At The NYPL Exhibit “You Say You Want A Revolution”

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The “Free Love” Section

Text and photos by Ernest Barteldes (except where noted)

“You Say You Want A Revolution” 

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building through Sept. 01, 2018 

Free 

 Although I did not live through the era, the 60s have always fascinated me: it was the time of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Summer of Love, Woodstock and many other transformative movements, going from the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation, the early days of the LGBTQ movement (which my late friend Jack Nichols was an integral part. 

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Patty Hearst 

The era, of course, had its dark side with the escalation of the war in Vietnam, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, President Kennedy and his brother Robert and the election of President Nixon, which would turn out to be one of the most polarizing presidential figures in recent history and of course the military coup that ousted a democratically elected president in Brazil and began a cruel military regime that would remain in power for twenty years. In music, a free concert in Altamont ended in tragedy when a man was murdered by a member of the Hell’s Angels, who were providing security at the event. 

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A Portrait of Bob Dylan, with original lyrics below it (E. Barteldes)

One of the most turbulent years of that decade was 1968, the year I came into this world. That was when student protests erupted around the globe that almost cancelled the Olympic Games in Mexico City and also, when Dr. King and Robert Kennedy, as mentioned before, met the end of their lives by an assassin’s bullet.  

To commemorate that year, the New York Public Library is holding a multimedia exhibit that highlights the many events of the decade (and also some of the consequences that spilled into the 70s) that looks into all its nuances – the music, the politics, the films and much more.  

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Walter Bredel, Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, Bethel, NY, 1969. NYPL, Music Division.

As you enter the Gottesman Exhibition Hall at the  Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue, a sign warns that some of the material might “not be appropriate” for viewers. They’re not kidding. One of the first exhibits deals with the Summer of Love and its many branches – the Hippies that came together at San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury with a graphic photo of the members of the Cockettes – an underground theater group that often performed in the nude – with uncensored pictures to prove it.  

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Exhinit (photo by NYPL)

Further down are examples of the several underground anti-government groups that formed during the era, including a detailed record of the abduction and conversion of heiress Patty Hearst to a participant of the Symbionese Liberation Army (recently made into a documentary film on CNN). On two screens there are looping videos of the 1969 Woodstock Concert (again uncensored) and moments from the musicals Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar.  

Each section is divided by names of popular songs from the era – the name of the exhibit itself is taken from The Beatles’ Revolution (single from 1968), and other tunes include Stephen Stills’ “Love The One You’re With,” Bob Dylan’s “The Times Are A-Changing” and others. In two listening booths decorated with album covers you can listen to tunes from the era divided into the categories of love, political change and sexual liberation.  

I visited the exhibit accompanied by four students from one of my classes at the college where I teach English as a second language, and it was interesting to see the reactions on the faces of these twenty-somethings that had little or no idea about those times. One student was shocked by a random picture taken at Woodstock of a young lady dancing completely in the nude (I think the title was “Nude Girl at Concert”), while others seemed surprised at how things were different five decades ago.  

We later sat at the café inside the library and chatted about it. Many expressed surprise at what they saw and heard, and the conversation then went into a different era – the mid-80s and 90s, when AIDS brought a counter-revolution of sorts as a more conservative attitude about general behavior seemed to take hold even as many today enjoy the benefits brought on by the changes the came during the 60s.  

But that’s another story.  

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CD/DVD Review: George Fest

By Ernest Barteldes

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When I first heard about George Fest, I thought it was really great idea: bring together a new generation of rock performers (alongside a handful of more established ones) to take stabs at George Harrison’s canon to younger fans who might not even had been around when Harrison released his final hit records in the late 80s.

 

I recall receiving an e-mail from a publicist about the release of the concert film and CD from the 2014 tribute show in Los Angeles shorty before its release , but due to my workload at the time it kind of fell through the cracks and it only came back to my mind when I caught the end of the film on MTV – when the entire ensemble ran through The Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle with Care.” I was intrigued and ordered the box from the New York Public Library (no, I don’t do Netflix) and sat down to listen to it as soon as it came in.

