LAMC At Summerstage: Nathy Peluso and Ile

By Ernest Barteldes

Latin Alternative Music Conference

At Summerstage in Central Park

Nathy Peluso and Ile

New York, NY

July 10th, 2019

 

The heat and intense humidity in the air did not stop fans from flocking to Central Park for the first round of free shows scheduled at part of the 20th Anniversary of the Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York City, which featured Argentinean singer/rapper Nathy Peluso, Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Ile and Mexican pop singer-songwriter Ximena Sariñana.

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Nathy Peluso/Karlo X. Ramos

Peluso came on stage with a small backing band featuring a mix of soul, rock and hip-hop – featuring the latter during most of the set. She had great energy on stage, dancing along with the instrumental sections of every tune. One of the highlights came with a rap based on the chorus of the Cher hit “Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” whose English verses she sang herself.

The set also featured an instrumental mambo which she described as “the wonderful sound” showcasing her backup band, to whom she gyrated throughout, finally confessing that she is “a mambo killer” as a (probable) excuse for not singing it.

After a brief break, Puerto Rican singer (and former Calle 13 member) Ile took to the stage backed by a large band featuring trombones, percussion, bass, electric and acoustic guitars and drums featuring songs with strong Afro-Caribbean influence quite distant from what she did with her previous group. Her opening song had a strong political message, pointing fingers at those who oppress and try to silence the voice of her native land. She followed that with “Invenclble,” a tune with a pop-meets-Latin beat that she described as something she wrote to embrace her hormones and the realities of being a woman.

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Ile/Ernest Barteldes

She followed that with “Temes,” a bolero “against that patriarchy with the clear intention of destroying it,” with lyrics that repeatedly asked “why do you fear me?” in Spanish. Next came “Côncavo,” a bolero which descriptive lyrics that would probably be labeled “explicit” if it had been recorded in English, with subtle references to specific body parts and passions involving them.

Among the highlights was a tune that featured nothing but drums played by the entire group that highlighted the problems faced by Puerto Rico – she mentioned the recent arrests of top Puerto Rico officials over corruption charges, and ended the tune urging the audience to “stop voting for stupid people” without naming anyone in particular.

She closed the set with “Dejame Decirte,” a straight salsa written in collaboration with Eddie Palmeri – it was a great closing that highlighted Ile’s range, which goes from more folk-driven music to pop and pretty much every other Latin influence.

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Ile/Ernest Barteldes

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July Preview: What to Listen and Watch in the Midsummer

By Ernest Barteldes

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Aterciopelados, LAMC at Summerstage, July 11

July comes with even hotter temperatures but also brings a full calendar of outdoor shows in many locations. Again, as we did on previous months, we will focus on shows that are either free of charge or with a suggested donation, as is the case with most performances at the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn and at Summerstage.

At Bryant Park, the Summer movie series continues with a program that includes classics like Carrie (the Original 1976 with Sissy Spacek and a very young John Travolta), Coming to America and Goodfellas among some lesser-known titles. Films begin at sunset, but you should come early, since space in the grass is occupied as early as 6:00 PM.

The month of July marks the celebration of the 20th Anniversary of The Latin Alternative Music Conference, a citywide event that includes various showcases, panel discussions and other goodies, but for the general public there are free shows around the city. These performances include an opening show at Central Park Summerstage headlined by Mexico’s Ximena Sariñana  (Wednesday, July 10th at 5 PM), one of the most respected young pop artists in her native country. Her style brings to mind girl-power singers like Avril Lavigne and (if you think of the 90s) Alanis Morrissette. Also on the bill are iLe and Nathy Peluso. The following day, LAMC will host a showcase in Queensbridge Park (July 11th) featuring legendary Colombian band Aterciopelados, Diamante Electrico and DJ Dayansita

Later in the weekend the conference moves to Celebrate Brooklyn, where Guatemala’s Gaby Moreno (Prospect Park, July 12th) a bilingual artist that mixes pop and traditional sounds  will be sharing the bill with Mexico’s Enhambre and El David Aguilar, and then things move back to Central Park (Saturday, July 13th) with tith a big 20th anniversary party featuring Vicente Garcia, ChocQuibTown, Macaco & Guaynaa. On the same evening, Malian living legend Salif Keita will headline at Prospect Park – making it one heck of a busy weekend if you plan on attending every show.

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I’m With Her, Celebrate Brooklyn July 18

Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan are three artists with respectable careers in their own right, but when they get together for their “Supergroup” I’m With Her things get far more interesting, as they use more harmonies and musical textures that go beyond their solo works. Opening the evening is Darlingside, a four-piece group from Boston that takes inspiration from 60s groups like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Simon & Garfunkel but put their own personal imprint, being both retro and contemporary at the same time. (BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, July 18).

