Free Concerts: What to Hear in June

by Ernest Barteldes 

 

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Gregory Porter

As I have written before, the summer months are my favorite time of year – not only because we have the nice weather and the opportunity to grill or go to beach trips and also get to wear flip-flops to the supermarket (at least I do), it is also the time for the countless outdoor concerts that take place all over town that are for every taste. 

Ever since I moved to New York – eighteen years ago this year – I have been attending these shows and have lost count of how many I have seen. The other day Renata and I were going through old photos that I covered at Summerstage in those early years and I was shocked at how many prints I had (those were the days before going digital) and how many shows I’d pretty much forgotten about – something that happens when you attend more than 50 concerts a year – most during the summer season.  

This year’s season at Celebrate Brooklyn, Summerstage and other venues across New York City have incredible lineups, which I will write about over the next few posts, either previewing or reviewing for this blog or other pages.  

On this post I will highlight some of our picks for the month of June – but bear in mind I will only highlight the shows that are free of charge, so if you don’t see say, The Decemberists (June 13, Celebrate Brooklyn) on this list it’s because it’s a benefit event and you have to pay more than the suggested donation asked for at the door.  

If you want more information, check out the hyperlinks, which direct to the actual events’ pages.  

The month begins with jazz vocalist Gregory Porter (June 2nd, Central Park), who makes his second appearance at the event (he also made an appearance at Celebrate Brooklyn in during the 2016 season). his deep baritone gets your attention at once, as I discovered when I first heard of him back in the day when Starbucks gave tunes out for free every week. I heard him at Summerstage in 2015 and was fascinated at his command of the stage and am eager to hear his music again in a live format. 

 

We then head to Prospect Park Bandshell for their opening night on June 6th, when rapper, actor, activist and Oscar Winner Common gets the party started for Celebrate Brooklyn. Little needs to be said about him – he has been a mainstay in the hip-hop scene since the 90s, but more recently he has reached mainstream audiences – never mind the song “Glory,” which earned him an Oscar AND a Golden Globe alongside John Legend.  

 

David Bowie left us too soon back in 2016 (what a shitty year that was for music, by the way) but left us one last gift: his much appreciated album Blackstar, released a few days after his passing. In tribute to the great musician and actor, an orchestra led by Evan Zyporin featuring cellist Maya Beyser will play the album in its entirety (June 9th, Central Park) in a show entitled Bowie Symphonic – the evening will also feature The Donny McCaslin group, who played with Bowie on that final album.  

 

One of the most memorable shows I attended at Summerstage was back in 2008 (has it been that long?) when Los Lobos played alongside Los Lonely Boys. It was a soggy night in which the rain did not relent – everyone got absolutely soaked but no one left until the last song was played. They have a high-energy set that include their most danceable hits that had everyone engaged to the very end – and yes, they included their 80s cover of La Bamba, from the movie of the same name. They return to New York for what promises to be a lovely afternoon in Brooklyn (Celebrate Brooklyn, June 10). 

I first saw Rhiannon Giddens solo work at Celebrate Brooklyn in 2015 – before that, I had seen her with her band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, at a showcase at GlobalFest (don’t ask when, I can’t remember). It was a lovely show that featured roots Americana and folk music coupled with some historical themes. It should be another interesting evening for sure (Central Park, June 16)   

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Mariza

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written about Mozambique-born fado singer Mariza over the years – one of the few artists I wrote about for a European magazine. But to call her simply a fadista is unfair – on her latest works, she has incorporated elements of jazz, pop and other rhythms but without losing touch with her roots. And her chosen genre is best heard in an outdoor format (just check out her Concerto Em Lisboa DVD) instead in theaters. She is a sensational, emotional performer and this is one performance you should not miss. (Central Park, June 23) 

 

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/201866719″>Mariza – Concerto em Lisboa</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user62259790″>eduardo carrasco pontes</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p> 

Closing our picks for June is Branford Marsalis, one fifth of the New Orleans’ “Royal Family of Jazz,” who will be playing two sets with his longtime quartet, bookending Roger Guenveur Smith’s one man show, Frederick Douglass Now. This is another show you shouldn’t miss (Celebrate Brooklyn, June 29) 

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Final Concert for 2017 at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn: Yacouba Sissoko + Youssou N’ Dour

By Ernest Barteldes

Youssou N’ Dour/ Yacouba Sissoko

BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn Festival

Brooklyn, NY

August 12, 2017

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Yacouba Sissoko

West African music was the focus of the final night for the 2017 season of BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, and audiences were toasted with two great performances, starting with New York-based Malian kora master Yacouba Sissoko, who came accompanied by a simple trio with the N’goni (a guitar-like instrument) and the djembe.

