Album Review: Badi Assad/Hatched

By Ernest Barteldes

I’ve been following Badi Assad for about fifteen years, from the time she was doing more avant-garde instrumental-oriented music right into her shift into the pop-jazz-fusion material she started putting on her records, going from 2005’s Verde up to Hatched (QuatroVentos),  in which she reinvents pop hits in her own way – the tunes are still recognizable, but her personal imprint combined with her signature acoustic guitar chops – are undeniable.

It was fortunate that I was oblivious of most of the tunes on the disc so I could appreciate the music without any bias, approaching them from a completely fresh point of view. She kicks off with Mumford & Sons’ “Little Lion Man” with a bossa-nova vibe that contrasts to the much faster paced original.  She transforms “The Hanging Tree” (from the Hunger Games soundtrack) into an acoustic funk that showcases her guitar and vocal chops, leaving the original recording as floundered Joe Cocker did to The Beatles on “With a Little Help From My Friends.”

My favorite recreation was her take on Lorde’s “Royals” – Assad plays it double tempo, with Simone Sou’s strong percussion as a backdrop to the Assad’s fluid guitar and Rui Barossi’s upright bass.

I am looking forward to catching this material in a live format. The last time I saw her perform was during the Verde tour, when she played accompanied solely by her guitar – it was great, but I would love to see her stretching it live with a band behind her.

Not that she needs it at all – she is highly engaging on her own.

If you happen to live anywhere near where she’s touring, do not miss the opportunity to hear her live. I have already told my friends in Fortaleza – the only major Brazilian city she is playing in at the time of this writing – to go to the show.

And a note to my readers in Chicago – the publication there that I have contributed there for over a decade has a new music editor who thinks he is the last Coca-Cola in the desert. He is doing the usual house cleaning that commonly comes with change in the masthead, so you will not be seeing my byline there for a while. The solution? Subscribe to my feed, because I have not forgotten you.

Musical Blends: New Orleans Meets Brazil + Music of Turkey and Greece/ CD reviews

By Ernest Barteldes

Carnival Caravan

On the EP “Carnival Caravan”  (Self-released) the Scott Kettner-led Nation Beat embarks on a very interesting  musical trip that blends the sounds of New Orleans with  Northeastern Brazil ‘s traditional beat of Maracatu – that is immediately noticeable on the opening track “Casa Diamante/Sew Sew Sew,”  a mash-up between an original track in Portuguese with a traditional NOLA tune.

Like I have written in the past, there are many similarities between the cultures of  northeastern Brazil and Louisiana that putting them together is more natural than one might think. That is evident on  “Carnival Carnival” – just listen to “Vou Cantar Esse Coco,”  an original tune sung entirely in Portuguese with the backing of a typical New Orleans-sounding brass band.  The same goes with “Canto da Ema/All on A Mardi Gras Day,” a  very enjoyable mash-up of the two countries’ sounds. The track begins with with a traditional NOLA “call” and then Fabiana Masili jumps in with her native Fortaleza-accented Portuguese.

The EP is lots of fun and gets you moving from the very first moment. It sounds like everyone was having tons of fun in the studio together  – even if some of the musicians were in different locations.  I am  surely going have this one at hand to get the party started.

Going in a completely different direction is Dű-Sems  Ensemble’s “Music From Turkey and Greece,”  (Arc Music) a lovely collection of traditional sounds from the neighboring Mediterranean  countries. Like Brazil and New Orleans, both countries also share various cultural and culinary traits.

This disc blends original and traditional tunes from both nations. Most of the disc is instrumental, going from slow ballads to more uptempo tunes.  I especially liked the more improvised, seemingly off-the-cuff moments – two examples being “Oud Improvisation,” an inspiring two-minute solo piece by Osman Kirklikçi and Tanju Erol’s “Clarinet Improvisation,” which begins as a solo and then becomes an ensemble piece.

Among my personal favorites were  “Nihavend Mandra,”  an instrumental tune that picks up tempo as it goes along, and “Abacilar Inişi,” one of the few tracks  with vocals by an unidentified female singer (they list various on their website, but I could not figure out who it is since they have various guest artists performing with them) who sings with great gusto.

As of this writing there are no scheduled dates for any shows in North America – I surely would love to have the opportunity to see them up close  – the music is highly captivating and beautifully played

My Brazilian Music Loot: Buying Music on Vacation

By Ernest Barteldes

Whenever I travel abroad I make sure to visit the local music stores to search for music  that is not easily available online or  simply to locate some long-lost  musical gem. That was true last year when Renata and I visited Poland and I went on a quest for records by singer Anna Maria Jopek and rock band Bajm, and it was especially true during our last visit to Brazil. The U.S. dollar is on an all-time high these days, which made travel to the country way cheaper than it used to be. Though this is clearly a disadvantage to locals  since it has made travel (and some other services) far more expensive, it was a huge plus for foreign travelers, who get to get a bigger bang for their buck at hotels, restaurants and shops.