I’ve heard Chilean-French rapper Ana Tijoux multiple times over the years, going from her rather raw debut appearance at LAMC almost a decade ago to her more evolved, social justice-conscious phase, where her angrier raps became more melodically intricate.  She continues to evolve, so don’t expect her to simply rap to the beats in her breakout hit “1977.” She has a deeper, more powerful message these days. (Summerstage at Corporal Thomas Park, July 20)

One of the biggest hits on Broadway in recent years, Fela! The Concert celebrates the times and music of iconic Afrobeat founder Fela Kuti with a ten-piece band, dancers and singers – some who were part of the original production – a great opportunity to watch the show again or for those who missed it to actually watch it for free. (Summerstage at Coney Island, July 26 and July 31 at Central Park)

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Alceu Valença, July 27 Brazil Summerfest at Summerstage

Brazil Summerfest is a two-week long festival that celebrates everything Brazilian, kicking off with a free street fair featuring traditional music, food and even some artisanal works. There are several ticketed shows, panel discussions and movie screenings throughout the event, including a free show at Central Park Summerstage featuring Alceu Valença (July 27), a legendary singer-songwriter in Brazil but who hardly ever performs in the US (at least from memory, I cannot recall ever hearing of him performing Stateside in the two decades I’ve been here). His music is a blend of traditional Northeastern beats with theatrics and rock. He is a consummate perfectionist in spite of his eccentric stage persona – I once saw him stop a show because the sound was not of his liking, but he did apologize to the audience for that, and later gave a stellar performance after the problems were solved.

August is also promising as Celebrate Brooklyn, Summerstage and Lincoln Center Out of Doors continue their free programs – tune back in at the end of July for some cool recommendations.

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.

Book Review: Brian May’s Red Special, The

By Ernest Barteldes

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Although not essentially a guitarist (my main instruments are the electric bass and the ukulele), for many years I have been a huge fan of Queen’s Brian May – not only his songwriting, which contrasts strongly with the style of his bandmates but also for the signature sound of his homemade Red Special guitar, which can be recognized immediately even if it is not on one of the band’s or his solo albums – for instance, its tone is distinctive on Joe Cocker’s performance of “With a Little Help From My Friends” at Queen Elizabeth II’s Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace in 2002 even though there were other guitarists on hand.

Other examples include Brazil’s Os Paralamas do Sucesso’s “El Vampiro Bajo El Sol, and Lady Gaga’s “You and I,” where May was prominently featured – even if some fans were not aware of it.

His guitar has always intrigued me – built with hand tools because he couldn’t afford his much-desired Gibsons or Fenders, the Red Special is an essential part of Queen’s sound so much that when it is not present (in tunes like “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” which featured a Fender Telecaster) you can actually hear the difference in sound and texture.

Many stories have been told about how the guitar was built, but until recently it hadn’t been the whole story from the beginning – which finally happened with Brian May’s Red Special: The Story Of The Home-Made Guitar That Rocked Queen And The World (Hal Leonard, Hardcover – $ 22.40 on Amazon), which brings the whole story together with rich illustrations of every piece of the guitar, which was painstakingly taken apart and photographed for this project.

Written by Brian May with the assistance of co-writer Simon Bradley, we follow May’s initial days learning the ukulele and then transitioning to the guitar – which brought the necessity of going electric as rock music invaded the airwaves of Great Britain via Radio Luxembourg – the same station that inspired The Beatles in the days before there was any kind of young music on the BBC.

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A young Brian May with his guitar (from Brianmay.com)

The writing style is quite conversational, but this being a musician who also happens to be an astrophysicist, things get a bit puzzling for the layman when he goes into the physics of acoustic resonance or when he describes the formula of calculating the distance between the guitar’s frets, which he sorted out using a computer at EMI’s laboratories while he interned there as a teenager.

In spite of those few moments that might go over one’s head a bit, it is a highly pleasurable read, and the illustrations  – which include early pictures of a short-haired Brian May playing with some of his early bands prior to his career with Queen and his signature (now gray) mane.

There is also a section with the different copies made of the Red Special over the years, and a description of his historic performance on the rooftop at Buckingham Palace, which was clearly much harder to put together than it sounds like.

The book is recommended not only for Queen fans but also for guitar enthusiasts in general – it’s rich enough in detail that one might want to build your own Red Special someday.

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.

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.

Live Review: Laura Cheadle at Piano’s, April 15, 2017

 

Laura Cheadle

Piano’s NYC

New York City

April 15, 2017

article and photos by Ernest Barteldeslaura1

Laura Cheadle traveled light on her recent appearance at Piano’s in New York’s Lower East Side – instead of her full Family Band she was backed solely by her own acoustic guitar, her father James Cheadle on keyboards and a drummer (Cheadle, Sr.  did the basslines on the left-hand side of his instrument), mostly showcasing material from her download-only EP “Chill,” out that day.

She opened the set with an uptempo take on Stevie Wonder’s  “I Was Made To Love Her,” a soul ballad whose lyrics speak of finally finding love and being unapologetic about it. She followed that with “Reverberate,” another tune from “Chill” that has a funky feel.  Cheadle and her father have great chemistry together, and that is evident as her body language affects how he plays – stops are clearly unrehearsed, but since they know each other so well musically it is just seamless.

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The audience received the new material well, but things really caught fire when she did a medley of some choice covers including  a low-tempo take on B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” (in which she took over the drums), James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” and two Stevie Wonder tunes, “Superstition” and “Higher Ground,” the latter of which really showcased her vocal range. During the medley, she left the stage and danced around fans (she even surprised me by coming to my side while I was busy with my notes).

The show ended in a high note – everyone seemed to be having a good time – unfortunately there wasn’t a second set (Piano’s has one set by each listed artist) so we didn’t have a chance for a some more of Cheadle’s music.