The trio played a selection of songs that were very mournful and peaceful with lyrics (sung  in his native language) that carried messages of empowerment while also touching on political issues – including the civil war taking place in Sissoko’s native Mali at the time of this writing. All the musicians on the trio were very proficient, often taking long improvised solos on each tune.

At one point, the bandleader upped the tempo for one of the songs and encouraged the audience to get up and dance, claiming that New Yorkers were ‘the best dancers in this nation.” The number featured the percussionist, who played with great energy, motivating the audience to move.

The set closed with “All Things Must Come to an End,” a slower tempo melody that featured improvised moments from all three musicians.

Following a short break, Senegal’s Youssou N’ Dour took to the stage with a 20-piece backing band (guitars, keys, percussion, 2 backing vocalists, bass and saxophone). Taking the lead from the late James Brown, he had one of the percussionists MC the concert, constantly calling out the bandleader’s name.

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Youssou N’ Dour

I have rarely seen the degree of enthusiasm that I witnessed at this concert – as I walked from the press seats towards the photo pit, I encountered a mass of fans, all with big smiles on their faces moving enthusiastically and singing along to every song.  The music was highly energetic, and the 57-year-old N’Dour moved like a teenager, dancing and jumping to the rhythm of the music.

He had a band filled with master players who had great chemistry together – the quality of the sound was perfect, and we could hear every instrument and vocal with great clarity.  During some numbers, a male dancer joined the band and did traditional moves inspired by the percussion and the direction of the music.

Towards the end of the set, most of the band left the stage and N’Dour performed a tune dedicated to his native continent – it was a sweet melody accompanied solely by keyboards and drums. He then briefly left the stage for a false finale, and then the full band returned for an extended encore that included an up-tempo multilingual song (French, English and other languages) and a handful of dance-oriented numbers. As the show came to an end, each musician left the stage one by one until N’Dour found himself alone on stage thanked the audience and then the lights came on.

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Youssou N’ Dour

It was a great closing for what turned out to be one of the best seasons at Celebrate Brooklyn – it’s just a shame they have to end so soon – but we still have quite a few shows at Summerstage in the next couple of weeks.

What to Hear in August: BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, Bryant Park, Brasil Summerfest, SummerStage and Charlie Parker Jazz Festival

By Ernest Barteldes

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I kind of hate the month of August, because that is when most of the outdoor events begin winding down – Celebrate Brooklyn wraps halfway through the month, while SummerStage continues hosting free shows until pretty much the end of the month, capping the program with the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Harlem and the East Village, the locales of reference for the annual event in honor of one of the heroes of the bebop era.

For those who missed it in theaters (and still haven’t watched it at home), Creed tells the story of Donnie Johnson – the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed – who goes after his own dream of becoming a champion boxer. To help him on his quest, he seeks the help of an aging Rocky Balboa to become his coach –  possibly closing the Rocky saga. The movie will be screened with a live score performed by The Wordless Music Orchestra conducted by its composer Ludwig Gorannson. Opening the evening is a selection of Gospel music by Frank Haye & The Interdenominational Choir – should be a good one and I will certainly be in attendance (Celebrate Brooklyn, Aug. 4)

Things take a Brazilian flavor at Summerstage with the kickoff of Brazil Summerfest, a weeklong event that showcases various  talents from my other country: legendary singer Elza Soares – still unstoppable at 80 – headlines an afternoon at Central Park that also features Youtube-discovered Linkner e os Caramelows and a DJ set by Teleseen. During the following week there will be concerts in various venues featuring Forro in the Dark (Brooklyn Public Library, August 9).  Aline Muniz (Joe’s Pub, August 10), Zabele ( The Django, August 13) and many others, ending with a massive Brazilian-inspired street fair  (Hester Street Fair, August 14) .

