Album reviews: Putumayo’s “Cuba Cuba,” Hendrik Meurkens & Roger Davidson’s “Oração Para Amanhã,” MUH Trio’s “Prague After Dark” and Anna Maria Jopek’s “Haiku”

by Ernest Barteldes

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On this Putumayo release, contemporary and more traditional Cuban music come together to form this comprehensive collection of the music of the country whose music has been a global reference in spite of the controversial political issues that have kept  both countries at odds for so long.

The collection opens with Soneros de Verdad’s “A Buena Vista,” a lively tribute to the success of the collective that has had reached global success, and sets the tone for the rest of the album. We delve in the past a bit with Al Valdes’ “Guajira,” an uptempo instrumental recorded in Peru in the mid-sixties that has since become legendary, showing strains of American jazz and other sounds that would later be explored by  groups like Irakere, which at one time featured Arturo Sandoval, Chucho Valdes and Paquito D’ Rivera (which sadly are not featured on this compilation, in band form or solo). Other highlights include a new rendition of “Chan Chan” – arguably Buena Vista Social Club’s best-known tune, and Jose Conde’s “Puente a Mi Gente,” a 2004 tune that reached out to his people on the island (he was born in Miami), hoping for a better connection between the US and his ancestral land.

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Pianist  Roger Davidson and German-born harmonica player/vibist Hendrik Meurkens both have a close relationship with the music of Brazil, and it’s a thrill to hear them coming together for “Oração Para Amanhã (Soundbrush), a live recording made at New York’s Zinc Bar featuring all-original music by Davidson. Backed by Eduardo Belo (bass) and Adriano Santos (drums), the disc kicks off with “September Samba,” an uptempo tune featuring Muerkens on vibes. Muerkens then goes to his harmonica to lead on “Sonho da Tarde,” a complex tune with a low-key feel .  “Oração Para Amanhã” is definitely a love letter to Brazil, and both musicians treat the music with the respect it deserves, using American jazz tendencies to enhance the sound, but never to take it away from where it belongs.

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“Prague After Dark” (JMood Records) came to me all the way from Italy via Facebook friend and pianist Roberto Magris. Recorded in The Czech Republic with his MUH Trio (Magris, Frantisek Uhlir: bass; Jaromir Helesic: drums), it is a highly enjoyable straight-ahead album featuring mostly original music penned by all three members of the trio. I particularly enjoyed “Nenazvana,” an uptempo tune by Uhlir with a samba feel that features an extended solo from its writer. Also notable are “Iraqi Blues,” which takes a more serious tone in what is mostly an upbeat album, and the inspired cover of “Love in Vain.” Make sure to check it out, it’s rare when music like this reaches the other side of the pond.

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Also hailing from Central Europe is Polish singer Anna Maria Jopek, whose Japanese-inspired “Haiku” (independently released) finally got to my hands. Originally released in 2013 alongside her Luso-inspired “Sobremesa” and her Polish folk song dedicated “Polanna” (it could be purchased as a box set as well, but I have never seen it in stores – and I looked hard during my last visit to Poland), it is a collaboration with pianist Makoto Ozone that delves both in more traditional music and pretty hard jazz.  It closes the trilogy well – it is a well-thought record that explores a lot of nuances between Polish and Japanese music – including the kind of jazz played in both countries these days. On an interview I conducted with her a few years back, she stated that “We recorded the “Haiku” album with a Polish-Japanese band lineup in just four hours, as if we were spirited.” Quite impressive results, I should say.

My Polish Music Loot

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The vinyl section at Krakow’s Empik

By Ernest Barteldes

Anyone who knows me well is aware that I am a big music scavenger – give me enough time around a store and I’ll unearth some gems. I did that during all our trips to Brazil and also anywhere else we have enough time to stop and shop a bit. That of course happened when we started planning our latest trip to Poland. There are a handful of artists I follow, but imports are way too expensive, and for some reason neither iTunes nor Amazon carry mp3 albums by  artists I am interested in.

This time around it was not just about music.  Shortly before we left for Poland I had finished reading Zygmunt Miloszewski’s “A Grain of Truth” and learned that the movie version had been released on DVD. I had no way to find out if the film (which turned out to be superb – more on that in the future) had been popular in Poland, so I wasn’t sure I’d find it on shelves. Renata and I talked and decided to order a copy of the movie from Empik, a large retailer of music and books that has stores all over Poland (think Barnes & Noble when it was still cool) and ship it to Renata’s parents’ home.

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Secret by Anna Maria Jopek

When we arrived, the DVD was there waiting for us – and a couple of other orders Renata made to the same store. A few days later, I went out to look for music, but found the local store to be a bit scarce. They barely had any music from Anna Maria Jopek  – one of my all-time favorite Polish singers – in stock, and the titles they did have were already part of my collection. I bought Jopek’s Secret, her sole English-language album to date and browsed through their Polish music shelf, and found some albums by Chelm native Ania Dąbrowska.  I stumbled into her name while doing research for an unrelated article and found out she’d covered a Queen song during her participation on the Polish version of Pop Idol. I heard some of her music online and was quite impressed.  When I saw W spodniach czy w sukience? I immediately picked it up. The disc turned out to be a fun, retro-70s feel collection of songs with great arrangements, and I made a mental note to look for more of her music.

I was still a bit frustrated that I hadn’t found all the titles I needed, but then I had the idea of looking them up online and ordering in-store delivery and found her fantastic Id (featuring guest appearances of Branford Marsalis, Minu Cinelu, Richard Bona and Christian McBride) and one of her latest, the independently released Polanna, which she showcased during her recent US tour.  When I picked up the package, I again browsed through the music section and decided to pick up Dąbrowska’s  debut album Samotność po zmierzchu, which I found to be even more interesting than the previous one I got – plenty of clever basslines and jazz-inspired grooves with an uncompromising pop drive that is both radio-friendly and intriguing.

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Ania Dabrowka’s debut CD

As we moved on to Warsaw, Zakopane and Krakow, we kept on stopping at Empik stores – our hotels were all walking distance to local malls, and since we were walking by we would browse around. Renata was interested in health and fitness books and had been looking at some  written by Anna Lewandowska, the wife of Polish soccer star Robert Lewandowski.  While she decided which title to pick one, I noticed that there was a bargain bin, and among music I had no idea about was Bossa So Nice, a compilation of Brazilian music. I usually ignore those because most have tracks I already own, but this one was different – sure, there were those obvious Stan Getz recordings, but there were also a bunch of tunes I had never heard before – at least in those voices. The price was very low for a 2-disc set, so I picked it up – the first time I had ever seen or purchased Brazilian music in Poland.

 

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Bossa So Nice 

 

I am still working on listening to the stuff, so a more elaborate comment on them will come in due time. So far I have enjoyed most of them but have not formed much of an opinion for a proper review. But do check this music out if you can.