Music Review: Ania Dąbrowska’s Dla Naiwnych Marzycieli

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by Ernest Barteldes

 

As I have written in earlier posts, I stumbled into the music of Polish pop singer Ania Dąbrowska quite by accident – I was looking into something I can’t even remember and her name sort of popped up. I got curious and found out she is from Chełm, , the southern Polish city my wife also comes from.

During our recent visit to my wife’s homeland, we visited several stores looking for music to bring back home (sure, I could have used iTunes for some titles but prices for regular CDs are much better there), so during a stop at the local Empik  I picked up a few of Dabrowska’s first few releases and proceeded to check them out. I was impressed with how she seems to want to surprise listeners from time to time with interesting arrangements that include bass solos (she does play the instrument, but the liners don’t give us much information on that matter),  flutes and other instruments that you don’t often come across in pop albums.

After we came back home I purchased the MP3 version of her sixth release, Dla Naiwnych Marzycieli, and gave it a few spins.  Though I haven’t heard all of her albums yet, I can say this is arguably her best album yet. She has veered a bit from the retro feel of earlier efforts and embraced a more contemporary direction – that can be felt immediately on the opening track, “Nieprawda,” a keyboard-led reggae with a catchy hook that gets you moving from the start, and also on “Gdy Nic Nie Muszę,” a jazz-inflected tune led by brush drums, keyboards and woodwinds.

Other notable tracks include “Bez Chiebe,” an R&B-inspired ballad with multi-layered vocals and a nice guitar-centered arrangement and “I’m Trying to Fight It,” the sole English-language track on the disc, whose lyrics speak about the hardships of moving on after the end of a breakup. The piano-based title track has poignant vocals, and “Nie Patrzę” sounds like something that could be played in American Top 40 radio – but good.

The lead single on the album is the power ballad “W Głowie” – its accompanying video plays as  a short action movie in which she escapes a couple of assassins inside what seems to be a shopping mall parking lot with the help of a mysterious black man – most of her videos play like that, telling the story in an almost cinematic manner.

Dąbrowska is a singer worth checking out. She has clearly evolved since her early Polish Idol days (I read somewhere that she has appeared on her country’s version of The Voice as a judge, but I didn’t have a chance to see an episode while I was there). Her music is smart and quite engaging – even if like me, you don’t have a clue what she is singing about.

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Terence Blanchard at Summerstage/Clove Lakes Park – August 5, 2016

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Terence Blanchard at Clove Lakes Park

Article and pictures by Ernest Barteldes

Terence Blanchard & E-Collective

Summerstage at Clove Lakes Park

Staten Island, NY

August 5, 2016

 

 

On an evening dedicated to the memory of Eric Garner, the Staten Island African-American dad killed while in police custody (members of his family were in attendance) in 2014 there were a handful of performers and activists on stage before the headlining artist went on stage – including a young  woman who did a spoken word piece on police violence and the consequences it has on the different communities around the nation and a statement by New York City Councilwoman Debbie Rose.

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Spoken word, beautifully made. 

Shortly after that Terence Blanchard came on stage backed by a quartet (bass, keys, drums, guitar) starting with the complex title piece from his album “Breathless” – entirely recorded in tribute to Garner – that included a four-part harmony on his synth trumpet.  The piece was very contemporary and pretty much centered on his instrument –  he had little connection with the audience and didn’t seem interested on their feedback  – something he seemed to be focused on doing for the entire evening.

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Blanchard and his synth trumpet

The pieces went from contemporary jazz to jazz-rock but with no New Orleans connection – something I had hoped to hear that night considering the bandleader’s roots.  The band was incredibly well-rehearsed and tight but seemed unable to connect except for one moment when the guitarist really rocked out and had the audience applauding.  Blanchard used a lot of effects on his trumpet and sometimes drowned out the band entirely as he experimented with the various extraneous sounds he was able to create with his horn.