Bryant Park continues its summer program with a concert by the Asian Cultural Symphony to the US – an ensemble of more than 60 musicians, followed by Shoko Nagal’s TOKALA, which explores sonic influences from classic and contemporary Asian sounds (August 11, Bryant Park)

Most people know about Senegalese singer-songwriter Youssou N’ Dour from his iconic tune “7 Seconds,” but  he is beloved among World Music lovers – he has a long career that includes many records and countless collaborations with artists from across the globe – a fitting closing to what has been a stellar run at Celebrate Brooklyn (August 12, Celebrate Brooklyn)

Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ are blues legends in their own right, and I cannot wait to hear how they sound as they join forces – it is sure going to be a meeting of generations and it is a show I am sure not to miss under any circumstance – just imagine how much great music will come from those two together on stage. (Central Park, August 13)

I have heard Anat Cohen in various formats both as a side player with Duduka Da Fonseca with her two brothers in their Three Cohens ensemble  and also leading her own chorinho-inspired group. She is a phenomenal clarinetist and at The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival she will be leading her Tenet in a program that will include her many influences, going from Brazilian to Middle Eastern and some New Orleans material in between (Marcus Garvey Park, August 25)

We wrap up the list with quite a stellar line-up of saxophonists: Joshua Redman, Lou Donaldson and Tia Fuller will close the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival – one can’t help but wonder if they will get together at the end of the day for an improvisational threesome. It might be unlikely, but one can only hope — and then we go over to Labor Day with a nice taste of great music (August 27, Tompkins Square Park)

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.

What to hear in July: Summerstage, BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn and Bryant Park

By Ernest Barteldes

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Esperanza Spalding – July 30 at Celebrate Brooklyn

July is one of the busiest months in the summer outdoor concert schedule here in New York, and I am one who fully enjoys this – First of all, the Latin Alternative Conference comes to town, bringing tons of Latin talent both to Celebrate Brooklyn and Summerstage (plus many other venues – it’s a music smorgasbord for sure), so things get even more interesting.  Not only that, the public pools are also open so there is a lot to do even if you want to spend the hot days in a lazier fashion.

As I did before, I am only highlighting the free shows, since the ticketed benefit concerts are either sold out or have their own publicity machine behind them – it’s not like they need the likes of me.  For detailed times and locations please refer to the hyperlinks included here.

Things kick off on July 1st in Central Park with a celebration of French and American jazz with a lineup that simply doesn’t feel enough for a single evening, including gypsy guitar virtuoso Stephane Wrembel,  upcoming jazz/pop singer Kat Edmonson and singer Catherine Russell alongside bandleader extraordinaire Vince Giordano. It should be one hell of the night which as usual I am missing because I have plans out of town.

Over at Celebrate Brooklyn Musiq Soulchild does free concert on July 7th – he is regarded as one of the best soul singers of his generation and deserves it – his delivery is fantastic and so is his performance – I expect it to be packed that night.

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Jimmy Heath

On July 8th jazz great Jimmy Heath heads to Queens with his big band – the man has played with the likes of John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis (to name a few) and is still here to tell the tale. Look forward to lots of bebop but also contemporary and straight-ahead jazz.

Those not willing to head all the way to Queens that night might want to check out New York’s own Mariachi Flor de Toloache and cumbia queen Totó La Momposina in Central Park. I heard the former during an LAMC concert at Celebrate Brooklyn  few years back – from what I remember it was a lively concert that paid tribute to the traditions of the music of their native Mexico but also looked ahead, using  complex vocal arrangements a few tunes in English; some songs were played with the addition of the cajón and also the ukulele, which both enhanced the songs and gave them an intriguing, innovative sound.

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Mon Laferte

The LAMC kicks off on July 12 in Central Park with Puerto Rico’s ÌFÉ, New York’s own Princess Nokia (an interesting use for the virtually defunct cellphone brand, no?) and Chile’s Mon Laferte, a self-taught powerhouse of a musician who blends electronic, rock and R&B in her own unique manner – her video for “Amarrame” (feat, Juanez) is on heavy rotation on Latin music channels (I happened to catch it while vacationing in the Dominican Republic a few weeks ago), and I really want to see how this translates in a live format

The late Fela Kuti is celebrated in music and theater for his contribution to what became the Afrobeat movement, and his legacy is being memorialized on July 16 in a concert  that brings together his son Seun Kuti and Roy Ayers, one of the elder Kuti’s many collaborators during his career and beyond – Ayers is one of the godfathers of the neo-soul movement and a highly respected artist in his own right.

