Music Preview: Bibi Ferreira at Symphony Space, New York City

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By Ernest Barteldes

Bibi Ferreira

Tuesday, Sept. 20 & 23

Symphony Space

8 PM

I have known about the legendary Brazilian diva Bibi Ferreira for a very long time – she has a long history as a singer, producer, actress and director going from the 1940s to present. She is still active in spite of being 94 years young – and gives no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

I did two interviews with her for The Brasilians over the past few years and was surprised not only by how articulate she was on the phone and also by her fantastic memory – she can remember details of shows she did generations ago as if she had walked out of stage five minutes ago. I was even more amazed to hear her live at Alice Tully Hall – hard to believe is was her New York debut – and heard her sing an array of hard tunes ranging from Verdi to Chico Buarque and Piaf – as if they were nothing.

And then there was Liza Minelli’s hilarious surprise appearance, when they shared the mike for a snippet of “Theme from New York, New York” – a tune made famous by Frank Sinatra but actually introduced by Minelli (go ahead, Google it) in 1972.

On her current show Four Times Bibi, she pays tribute to fado queen Amalia Rodrigues, Piaf, tango legend Carlos Gardel and none other than our own Frank Sinatra – an evening that will bring together various genres together in what promises to be nothing short of amazing – a show that is not to be missed.

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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.

At the Frank Sinatra Centennial Exhibit/New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

IMG_1372 http://www.nypl.org/sinatra

By Ernest Barteldes

I cannot say that growing up I was much of a Frank Sinatra fan. Sure, I’d watched movies like Anchors Aweigh and On The Town (both with Gene Kelly) on TV but at 12 I had no idea that the old man singing on the TV broadcast of his show at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã soccer stadium was the same guy who sang about the Bronx being up and the Battery down in a sailor’s outfit. I believe I was first exposed to Frank Sinatra through my mom, but his music never really reached me until many years later when I heard about his 1992 Duets album, in which he shared the spotlight with the likes of Bono, Gloria Estefan, Aretha Franklin and Luther Vandross. I remember marveling about how timeless these tunes sounded – that impression was further settled with Duets II a couple of years later, even though his voice was clearly tired as he struggled to continue relentlessly touring into his late 70s.

I didn’t really “get” Sinatra until I listened closely to his 1967 collaboration with Brazilian maestro Antonio Carlos Jobim.  It was then that I started to really hear how he carefully phrased each word and gave it a unique feel that few of his contemporaries – and all the standards singers that came after him – were able to match. That was confirmed as I listened to many of his re-releases, including his brilliant albums with Count Basie and Quincy Jones.

So it was with great anticipation that I went to the New York Public Library’s Sinatra exhibit, which was put together with the support of the Grammy Foundation and Sinatra’s family to celebrate his upcoming centennial, and I must say I was not at all disappointed. The show was divided between four sections, going from his youth all the way to his final days, when he sang his last notes at a show in California. IMG_1376 The first room comprises his growing up in Hoboken, New Jersey – there is a facsimile of a train with black and white images of his hometown going by, a door from his parents’ pub and other memorabilia, including an excerpt from his first radio appearance with the Hoboken Four (his first vocal group) and some personal effects of the era, including the ukulele he played to woo his first wife, Nancy. The second part of the exhibit is dedicated to his early movie career, with clips from the films mentioned earlier and his first Academy Award, earned for the short film “The Land I Live In.”  To me, the best pieces of memorabilia were the shoes he and Kelly wore on “Take Me Out to The Ballgame”. IMG_1378 The third room focuses on his Capitol and Reprise years along with his later films all the way to his final TV appearance as a grumpy old detective on the CBS show Magnum, PI.  There were a couple of interactive opportunities – a mixing board allowed visitors to “remix” one of his songs (I got rid of the orchestra, stripping down the music to bass, piano, guitar and drums)  and also a jukebox with a selection of his greatest hits. A whole part is dedicated to Sinatra’s longtime admiration and friendship with Ella Fitzgerald – his specials with her are shown on video, and one of the dresses she wore is on display.  It is also mentioned that there were plans to record a duet album, but that it never came together because of schedule conflicts. There is, of course, a whole section dedicated to the Rat Pack – but not with as much reverence as the part dedicated to Fitzgerald.

The final and most emotional part is dedicated to his later years – his paintings, his close relationship with his family (one small t-shirt had the words “My grandpa is Ol’ Blue Eyes”), golf clubs and personalized jackets. Towards the end of the show there was a booth in which amateur singers could record a “duet” with Sinatra and then finally one of his best late-career shows at the Concert for the Americas, featuring master guitarist Tony Mottola on a fantastic rendition of Jobim’s “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars.”

The exhibit mostly glosses over Sinatra’s troubled relationships with Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow (they are present on the timelines on the walls) and there is no reference to his alleged mob ties and his political leanings. They do mention his support to Civil Rights causes, but the show is mostly about the artist, not the man – save for the final part.

I must say it was quite an emotional experience going through the whole thing, right from feeling the “rumble” of the wheels of the train that got Sinatra out of Hoboken, his albums and especially the videos featuring his son (who worked as musical director for his orchestra during Sinatra’s final decade) Frank Sinatra, Jr, his daughter Nancy Sinatra and his granddaughter Angela Lambert, who discusses Frank’s paintings. The exhibit answered the question I had from the moment I walked in: would it do justice to the man and his music? It certainly does, and it is something I am glad to have seen.