This was an evening of hard jazz – probably a bit off for a park on Staten Island, but I guess audiences need to be taken out of their comfort zones at times. I did not expect to hear this kind of music there, but I did enjoy it at times.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that Blanchard is a fantastically talented musician, but from what I have been listening live over the years  he seems to have become one of these jazz cats who play at the peak of their  intellectuality and technique and not seem to care about fans. Then again, being this a concert in memory of a victim of police brutality maybe the tone was appropriate – but most of the audience was not aware of that)

It was not a bad show overall, but it was not what I was expecting to hear. He barely communicated with the crowd, and when he did he seemed a bit uncomfortable doing so. A show clearly aimed at jazz purists or those interested in really out there material – suitable for a club or a jazz festival. Another reviewer focused on the social part of the evening, but I’d rather look at the music on its own.

Ernest Barteldes’ Annual Christmas Music Wrap-Up is Back!

By Ernest Barteldes

 

For quite a few years I ran an annual wrap-up of the new Christmas music on NewCity over in Chicago, but attentive readers might have noticed that it didn’t happen back in 2014. I got a number of emails about it not only from publicists but also from music fans who looked forward to my annual list of must-haves and albums to ignore.

As I have stated before, the new editor who took over the music site (their publisher used to run it himself, but he seems to have wanted to delegate power to other people) pretty much turned his back on long-time contributors  so a review I had already written ended up unpublished. After confronting both the publisher and the new editor over the article I pretty much gave up on dealing with so-called “visionary” individuals and decided to start – for better or worse – this music blog.

Anyway, enough kvetching, it’s time to look at some of the selections for this year:

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Jazz pianist David Benoit is one of the most talented contemporary pianists of his generation, and his third Holiday-themed album “Believe” (Concord Music) is one of the best I have heard in a long time. Sticking strictly to a straight-ahead format, he goes through a number of standards, masterfully bringing together the Charlie Brown TV specials with “Guaraldi Medley,” a beautiful tribute to the pianist who helped introduce a generation of kids to jazz. Vocalist Jane Monheit joins the trio rounded out by drummer Jamey Tate and bass player David Hughes to create the kind of album that is not your usual classic radio stuff, but something you could hear anytime.

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Thirty years after its bandleader’s passing, The Count Basie Orchestra has continued to make music without any sign of slowing down. Currently under the direction of trumpetist William “Scotty” Barnhart, they have recently collaborated with the likes of Tony Bennett and Ledisi, the latter of whom is a featured performer in “A Very Swingin’ Basie Christmas (Concord), a fabulous piece of music that is sure to be spinning when Renata and I spend our annual Christmas retreat at home away from everyone else that annoys us.

One of the best tracks is “The Christmas Song” fronted by the fabulous Ledisi, who keeps her New Orleans roots on a very traditional arrangement. Things also stay in the Big Easy with “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” led by pianist extraordinaire Ellis Marsalis, the legend who happens to have fathered some of the greatest jazz bandleaders of their generation  say what you will about their individual personalities, but you must admit their talents are unquestionable and undeniable.

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I am not one to say much about someone trying to introduce a new Holiday song to the canon, but Rebecca Angel and the band led by her bandleader father Dennis Angel actually pull it off with their single “My Favorite Time of the Year,” a groovy, bossa-inspired tune with a sincere vocal that might just make it into the canon, specially thanks to the smart arrangement and an honest vocal delivery.

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One of the most anticipated Holiday albums to me is Broadway Cares’ “Carols for a Cure,” when the casts of several shows in town come together to come up with a mix of classic songs, original and parodies.

 

Unlike recent releases, there are no obvious celebrity voices, which makes for a better n overall an enjoyable experience –  except for the presence of Perez Hilton on “Happy All The Time” with the cast of “Elf” – I mean, what is a goddamn blogger doing on a Broadway album? Makes no sense to me, but since he is being featured for the third time in a row I must be missing something. Among best tracks this time around are “We Three Things” with “At This Performance,” which takes the classic tune to a whole new jazz-tinged direction. The best original is Chicago’s “Christmas in Fishnets,” which chronicles the routine of performers at the Great White Way during these festive days. Also notable is the mostly acoustic “Mary did You Know,”  a poignant folksy tune that asks Jesus’ mom about her expectations on the baby she held in her arms on that first Christmas.

These are all great albums – just check them out, all of them will make for a joyous season.

