Music to Listen to in June: Bryant Park, BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn and Summerstage

By Ernest Barteldes 

In spite of a few rainy days and chilly mornings, June is finally here and with it comes the much-awaited outdoor concert series throughout the city at venues such as BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn (which opened on June 4th with an appearance by the great Patti LaBelle, while at Summerstage in Central Park things kicked off that same night with a lineup headed by the also legendary George Clinton & Funkadelic – making this season a promising one.  

Here I have some recommendations for the month of June, highlighting the free concerts. There are several benefits, but they are mostly sold out and honesty they don’t need my input about them anyway. For more details, please refer to the hyperlinks. 

On Friday, June 7th the music of the Caribbean is celebrated at The Bryant Park Latin Festival with a dance party that will include bachata, merengue and salsa. Headlined by La Sonora Nuyorkina and several guests, the five-hour event should be quite interesting – especially for lovers of Latin Music 

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IBEYI

On June 9thBrooklyn receives Cuban-French twins Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Díaz, who together form IBEYI. They are the daughters of late conguero Miguel “Anga” Diaz, a member of The Buena Vista Social Club. Their music is a blend of traditional and modern music, ranging from hip-hop to Yoruba and much more in between. The evening is rounded out by Philly-based one-woman band Orion Sun and Sudan Archives, the latter who also blends traditional and contemporary music into his music.  

The legacy of the great saxophonist John Coltrane is remembered with a concert in Central Park on June 15th featuring an all-star lineup of jazz musicians: The Coltrane – De Johnette – Garrison Trio, formed by Ravi Coltrane (John and Alice Coltrane’s son), veteran drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Matthew Garrison. The opener will be jazz cellist Brandee Younger, It is one of these concerts that is not to be missed. 

The Stonewall Riots that were seminal for the early days of the quest for LGBTQ rights in America (although there had been a solid movement going on for quite some time before that)  celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2019, and this is commemorated with multiple events – at Summerstage, the all-male comedy ballet company, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, perform classic works from their own perspective using great humor and class.  

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Musiq Soulchild (Ernest Barteldes)

Sheila E. is probably best known for her association with Prince in the 80s, but she has had a long career of her own both as a bandleader and a sidewoman for the likes of Marvin Gaye, Ringo and His All-Starr Band and Beyonce, to name a few. For this night, dubbed “Only in Queens Festival,” she leads a band that includes contemporary soul singer Musiq Souchild and local Queens dancehall artist Kranium 

Les Negresses Vertes is a French alternative band with a long history dating back from the 80s. formed by a group of Parisian friends with no serious professional backgrounds, they were originally led by singer-songwriter Helno, but his time in the band was brief- he was a heroin addict and ultimately died from consequences of his drug abuse in 1993. After some lineup changes following his death, the band continued performing and adopted a more dub-influenced sound. They will be heading the lineup for Fete de la Musique on Sunday, June 24 in Central Park.

Chucho Valdés is undoubtedly one of the greatest Cuban pianists of his generation – following in the footsteps of his father, Bebo Valdés (1918-2013) and the father of Chuchito Valdés, he is one of the most respected musicians from his country, and one of the most innovative as well. Still active at 78, he recently released Jazz Bata 2, a sequel of sorts of his seminal 1972 album of the same name. Sharing the bill is Cuban-born, New York-based drummer Dafnis Prieto, another creative voice  that takes the music to the next generation. They appear at Celebrate Brooklyn on June 26.  

The month closes with Concha Buika, a fantastic Spanish singer with a dramatic voice that blends flamenco, jazz, Afro-fusion and R&B into her unique sound. She has collaborated over the years with the likes of Portuguese fado singer Mariza, Brazil’s Ivan Lins and many more. She is one of the few Afro-European flamenco singers out there, and she represents all of her heritage without losing her signature dramatic sound that is recognizable the moment you hear her voice. Buika appears at Celebrate Brooklyn on June 30 

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Bibi Ferreira 1922-2019: An Appreciation

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Bibi Ferreira in 2017 (Paula Johas/ PCRJ)

Bibi Ferreira 1922-2019

By Ernest Barteldes

 

Bibi Ferreira might not have been a household name in America, where she only performed her U.S. debut when she was already 91 years old – a memorable concert that took place at Alice Tully Hall in the fall of 2013 at Lincoln Center, when she sang a selection of songs from her long career, which spanned almost her entire life – but to Brazilians she was undoubtedly the greatest diva of Brazilian musical theater, cinema and TV.

When I heard that she had peacefully passed away at 96 in her Rio de Janeiro home on February 13, I thought of all the years I had seen her perform on Brazilian TV as a presenter, singer or even director – a role she took later in her years and also her numerous recordings, ranging from soundtracks of her musicals to Natal em Familia, a Christmas album (which turned out to be her last) she did in collaboration with numerous artists from her native country, including the late Emilio Santiago and samba singer Alcione.

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Me and Bibi Ferreira, 2016

Ferreira ran the gamut of pretty much every medium in Brazil, going from performing the songs of Edith Piaf and Fado queen Amalia Rodrigues to directing a full opera, which she mentioned on an interview I did with her for The Brasilians Newspaper was a huge undertaking since she had to rehearse not one but two full groups because sometimes last-minute subs are necessary.

