its original mono mix.

While I have ripped all the music to my iPhone, I haven’t had the chance to fully appreciate them in the little time I have had since purchasing them – but that time will eventually come – not soon enough.

 

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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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.