 

 

Concert Review: An Evening of Americana Music at Celebrate Brooklyn

By Ernest Barteldes

Joe Henry + Rihannon Giddens

Celebrate Brooklyn

July 18, 2015

Weekend construction on the MTA subway lines are a usual hassle New Yorkers and tourists have to live through all the time, but last weekend’s changes ended up being a recipe for disaster for me because it took me over an hour to get from the East Village to the Prospect Park Bandshell – something that usually does not take more than 25-30 minutes – as a result I was considerably late for Joe Henry’s opening set of Americana music.

Joe Henry at Celebrate Brooklyn

Joe Henry at Celebrate Brooklyn

Henry performed with a sparse band that featured saxophone, bass, percussion and a multi-instrumentalist who played guitars, mandolin and violin. The tunes were very personal, with lyrics that spoke of heartbreak and loss. All the band members improvised a lot around the songs, giving the evening a jazz-inflected feel. He also featured “Don’t Tell Me,”  a collaboration with his sister-in-law Madonna, who also recorded it in her 2000 album “Music,” which he mentioned he’d recorded as a tango while she did it “as a hit – I learned my lesson then.”

Rihannon Giddens and her banjo at Celebrate Brooklyn

Rihannon Giddens and her banjo at Celebrate Brooklyn

After a short break, Rihannon Gibbons came on stage with a small ensemble, kicking the set off with personal covers of songs by Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan and Patsy Cline.  She mentioned the ‘roots of American music’ as she went along, playing each songs with great feeling.   At one point, she talked about the African-American roots of the banjo and went into an inspired spiritual piece.

The set was divided into different historical parts showcasing the rich musical tradition of the United States. One of the great highlights came when she began to improvise around the melody of one of the songs – an amazing blend between folk music and jazz.

It was a magical evening that reminded me what American music was about – I am so exposed to the ‘world’ aspects of things that I often forget that we do have some great melodies out there that do not really make it into the spotlight – even though they should.

Festival Review: The 2015 Latin Alternative Music Conference

By Ernest Barteldes

Latin Alternative Music Conference

Various Locations

July 8-12, 2015

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I must say that at first I felt reluctant to register for the LAMC this year – after all I now have a day job that does not allow me to fully participate events like these – sure, I do enjoy being part of them, but I feel bad that due to my hours I am unable to say, attend panel discussions or late-night music showcases when I have to be at work for most of the day and up and ready to face classrooms full of students.

Maybe if I had a desk job I could spend the day drinking coffee and dealing with paperwork, but students notice when a teacher looks hungover from lack of sleep – and probably assume your appearance has to do with something else. So ultimately I did the Brazilian thing and registered at the last minute, and decided to cover the event to the best of my abilities – something I will have to do until this blog grows into something – ahem – gainful.

On Wednesday afternoon I headed to the Affinia hotel in midtown Manhattan hotel to pick up my credentials and the gift bag that comes with various goodies, which included a compilation CD of some of the artists showcased at the event, the official T-shirt for the conference and some things – including a power pack for smartphone provided by Verizon, one of the event’s main sponsors this year and sat down to study the program and made plans for the shows I would attend. I knew the indie showcase that evening would be impossible but there would be a lot I could check out with my time availability.

After I wrapped up my classes at work, I returned to the hotel to check out the vendors – Gibson had a beautiful display of new guitars, and I spent some time trying them out. I am a huge fan of the brand (I actually own two of them) and I was eager to check out the new semi-hollow Les Paul model. It certainly did not disappoint – it had that sweet, mellow sound of the 335 with a very lightweight body.

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Later that evening I headed out to SOBs to catch the acoustic showcase.  Each band or soloist plays two songs to give the audience (mostly LAMC attendees) an idea of what the music is about. The evening kicked off with Argentina’s Estelares, who played two tunes – some were singing along with them, and they played with great confidence although they were out of their more electric comfort zone. They were followed by Raquel Sofia, a Puerto Rican singer-songwriter who has worked with several big-name artists and is now doing her own stuff.  She accompanied herself on guitar, and sang with lots of soul. I stayed for just one more singer – Chile’s Rodrigo Solo, who came backed by a small ensemble behind him – unfortunately I had a few personal things to do and could not stay any longer.

