What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye Tribute at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn

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Felicia Collins/Ernest Barteldes

By Ernest Barteldes 

 

What’s Going On? 

Marvin Gaye Tribute 

Directed by Felicia Collins 

BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn 

August 9, 2019 

 

After a foot-stomping DJ set by Natasha Diggs, bandleader Felicia Collins took to the stage backed by an all-female 16-piece band to pay tribute to Marvin Gaye’s landmark 1971 album What’s Going on, starting off with the title track with lead vocals by Collins. The arrangement was close to the original recording with a few variations, but her vocals were very soulful, taking the lyrics, written from the point of view of a Vietnam veteran after his return home, to a different, more updated place.  

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Kennedy/Ernest Barteldes

With the participation of various singers, they went through the album track by track, continuing the story Gaye told in the album. There was little improvisation – a common occurrence at tribute shows, but there were some great individual moments , since each individual vocalist sought to leave their personal imprint, and that was evident with Kennedy, who sang lead on several numbers – but the one that stayed with me was gutarist Felicia Collins, who stole most of the show with her performances and her dexterity on guitar.  

I was hoping the band would expand more into Gaye’s catalogue and include other songs from his career – it would have been thrilling to hear “Ain’t No Mountain High,” “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” or other tunes, but this was a strict tribute to his most famous album. It was nice to have the musicians showcased on the theme reprise following “Inner City Blues,” where every musician did a little of improvisation as the show closed.  

It was the last show of the season for me – I was unable to attend the closing performance the following day, but it was again a great season for BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn – the performances I was able to attend were all memorable, and here’s looking for the next year. 

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What To Listen to in August – Free Shows in Central Park, Brooklyn and more

By Ernest Barteldes 

It’s always kind of bittersweet to write about the shows in the month of August because that is when most of the free concerts in the parks come to an end – sure, there are several benefits at Summerstage going as far as September, but honestly it’s not quite the same thing – there isn’t the excitement of falling in love with the music of an artist you’d never heard about that happened to on the bill for a night you went to see one of the favorites you were there to see in the first place. I can’t tell you how many times that happened to me in the years since I’ve been attending these shows – an example being on this very preview. 

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Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye left us too soon in the early 1980s, but he left a treasure trove of music that resonates to this day. Among his most respected works is his 1971 album What’s Going On, a concept album whose songs chronicle a Vietnam vet returning home to an America who looks down on him with hatred and disdain – and listening to it today, it still feels relevant.  A supergroup led by former David Letterman bandmember Felicia Collins come together to pay tribute to that album – musicians include jazz drummer Terri Lynne Carrington and other luminaries – plus several guests (BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, August 9th at 7:30 PM) 

 

Closing the season for Celebrate Brooklyn is Colombia’s Bomba Estereo, a band led by Simón Mejía and singer and rapper Li Saumet. The band blends element from Cumbia and electronic sounds, coming up with a unique sound that carries the tradition of psychedelic cumbias from Colombia and Peru and also bands like Aterciopelados – definitely a show not to be missed (BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, August 10th) 

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Lila Downs

The first time I heard the music of Lila Downs was around 2001 when I attended a performance by Brazil’s Luciana Souza and she happened to be sharing the bill with her. I was captivated by her energy on stage and also by her incredible vocal range – she can reach the lower notes of a contralto and then go up to the level of a soprano with ease, and her blend of traditional and contemporary sounds makes for a very enjoyable experience. (Summerstage in Central Park, August 11 at 7:00 PM) 

Selena was another victim of violence that was taken away from us way too soon, but her legacy is remembered at Selena For Sanctuary, an annual event that raises awareness for immigration rights – the event is themed on the late singer’s songs, and features various artists backed by the Santuario House Band under the musical direction of Adrian Quesada. (Summerstage in Central Park, August 18th at 8 PM) 

Closing the season for Summerstage is the Charlie Park Jazz festival, which is now expanded from its classic two-day, two-venue showcase to a much larger event in many venues – and the participants include the likes of Ravi Coltrane, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Michael Marcus and many more. It is something that I always try to attend, and I feel very satisfied with the music every time – and remember I have been in attendance for almost two decades now, and I am not yet tired of it.  

Concert Review: Alceu Valença, Brasil Summerfest at SummerStage in Central Park

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Alceu Valença/Ernest Barteldes

By Ernest Barteldes

 

Alceu Valença

Brazil Summerfest at Central Park Summerstage

Saturday, July 27, 2019

New York City

 

On his first Summerstage appearance since the early 90s, Alceu Valença didn’t seem interested in showcasing his own hits but instead to spread the culture of northeastern Brazil, coming on dressed in a “cangaçeiro” (Northeastern Cowboy) hat, starting his set off with “Pagode Russo,” a song originally recorded by the late Luiz Gonzaga that describes a dream situation in which the narrator imagined himself in Moscow, where revelers danced like a “frevo” (A traditional beat from Pernambuco, Brazil) in comparison to the traditional Russian dances.