I can’t remember the last time I heard Mali’s Amadou & Mariam on stage – I recall it was at Summerstage about a decade ago when I was still writing for the now-defunct Global Rhythm and New York Press. They are a married blind duo who play their own brand of African blues, and have this magical sound to them. It will be good to catch them again after all this time in Brooklyn on July 21st

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Accordion Festival 

On the same day, The Accordion Festival – closing up the Accordions Around The World program happening in Bryant Park – takes place, with tens of players over a five-hour period. Something for those who want to hang in midtown Manhattan and have a good time.

During her tragically brief career, Amy Winehouse left us a memorable canon of songs over two albums (only one released in the US market) and (as far as I know) a single guest appearance – her last recording – on Tony Bennett’s Duets II album. Her music is certainly remembered, and will be the basis for the program developed by BalletX / YY Dance Company on July 26 in Central Park.

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Andrew Bird

The month closes in Brooklyn (July 30)  with two of my favorite young musicians: multi-instrumentalist, whistler and vocalist Andrew Bird, who I discovered in a completely unusual way: on the soundtrack of the 2011 Muppets movie, Towards the end of the movie, newcomer Walter did a surprise performance of “The Whistling Caruso” – which was actually played by Bird.

The other favorite is Esperanza Spalding, the genre-bending bassist who began her career doing avant-garde jazz and then went on to make extremely diverse albums that explored a variety of sounds, going from straight-ahead jazz, soul and more recently Emily’s D+Evolution (Concord), an experiment that blends musical theater, jazz, funk and much more – something that some fans heralded and others failed to fully comprehend (me being the latter) – when she first emerged, Spalding was a breath of fresh air in the jazz world, and continues to evolve throughout the years – I can only imagine what she is going to bring to the fore this time.

The TV Networks Fear Conservative Backlash? Maybe.

By Ernest Barteldes

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I know this might be old news to some, but something in the televised media has been bothering me for a while, and it reached a boiling point when I heard a new show I discovered on Amazon Prime called “Good Girls Revolt” had been unceremoniously cancelled a month after its premiere – and more suspiciously following the 2016 presidential election – after only one season in spite of positive response by audiences and critics alike.

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For those who are unaware of it, the series is based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Lynn Povich that chronicled the 1970 sex-discrimination lawsuit brought by female researchers against Newsweek magazine because the publication’s editors policy of not allowing women get promoted to reporters or editors.

I discovered the series at random as I browsed content on my Amazon Video library (Renata and I recently installed a Fire Stick onto our TV) one day. I watched one episode and was hooked – the storyline is complex and so are the characters – the pilot episode introduces the characters in a busy newsroom at the New York headquarters of the fictional “News of The Week” (I guess they couldn’t license “Newsweek”) in late 1969. On that first episode a new researcher is hired – a young Norah Ephron (Grace Gummer) and quickly breaks the office rules by rewriting a reporter’s copy. After being scolded by one of the editors (Jim Belushi), she abruptly quits and sparks a revolt among the other ‘girls’ in the office, who decide to do something about it.

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As I watched the show I tried to learn more about it and was crushed to see that Amazon had let the show go and that no other network (streaming or otherwise) had picked it up. A piece on the Hollywood Reporter quoted co-star Genevieve Angelson’s tweet about it, which pointed at the election results as one of the causes for the show being pulled: “@Amazon dunno what to tell women, scared of their own president, who ask why you canceled a hit feminist show 30 days in.”

Her reaction got me thinking of another recent situation – in October 2016, NBC pulled an unaired Law & Order SVU episode based on the presidential election in which a Trump-inspired character is accused of sexually assaulting a woman. The episode was scheduled to run the day after the election but it following the upset on November 7th, the episode was pushed and still hasn’t been aired.

NBC might have reasons to fear backlash from the White House – after all, Trump is still credited as executive producer on “Celebrity Apprentice,” and during the campaign he made multiple appearances on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (including a much-derided episode in which the host was a bit too friendly with the then-Republican nominee), but this is no reason not to run an episode of a show whose stories are, after all, “ripped from the headlines.”

But what would Amazon have to fear? Did they fear their conservative subscribers (who praised a piece of shit, thinly-veiled conservative documentary called “Silenced” in which

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.