On Friday Renata and I headed over to Prospect Park, where Chile’s Astro was already on stage. Their music blended Latin electronica with psychedelic influences and other sounds.  Their sound was heavy on percussion but went into various directions. Some tunes were synth-heavy, almost with a 80s feel. The band members are very versatile, switching instruments throughout the set  – at one point there was something wrong with their electronic equipment, and they just played a punk-inspired tune on guitar, bass and drums with no apparent embellishments, proving their ability to adapt when something goes wrong – other bands might have just stopped playing until the problem had been solved.

After a brief break, Argentina’s Los Autenticos Decadentes took to the stage. They started out with a strong disco-influenced sound but their music is not limited to that at all – they play traditional music, cumbia, rock, drinking songs and other genres.  The band has a total of 12 members, and they switch lead vocals throughout the show.  The band is clearly meant to party to, and the audience responded to that by jumping and dancing through most of the set – the only exception being ballad they played halfway through. They overstayed their time and a presenter tried to make them stop – they responded by going into a short encore that left fans asking for more.

On Saturday we headed to Central Park to hear Mexico’s Ximena Sariñana. We almost didn’t make it in because the security guard at the press entrance questioned me why I don’t carry press ID (I am a freelance writer, this has never been an issue EVER) and then took issue with a selfie stick that had been given to me at the Affinia a day earlier.   I got angry and was ready to leave, but Renata had a cooler head and suggested we go through the main entrance, where no one gave us any problems. We then headed to the press table and got our passes and headed inside, where Uruguay’s No Te Va Gustar were wrapping up their set.

Sariñana came on backed by a six-piece band and kicked off with two fast-paced tunes, quickly going into a funky tune. Her set was packed with her singles including   “Sin Ti No Puede Estar Tan Mal,” the lead single from her 2014 album “No Todo Lo Puedes Dar” and also “Different,” an English-language tune from her second self-titled album.

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She is a highly talented artist who is poised to be the next Shakira if audiences are willing to pay attention. She is quite charming and is also a skilled keyboard player. She has yet to develop the stage presence of someone like Ivete Sangalo or Julieta Venegas, but at 29 she is definitely on the write path.

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The evening closed with an appearance by former Los Fabulosos Cadillacs’ vocalist Vicentico, who brought a mix of hard-hitting rock songs and romantic ballads reminiscent of Eros Ramazotti. He had fans singing along with him for many of the tunes – including some from his former band. One of the highlights was “Tengo Derechos,’ a poignant song about those who disappeared during Argentina’s brutal military regime, which he sang solely accompanied by his own acoustic guitar and a crowd of thousands.

The Latin Alternative Music Conference has been instrumental in bringing these and many Latin artists to the spotlight and also has brought some great stars to larger stages. I would probably not be aware of many of the bands I have written over the years if not for this conference – which I haven’t missed since I first heard about it.

Preview: The Latin Alternative Music Conference 2015

By Ernest Barteldes

It is no secret that I am a fan of outdoor concerts during the warm summer months, but there is one event that I eagerly wait to come around: The Latin Alternative Music Conference, the annual event that takes place all over the city, including shows in Central Park and Celebrate Brooklyn and other select venues. Though some of the concerts are for participants only such as the various showcases, most are open to the general public – a treat for fans of Latin Alternative artists.

But what exactly is Latin alternative in the first place?  A few years ago, one editor included in an article of mine that it is basically about Latino artists that ‘don’t play salsa.’ Though for most readers back then that might have made sense, I did not really like that definition because rhythms like mambo, cumbia and salsa are actually part of the genre, just not in the traditional sense.  After all, reggaeton is the ultimate blend of a quintessentially North American genre with the sounds of the Caribbean. Aterciopelados is a rock band that incorporates traditional Colombian music into their songs, and Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux (who was by the way first showcased in America at LAMC before she broke out internationally) does not hide her home country’s influence in her rapping.  At least they are no longer calling it “rock en español,” a dreadful label that came to be in the 90s when some Latin bands broke into the pop scene in America.