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

Disc Review: Discover World Music/Various Artists

By Ernest Barteldes

When it comes to music, I am a bit of an omnivore – I listen to almost everything with the possible exception of gangsta rap or death metal (then there’s the music played at the gym, but my earphones have solved that). As far as I can remember, I have always listened to music from all over the world. In school, I remember being the only weirdo who not only knew who Harry Belafonte and Elizete Cardoso were (I’ll let you Google that one) but also knew a great part of their catalogues.

Lila Downs

Attending concerts at Summerstage and Celebrate Brooklyn deeply broadened my scope – it was there that I first heard groups like Babasonics (Argentina), Amadou & Mariam (Mali) and Lila Downs (Mexico), and I was also blessed to have been present for what turned out to be the final performance by Celia Cruz.

My time as a contributing writer for the now-defunct Global Rhythm magazine was also an eye-opener. I recall that every month the editors (some of whom I am still in touch with) would send the writers a list of records to review, and I would always pick stuff I was not really familiar with so I could learn a bit more about them – during those years, so much music reached me that it is almost overwhelming to think about it. After some time, I started reviewing live performances – one of the most funs was The Pogues, who played a St. Patrick’s Day Concert at Roseland Ballroom back in 2007. I recall that I was probably one of very few sober people in the room (I don’t drink much while covering shows, maybe a beer and that’s it – you can’t really rely on just your notes if you have too much to drink).

World Music is, however, a hard sell in America. Just a few months back I remember talking about Lila Downs to some co-workers and getting blank stares in return – even if some of them HAD watched Frida. Never mind that her shows are completely sold out in New York, and that is also true about stars like Bebel Gilberto, Malian blues guitarist Vieux Farka Touré, Mexico’s Maná and Colombia’s Aterciopelados. From my experience, American audiences in general do not get ‘foreign’ music unless it is sung in English (one of the reasons why Shakira is big in the US and other Latin artists are not).

It’s not like folks don’t try –  World Music organizations and labels frequently bring artists stateside, but those shows are limited to centers like New York, Chicago (which hosts an annual festival every year during the summer), Los Angeles and Miami – some acts do make it as far as Phoenix but it’s not like they are filling halls in Topeka, KS.  I once had an argument with an editor who told me to stop pitching him African musicians – his readers (or he) were not interested – never mind that some of the acts were performing in one of the most popular concert venues in his town.

What would it take mainstream audiences who are not fans of NPR to pay attention? Maybe bringing everything together in a package would be a good start for World Music neophytes would be a good start – which brings us to Arc Music’s Discover World Music, a double CD that showcases different musicians from around the globe. Some are old favorites like Portugal’s fantastic guitarist Custódio Castelo, one of the most sought-out musicians in his country. He appears on “Inquietude,” a gorgeous instrumental piece that highlights his technique on the Portuguese guitar – the most important instrument in fado.  Brazilian music is also very present via Ceumar’s “Gotas do Norte,” a fine example of xaxado, a near-forgotten rhythm from the northeastern part of the country that has been pretty much dwarfed by more commercial fare I’d rather stay away from.

Other highlights include Egypt’s Hossam Ramzy, one of the most creative composers of his generation, and also Noel McLoughlin’s gorgeous “Song for Ireland,” a tune sung with so much passion that it gives you goose bumps even if you don’t have an Irish bone in your body.

Arc Music is one of these labels that always bring you something new – discovering their releases led me to learn about artists like Marta Gomez, Klezmer Juice and so many more. I really recommend you to get this one as your personal introduction to many other things out there.

Discover World Music

Various Artists

Arc Music

CD Review: Caetano Veloso’s “Abraçaço”

It took me a while for me to finally listen to this album, but it was worth the wait because I could get my mind off the cacophony around me so I could look at this without influence from anyone else.  For the third time, Caetano Veloso teams up with the youngsters of Bandacê to create what I would regard as a late-career masterpiece. For decades he relied on lavish arrangements (often under the direction of master cellist Jacques Morelembaum) and instead plays backed by a bare-bones quartet that is more indie-rock than samba. He still plays his bossa-inflected acoustic guitar, but his music is more visceral these days than it had been during his more commercial 70-80s days when he got British pop singer Richie to duet with him on the very radio-friendly “Shy Moon.” But I digress.

The Caetano I hear is closer to the guy I heard in the music he was writing in the late 60s and early 70s – the songs are highly biographical, and reflect memorable tunes like “É Proibido Proibir” or “Terra,” the latter being about a photo of the Earth seen from the perspective of someone who had been in jail for political reasons. This is evidenced by “Um Comunista,” a song that whose lyrics talk about the life and death of activist Carlos Mariguella, an activist who fought against the military dictatorship in Brazil and ended up assassinated by the police during an ambush. The tune also looks nostalgically at the dreams of the socialists of his era and the results today – one of the fighters is now president and no one seems to remember what the fight was about.

One of the most poignant tunes actually opens the album – “A Bossa Nova É Foda”(Bossa Nova Is The Bitch) – in just a few minutes, he looks at how the bossa movement changed his own perspective of music in spite of what “the poet from Minnesota” – a reference to Bob Dylan – could do to his writing. He seems angry at Joao Gilberto & Co. at times, but in the end he is grateful because they paved the way for him.

Many critics in Brazil derided the album as “too personal,” but what they missed is precisely that – I think Caetano doesn’t give a shit about what critics have to say. His real fans get him, and they will keep singing along to his songs even if the lyrics are somehow incomprehensible unless you understand his personal history.  Caetano has rediscovered his internal muse, and listening to him lay it like this is quite refreshing – even if you don’t understand the words.

Caetano Veloso

Abraçaço

Nonesuch