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Alceu Valença/Ernest Barteldes

At 73, he has not lost any of the energy of his younger years, and he kept things on a party-like mode throughout his set, mixing his own hits with older traditional songs – he is a captivating presence, and had the entire audience transfixed for its entirety. His band was incredibly tight – many of his musicians have been with him for over a decade, and they had many improvisational moments that were almost jazz-like, with the bandleader encouraging the musicians to extend their solos as part of the show.

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Drum Tribute to Marielle Franco/Ernest Barteldes

Early in the set, he jokingly talked about political issues in Brazil but quickly distanced himself from them – shortly before his set, a group of drummers did a short set from the bleachers in  commemoration of the first anniversary of the assassination of Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco , a fierce critic of the impeachment of former president Dilma Rouseff, which is seen by many in Brazil as a far-right coup. Valença was clearly not there to make a political statement of any kind  but to share his music to a broader audience, not just the protesters in attendance that were holding signs against the current Brazilian government.

He included several of his classic hits from his long career – among them “Girassol,” (“Sunflower”), a slow ballad with a strong northeastern vibe and also “Coração Bobo” (Foolish Heart), a hit from his eponymous 1980 album. The crowd sang along with many of them, and some people danced to the more up-tempo tunes.

It was a highly memorable set – he is a not only a fantastic songwriter great performer and captivated the audience from start to finish, making this one of the best Brazilian-themed evenings I have had the opportunity to attend.

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Tribute to Marielle Franco before the show/Ernest Barteldes

Salif Keita/Courtnee Roze at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn

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Salif Keita/Celebrate Brooklyn

By Ernest Barteldes

Salif Keita / Courtnee Roze

BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Playing before a packed audience at the Prospect Park Bandshell, Courtney Rose took to the stage with electronic sounds and various samples, including Michael Jackson’s intro to “Thriller,” James Brown’s trademark screams and even sounds from South African acapella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and engaged the audience with her lively beats and percussion, getting them to clap along throughout the initial parts of the set.

But her act, which would be quite effective in a smaller venue soon got a bit repetitive and tiresome for a stage as big as this one, and one could notice the audience getting less and less interested and talking to each other as the set – which lasted for about one hour – went along.

Salif Keita came on stage dressed in a white outfit that included a bowler hat and was presented with the award as a new inductee of the Afropop Hall of Fame (which I had no idea existed), and shortly after the show began. His voice still retains his dramatic inflection, and seems unchanged in spite of all these years, only cracking during rare moments.

His fans were moving and singing along to the music – his band was impeccable in spite of being incomplete – some of his musicians had issues getting visas to perform in the US, something that has been plaguing international performers in recent years.

At one point, he challenged the Americans in the audience – “I’ve heard Americans can’t dance, so prove me wrong, you can try,” and led on with a fast-beat tune that got everyone moving. It was a beautiful set, and here’s hoping the rumors of his impending retirement are not true – Salif Leita is a jewel of the music of Mali, a nation that has given audiences more than their fair share of musical genius.

 

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

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.

Brandee Younger Trio At Summerstage in Central Park

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Brandee Younger (Ernest Barteldes)

Brandee Younger Trio

Central Park Summerstage

June 15, 2019

By Ernest Barteldes

Backed by Endea Owens (upright bass) and E.J. Strickland (drums), jazz harpist Brandee Younger kicked off her set with Alice Coltrane’s  “Rama-Rama,” a bright and uptempo theme that quickly transitioned to a more syncopated number centered on Owens’ dominant bassline. She followed that with “Hortence,” an original tune that allowed the bandleader to stretch and further explore the versatility of her instrument, and Owens took another mellifluous solo. She introduced herself and the band (cracking a joke at Strickland’s Gainsville, FL origins) and led the band with a more samba-influenced number.

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Central Park Summerstage

Halfway through the set, the trio was joined by saxophonist Chelsea Baratz for “Essence of Ruby,” whose melody centered on the saxophonist’s tenor sax. It was a tune with a simple structure close to smooth jazz but with more of a contemporary edge.

The four musicians navigated various styles, and included many creative elements – in “Respect the Destroyer,” Younger used effects that gave her harp an electronic-like sound that served as a backdrop for Baratz’s dexterous solo.

They closed their set with a tune by legendary Detroit-born Afro harp player Dorothy Ashby (there was another tune of hers earlier in) that swung much harder than other tunes that evening and gave the opportunity for Strickland to add his only solo of the evening, which he took in a laid-back manner, concentrating more on the drums than the cymbals.

Except for Colombia’s Edmar Castañeda,  who takes more of a Latin-jazz approach to his playing, I had never heard jazz played on a harp – and until recently I had no knowledge of the work of Dorothy Ashby. Younger’s set was enjoyable and also educational, since it made me do some research jazz harp.

The evening was rounded out by a set with a saxophone trio featuring  Jack

DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Shepard.