The LAMC is more than just music – it’s an opportunity for musicians to network with label executives, journalists and ultimately their own peers. When I first attended about a decade ago (has it been that long?) the conference had what I would describe as more of a party atmosphere, but it has since grown up and become one of the principal opportunities to exchange ideas and try to find the answers for questions about the state of the music business today – which has been changing in breakneck speed.

During the entire conference, several panel discussions are held to look at the state of music today and how to stay current in it – I recall sitting at one panel that included professionals involved in crowdfunding, then a novel idea that not many in attendance could understand.  This year, streaming is one of the topics up for discussion. Sure, it is not exactly a new idea, but now that large companies like Amazon and Apple are embracing it, what does it mean for a struggling independent artist who can no longer rely on downloads to make a living? Their music might be featured on NPR, but that is not going to pay their bills – new music comes out at a crazy pace these days, and it’s becoming harder and harder to focus on what the next thing might be (believe me, as I write this I am trying to go through my never ending pile of music to review).

For music fans, this year’s attractions are indeed a treat. The fun begins tonight (July 8) at Central Park Summerstage, where three up-and-coming bands will showcase their music – Starting with Electronic music artist Helado Negro (Roberto Carlos Lange, who I’m guessing changed his stage name because of another popular artist called Roberto Carlos), an Ecuadoran native who now calls Brooklyn his home. His sound bears a lot of influence from his former Miami home, but you can hear a lot more in what he does.

Following him is Systema Solar, a Colombian electronic collective that (as I mentioned before) blends lots of their native sounds with more contemporary sounds – it’s not for everyone, but it is certainly innovative.  Closing the evening is Compass, a collaboration between Camilo Lara  –  a frequent collaborator to the LAMC – and Toy Selectah, a DJ and producer with a large resume that includes Morrissey and Calle 13, to name a few.  On Friday (10/7) we go to Celebrate Brooklyn for a three-part set that includes veteran Argentinean band Los Autenticos Decadentes, one of the great luminaries of their country’s pop scene for over thirty years – who apparently are enjoying a comeback.

On Saturday we return to Central Park for another great afternoon that will feature Ximena Sariñana, a Mexican breakout singer who has been crossing over thanks to her efforts in English-language songs such as “Different,” an infectious song about not conforming to expectations.

There is much more going on – just check out the schedule for further details. It is a great opportunity to get out of the American pop box and discover some new sounds. I always have a lot of fun there and am always reporting – so please follow my Twitter feed @ebarteldes for more.

Music Review: Fabiana Pessoni/Inner Bossa

Cover art for “Inner Bossa”

By Ernest Barteldes

On a recent post I mentioned that many independent West Coast musicians have often reached out to me for reviews on Music Whatever. I am not sure why this is happening, but I am not one to complain, since this gives me a new path of discovery that takes me out of my New York-centric environment.

On her third EP release, Los Angeles-based Mineira singer-songwriter Fabiana Pessoni comes up with a five-track  album that includes original songs mostly songs in English. All have a bossa nova feel without trying to be pretentious.  Unlike most discs of the genre, the guitar is not at the forefront of the instruments – instead, the bass and percussion stand out, framing each tune to the singer’s voice.

The first that stood out for me was the Portuguese-language “Pele Ao Abraçar,” an up-tempo tune that features some great saxophone accents and solos. “Mouvance” is a more traditional bossa with a Jobim-influenced piano base (the intro is reminiscing of “Tinha Que Ser Com Voce,” recorded by Elis Regina and Jobim on the legendary Elis & Tom).  Pessoni sings in English and Portuguese, giving more intensity to the vocals on the former and giving more of a bossa feel to the latter.

There is also a cover of Spandau Ballet’s 1983 hit “True,” a tune that has become bit of a staple in Brazilian oldies stations. Pessoni’s delivery does not have any of the drama from the original recording, instead giving it a more subtle direction.

It is odd that this is the first time I hear her music, considering how attuned I have always been to the work of expat Brazilian musicians (and also those in Brazil). After listening to Inner Bossa, I am sure to keep my eyes and ears opened to her work – and now I am becoming more and more convinced to personally check out the music scene in the other side of the coast.

Check her out at http://fabianapassoni.com