It was a fun show to watch, but I felt that the musicians could have been a bit more inventive with the music.  After all, these were bands like The Flaming Lips (who took on “It’s All Too Much,” and oft-overlooked track from “Yellow Submarine”) and members of The Strokes, Heart, Spoon and other bands. However, with few exceptions they played most of the tunes a bit too closely to the original arrangements, sounding more like cover bands than they should have.

There were, however, some brilliant moments: San Francisco’s Black Rebel Motorcycle Club took on “The Art of Dying (from “All Things Must Pass”) and slowed it down, playing with distorted guitars and deadpan vocals that better translated the tune’s mood than Harrison’s overproduced version. Norah Jones (who also did “Something”) took advantage of the country feel of “Behind the Locked Door” to make the tune her own with a soulful vocal delivery and her own acoustic guitar accompaniment. The Cult’s Ian Astbury gives a chillingly beautiful take on “Be Here Now,” an obscure track from “Living in the Material World.”

The deeper cuts were the best surprise here – while standards like “My Sweet Lord” (with an honest delivery from Brian Wilson) and “Taxman” (by The Cold War Kids) were on the set list, we also got to hear seldom-heard tunes like “Savoy Truffle” (Dhani Harrison, who sounds and looks too much like his father) and “Any Road” (from George’s last album, “Brainwashed”). But there were a few missed opportunities – for instance, why have ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic do a straight version of “What is Life” when he could have amused us with “This Song is Just Six Words Long,”  his hilarious parody of “I’ve Got My Mind Set on You” instead?

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One could say such a rendition would offend hardcore George Harrison fans, but then again that was not even a Harrison composition in the first place, but a cover of an obscure track originally recorded in the early 60s by African-American R&B singer James Ray (go ahead, Google it).  The tune, incidentally, is also on the set, played by the numbers by The Killers’ Brandon Flowers.
I am not in any way going to say it is a bad album – it is nice to hear all these young artists take on this music of my favorite Beatle with such gusto, but as I have said earlier, I would have liked if more of them had tried to be more inventive with the tunes, just as George himself did whenever he played live. You pay tribute not by imitating but by reinventing the music – and giving it your own take.

Capsule Reviews: John Basile. Calixto Oviedo, Ivete Sangalo & Criollo

By Ernest Barteldes

I know it’s been a while since I posted any  new disc reviews – during the summer I pretty much refrain from doing that because I am either out there attending concerts (reviewing either here or for All About Jazz), so when Labor Day comes along there is a pile of neglected records begging to be heard and reviewed.

Now years ago I would have had a number of outlets to write in-depth reviews of these wonderful works, but considering that way too many publications have either disappeared or hired so-called “music editors” who think they are the last bottle of Coca-Cola in the desert, I have created this labor of love in which I bring you some of the music that I have heard and appreciated.

Since summer is over and that means that I won’t be heading to concerts as often, I would like to offer you a selection of recordings that were released in the last few weeks and that I think deserve to be checked out. This is not in any specific order of preference – check them out:

A picture of a street sign for Liverpool’s most famous street greets you on John Basile’s Penny Lane (Self-released) ,a jazz tribute to the works of the Fab Four. Kicking off with the symphonic “Eleanor Rigby,” Basile works through some of the Beatles’ deep cuts while finding a new way to improvise around hits like “Can’t Buy me Love” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” the latter of which sounds nothing like what was played at the Ed Sullivan Theater thanks to the creativity around the arrangements. Sadly, Basile pulled a Sinatra and credited “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” to Lennon/McCartney – I am assuming this was a typo since it is one of George Harrison’s most beloved and well-known songs after “Something”.