Before I even left to Bahia, I’d read that legendary singer Gal Costa was releasing a new album featuring produced by Kassin (of +2) with tunes by Caetano Veloso, Tom Ze, Marisa Monte and younger songwriters like Marcelo Camelo. The release date was the very day I’d arrive in Bahia, so I made a point of purchasing it in her native land. I searched a lot of shops near our hotel with no luck, but was finally able to get it at the Salvador airport during our final hours there.  Since this was a new release it was a little pricey, but in the end it cost about as much as if I had purchased it on iTunes. Gal Estratosferica (Universal Music Brasil) is quite refreshing – she allowed Kassin to “ go nuts”  with the arrangement, and the result is a youthful album that seamlessly blends electronic and organic elements around her voice.  You can read my review published a few weeks back on this blog, written while I was still in Brazil. Once in Fortaleza, Renata and I headed to the nearby Shopping Aldeota, a mall that caters to the residents of the surrounding areas (malls are still a central part of Brazil’s social life and are in every major neighborhood) and when to Lojas Americanas, a discount franchise that is ubiquitous in the country. I immediately headed to the music department and raided the bargain section, where I found some great stuff for as little as $3 (10 Brazilian Reais).

One of the first I picked up was Cazuza’s excellent O Tempo Nao Para,  his only live album released in his lifetime (there was a posthumous live disc with Barao Vermelho that is not really good).

 

Cazuza was the poet of his generation, and he wrote many wonderful songs during his brief career, which ended when AIDS claimed him when he was 34 years old.  The album is cathartic – his voice is clearly hoarse, and he had lost an incredible amount of weight. Unlike other artists of his time, he did not hide his condition, but courageously kept on going until he breathed his last. I am a big fan of Caetano Veloso, and among the finds was his “Best of”  compilation  released in the 90s. It is clearly dated since it contains none of his inspired material from albums like “Livro,”  “Ce”  or “Fina Estampa,”  but it is a pretty concise document of his work up to the late 80s with songs such as “Alegria Alegria,”  “Sampa”  and the weird “Shy Moon,”  an English-language duet with British-born one hit wonder Ritchie.

Years ago you wouldn’t  have caught me dead with an Ivete Sangalo album, but  I have grown to admire the Bahia-born singer, especially after catching her live a handful of times over the years. Sure, she does not have the vocal chops of the likes of Marisa Monte or Gal Costa, but she rocks when playing live.  I made a point of attending her  May 31st concert in Fortaleza, where she paid tribute to Tim Maia alongside emerging R&B singer Criollo, and I am glad I did, because it was truly a memorable performance.

She has great charisma and completely dominates the stage – it is little wonder that she has become the biggest selling artist in Brazil and plays to sold-out stadiums wherever she goes – an example of this is her “Ao Vivo no Maracana,”  captured live at the world’s largest soccer stadium with guest appearances by Alejandro Sanz, Skank’s Samuel Rosa and others – again a stellar performance and a great album to party to.

It’s hard to find a bossa nova album I don’t have these days, but I was glad to get my hands on “Tom – Vinicius – Toquinho – Miucha Gravado ao Vivo no Canecao,”  a 1974 concert featuring bossa co-creators Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Morais alongside guitarist/singer Toquinho and vocalist Miucha (the sister of Chico Buarque and mother of Bebel Gilberto) in an amazing live performance featuring some of the best Brazilian music ever written done by the artists who introduced them to the world.

Disc Review: Gal Costa/Estratosférica

By Ernest Barteldes

Distorted guitars and rock drums kick off Brazilian singer Gal Costa’s 30th studio album, almost making a statement about the fact that the singer is not staying within the bossa nova comfort zone that she is best known to American audiences. The song, entitled “Sem Medo Nem Esperança” was penned by Antonio Cicero and Arthur Nogueira could be described as visceral and daring.

Costa takes full use of her vocal range, allowing her voice to crack at certain points. On an interview with Brazil’s G1 website, she said that she personally chose the tune to be the opener “because of Antonio Cicero’s lyrics that is really about my moment, it’s fuck-tastic. It’s an autobiographical song, it talks about me – it’s as if I were talking to people. Cicero did something that Caetano Veloso knows how to do well: to write for me, to say what is true for me.”

Gal Costa’s more traditional fans will not be disappointed – unlike her previous disc “Recanto” (Universal Music, 2011); she doesn’t really go into much experimentation. There are some hummable sambas, such as the Mallu-penned lead single “Quando Você Olha Pra Ela,” which has a mellow arrangement that reminds listeners of the material she recorded in the mid-70s after her early Tropicalismo phase. Another great moment is “Amor Se Acalme,” a mellow ballad by Marisa Monte, Arnaldo Antunes and Cezar Mendes.  The tune is quite characteristic of Monte’s work: lots of words crammed in a few bars and then long notes on a single vowel – this is certain to appear on local radio stations in the near future.

Some tunes left my head scratching – “Muita Sorte” has a very nice melody, but the mostly electronic arrangement does not do it justice. The same thing can be said about “Por Baixo,” a Tom Zé composition filled with extraneous sounds behind Gal Costa’s sincere delivery.

On the other hand, there are songs that are amazingly written – “Dez Anjos” is collaboration between Milton Nascimento and young singer-songwriter Criolo (who as of this writing is on a Tim Maia tribute tour with Ivete Sangalo) that is melodically and lyrically beautiful. Also notable is “Espelho d’Agua,” a Marcelo Camelo-Thiago Camelo (who frequently write for Maria Rita) rock ballad that has a well-constructed acoustic arrangement.

“Estratosférica” was produced by Kassim and Moreno Veloso of The +2’s, who gave the album a fresh feel without going too crazy on the arrangements. It is quite accessible, reaching out to younger fans without losing touch with her more classic fans – thus the presence of the bonus track “Ilusão à Toa,” a pre-bossa nova era song by the underrated Johnny Alf that could have been part of 2004’s “Todas as Canções e Eu,” which was dedicated to songs of the 1940s and 50s.

Gal Costa

Estratosférica

Universal Music Brasil

Available for download on Amazon and iTunes.