Although she had become hard of hearing and physically frail in her final years, her voice was impeccable, and she reached all the notes without a hitch, not sounding at all line the nonagenarian she was. She had great range and was a great interpreter of pretty much every style she tackled. On her second (and final) New York show at Symphony Space in 2016, she performed a retrospective of her most important shows, going from her Sinatra tribute to the much-appreciated Piaf covers – which even impressed the French when she sang there over the decades.

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Cover of Bibi Ferreira: A Life on The Stage

Ferreira also released a coffee table book-sized book chronicling her career.  I was humbled to learn there was a quote from my review of her New York debut for All About Jazz. I was fortunate to have met her backstage after her second show and had my personal copy autographed – a possession I will cherish forever as a remembrance of this magnificent artist.

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My quote from All About Jazz in Bibi: A Life on Stage

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.

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

LAMC Showcase at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn

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Girl Ultra

LAMC Showcase at BRIC

Celebrate Brooklyn

Mala Rodriguez, Ana Tijoux & Girl Ultra

July 13, 2018

by Ernest Barteldes

On the Celebrate Brooklyn night of the 2018 edition of the Latin Alternative Music Conference, the audience was presented with three very different female voices with very distinctive styles that gave us a glimpse of what is going on in the Latin music scene.

Mexican R&B singer Girl Ultra (Mariana de Miguel) opened the proceedings backed by a simple band that featured keyboards, bass and drums, and she sang mostly original material. Early on the set, there were some technical problems with the keyboards, and instead of interrupting the set, she just began to improvise with the bassist and the drummer for about five minutes, creating music on the spot to the delight of the crowd, who got the chance to see the artist in an unfiltered format, just being creative with whatever she had in her mind at the moment.

Girl Ultra’s music is clearly inspired by contemporary R&B with a retro feel – she clearly draws from the likes of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston but does not have their vocal power. She does, however, have tons of creativity with her vocals, and uses her limitations to her advantage. I believe what we heard was a diamond in the rough – she has great potential as an R&B singer, and I’m hoping to hear her more down the road.

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Ana Tijoux

She was followed by Chile’s Ana Tijoux, who has evolved incredibly from the first time I saw her at an earlier showcase at Central Park Summerstage. She started out with a Spanish-language song written in the 1970s that she said was “relevant to our times,” and was very vocal against the current U.S. administration. During the set she alternated between her earlier rap hits (which included her signature hit “1977”) and more melodic material. At one point, she brought in a violin trio for a tango-inflected tune called “Asaltemos a Un Banco” (“Let’s Rob a Bank”) which was followed by a “Somos Sur,” socially conscious number which she described (in Spanish) that “is about what Latin America is – it’s not a postcard, it’s about where we live. Our culture comes from the streets – to be Latin is all about the places.” Another tune talked about how the rich put the poor down by denying them access to education and dignity, inviting the listener to “join the fight” against racism and blind capitalism.

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Mala Rodriguez

Closing the evening was Spain’s Mala Rodriguez, who came accompanied by a DJ and two female dancers in very skimpy white outfits, delivering a set of dance-inspired music that seemed a bit out of step with the more acoustic nature of the previous sets, but audiences seemed to dig it – like in every LAMC night, it was an opportunity to hear diverse voices and get a feel for the direction of pop, rock and other genres within the umbrella of Latin Music.

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.

 

Live Review: Los Lobos at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, June 10, 2018

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Los Lobos at The Prospect Park Bandshell

Los Lobos 

BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn 

Brooklyn, NY 

June 10, 2018 

By Ernest Barteldes 

Rain seems to follow legendary Los Angeles band Los Lobos whenever they play an outdoor venue in New York – at least that seems to be true every time I happen to hear them. That was true when I first reported on their appearance at Summerstage a decade ago, and the tradition seemed to repeat itself as they appeared at The Prospect Park Bandshell.  

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The sextet came on with their usual energy playing a set that included a selection of hits and covers – one classic that was dedicated to the “youngsters” in the audience was “Come On Let’s Go,” their 1987 cover of the Richie Valens tune featured on the movie “La Bamba” with an extended guitar solo and many tunes they seemed to pick out of a personal list. “We are still figuring out the show,” said co-lead singer David Hidalgo halfway through the set during a pause in which the group seemed to disagree on what to play next.  

The band continued with a medley that included the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” that merged into an up-tempo take on “Crossroad Blues” played close to the classic 1966 arrangement popularized by Cream with extended guitar solos showcasing the dexterity of Hidalgo and co-lead guitarist Cesar Rojas.  

Halfway through the set the ensemble switched to the Mexican rancheras that popularized the band in their early years, including a cover of Vicente Fernandez’s “Volver,” with Hidalgo on accordion. They then went back to more electric blues-based material, including a fast-paced number that featured drummer Enrique Gonzales. 

The band left the stage and returned after a few minutes with a punk-rock inspired number “because we are in New York” and ended the set with “La Bamba,” the traditional Mexican song adapted by Ritchie Valens in 1959 and later made a global hit by Los Lobos two decades later – it has become a mandatory tune during their sets since then. 

The only sour note I could say about their set it the omission of “Beautiful Maria of My Soul,” their Oscar-nominated tune from the soundtrack from 1992’s Mambo Kings – it is a beautiful tune that has pretty much been ignored since its release and deserves to be revisited in a live format.  

Los Lobos keep the energy high, and their fans are die-hards: the rain kept falling but no one was interested in leaving until the last chord of “La Bamba” was played, and the ensemble seemed to feed from that, extending tunes and improvising a lot throughout the set.