I first heard master drummer Calixto Oviedo at the Jazz Standard a couple of years ago, and was impressed by his creativity and dexterity, as you can see from a review I published on All About Jazz when he was in town as part of the New Dimensions in Jazz program, which continues to showcase new voices in Latin jazz.  We have stayed in touch on social media since then, and he was nice enough to send me a copy of his “Cuban Train: Como Suena,” which is like a party to the ears.  I expected to hear more traditional material, but here he expands the music into various directions, going from modern jazz to more traditional material

Last year Renata and I attended a free show in Fortaleza in tribute to the late singer-songwriter Tim Maia. The concert was part of a national tour sponsored by Nivea (the popular cosmetic brand) that featured singers Ivete Sangalo and Criollo, who did their own takes on the music, often sharing duets. I was not able to review that show because there was a large crowd and it was just impossible to take notes there.  The duo also released a studio album (I was hoping for a live DVD or something, but that has yet to materialize) with some of the songs included on the tour.  Among the most notable are Criollo’s take on “Chocolate” (a hit for Marisa Monte – I am assuming that is why Sangalo did not carry that one), which has a nice R&B feel, and “Corone Antonio Bento,” a song with strong northeastern Brazilian roots. The disc does a very good job of bringing Maia’s music to younger generations.

Album Review: Craig Greenberg’s “Grand Loss & Legacy”

By Ernest Barteldes

I first met Craig Greenberg about three years ago at a rehearsal studio in Brooklyn.  We were both part of the backing band for Roger Greenawalt’s “Beatles Live on Ukulele” at The Brooklyn Bowl – an event I participated in for three years. At the time, I was pretty oblivious of the New York independent music scene since I’d spent most of my time covering jazz and world acts (to a degree that is still true – even today, more West Coast musicians reach out to me for coverage than folks closer to my own ZIP code – but I digress) and had a vague idea of who was taking part of it. As far as I could tell, these were some musically gifted Beatles enthusiasts who were willing to be part of a charitable event.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realized that Greenberg was actually an accomplished singer-songwriter with great piano and guitar chops (I’ve seen posts about his ukulele, but I haven’t heard him playing that one yet). In fact, one of my proudest moments from the three Beatles events I participated in is a version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in which I contributed bass and supporting vocals with Greenberg on lead vocals, Jeremiah Birnbaum on co-lead guitar and Greenawalt on uke – a the song came out great in spite of the fact that we only rehearsed it a couple of times.

In 2014 I heard Greenberg do his own music for the first time at his debut appearance at Joe’s Pub, which I reviewed for All About Jazz a few months ago – so it was natural that I wanted to listen to The Grand Loss and Legacy as soon as it came out – and let me tell you that his new tunes confirmed my initial good impression of his work as a songwriter.

I read reviews from other writers, and many make obvious comparisons between him and Billy Joel, which I completely disagree with. It’s too easy to pigeonhole a piano-playing rocker from New York to Joel, and I feel that even though Greenberg might have been influenced by him, he goes way farther than that.  What I like about him is his sense of humor towards the music and his jazz-like approach to his main instrument.

One of the highlight from the disc is “That Girl Is Wrong For You,” fast-tempo tune in which the narrator urges a friend to see that he is in a doomed relationship.  The friend spells it right out without any metaphors, making it clear that the woman will destroy his friend’s spirit and advising him to end it “before it’s too late.”  He makes a political statement on “Death on The Liberty Line” that makes a reference to the provisions of the Patriot Act (without mentioning it directly), warning of the dangers of giving up certain freedoms for the sake of fear. I enjoyed how guitarist Patrick Brennan contributed a Brian May-inspired guitar line that accompanies the vocal line and also the ominous-sounding solo towards the end of the track.

Another great moment comes with the uptempo “Weekend Holiday,” a story about a girl who dreams of stardom and once she makes to the top, she seems not to have achieved all of her dreams even though she has everyone at her feet – a cautionary tale about wanting a material life but lacking spiritual achievement.

Greenberg did a great job with this collection – the arrangements were carefully done (although I would have liked the guitars to stand out a little more) and the songs seem carefully crafted.  This is a guy ripe for discovery by a bigger audience – so catch him before he’s playing venues you can’t afford.

Listen to “That Girl Is Wrong For You” 

Visit his website http://craiggreenbergmusic.com/grandloss/