July Preview: What to Listen and Watch in the Midsummer

By Ernest Barteldes

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Aterciopelados, LAMC at Summerstage, July 11

July comes with even hotter temperatures but also brings a full calendar of outdoor shows in many locations. Again, as we did on previous months, we will focus on shows that are either free of charge or with a suggested donation, as is the case with most performances at the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn and at Summerstage.

At Bryant Park, the Summer movie series continues with a program that includes classics like Carrie (the Original 1976 with Sissy Spacek and a very young John Travolta), Coming to America and Goodfellas among some lesser-known titles. Films begin at sunset, but you should come early, since space in the grass is occupied as early as 6:00 PM.

The month of July marks the celebration of the 20th Anniversary of The Latin Alternative Music Conference, a citywide event that includes various showcases, panel discussions and other goodies, but for the general public there are free shows around the city. These performances include an opening show at Central Park Summerstage headlined by Mexico’s Ximena Sariñana  (Wednesday, July 10th at 5 PM), one of the most respected young pop artists in her native country. Her style brings to mind girl-power singers like Avril Lavigne and (if you think of the 90s) Alanis Morrissette. Also on the bill are iLe and Nathy Peluso. The following day, LAMC will host a showcase in Queensbridge Park (July 11th) featuring legendary Colombian band Aterciopelados, Diamante Electrico and DJ Dayansita

Later in the weekend the conference moves to Celebrate Brooklyn, where Guatemala’s Gaby Moreno (Prospect Park, July 12th) a bilingual artist that mixes pop and traditional sounds  will be sharing the bill with Mexico’s Enhambre and El David Aguilar, and then things move back to Central Park (Saturday, July 13th) with tith a big 20th anniversary party featuring Vicente Garcia, ChocQuibTown, Macaco & Guaynaa. On the same evening, Malian living legend Salif Keita will headline at Prospect Park – making it one heck of a busy weekend if you plan on attending every show.

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I’m With Her, Celebrate Brooklyn July 18

Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan are three artists with respectable careers in their own right, but when they get together for their “Supergroup” I’m With Her things get far more interesting, as they use more harmonies and musical textures that go beyond their solo works. Opening the evening is Darlingside, a four-piece group from Boston that takes inspiration from 60s groups like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Simon & Garfunkel but put their own personal imprint, being both retro and contemporary at the same time. (BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, July 18).

I’ve heard Chilean-French rapper Ana Tijoux multiple times over the years, going from her rather raw debut appearance at LAMC almost a decade ago to her more evolved, social justice-conscious phase, where her angrier raps became more melodically intricate.  She continues to evolve, so don’t expect her to simply rap to the beats in her breakout hit “1977.” She has a deeper, more powerful message these days. (Summerstage at Corporal Thomas Park, July 20)

One of the biggest hits on Broadway in recent years, Fela! The Concert celebrates the times and music of iconic Afrobeat founder Fela Kuti with a ten-piece band, dancers and singers – some who were part of the original production – a great opportunity to watch the show again or for those who missed it to actually watch it for free. (Summerstage at Coney Island, July 26 and July 31 at Central Park)

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Alceu Valença, July 27 Brazil Summerfest at Summerstage

Brazil Summerfest is a two-week long festival that celebrates everything Brazilian, kicking off with a free street fair featuring traditional music, food and even some artisanal works. There are several ticketed shows, panel discussions and movie screenings throughout the event, including a free show at Central Park Summerstage featuring Alceu Valença (July 27), a legendary singer-songwriter in Brazil but who hardly ever performs in the US (at least from memory, I cannot recall ever hearing of him performing Stateside in the two decades I’ve been here). His music is a blend of traditional Northeastern beats with theatrics and rock. He is a consummate perfectionist in spite of his eccentric stage persona – I once saw him stop a show because the sound was not of his liking, but he did apologize to the audience for that, and later gave a stellar performance after the problems were solved.

August is also promising as Celebrate Brooklyn, Summerstage and Lincoln Center Out of Doors continue their free programs – tune back in at the end of July for some cool recommendations.

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Brandee Younger Trio At Summerstage in Central Park

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Brandee Younger (Ernest Barteldes)

Brandee Younger Trio

Central Park Summerstage

June 15, 2019

By Ernest Barteldes

Backed by Endea Owens (upright bass) and E.J. Strickland (drums), jazz harpist Brandee Younger kicked off her set with Alice Coltrane’s  “Rama-Rama,” a bright and uptempo theme that quickly transitioned to a more syncopated number centered on Owens’ dominant bassline. She followed that with “Hortence,” an original tune that allowed the bandleader to stretch and further explore the versatility of her instrument, and Owens took another mellifluous solo. She introduced herself and the band (cracking a joke at Strickland’s Gainsville, FL origins) and led the band with a more samba-influenced number.

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Central Park Summerstage

Halfway through the set, the trio was joined by saxophonist Chelsea Baratz for “Essence of Ruby,” whose melody centered on the saxophonist’s tenor sax. It was a tune with a simple structure close to smooth jazz but with more of a contemporary edge.

The four musicians navigated various styles, and included many creative elements – in “Respect the Destroyer,” Younger used effects that gave her harp an electronic-like sound that served as a backdrop for Baratz’s dexterous solo.

They closed their set with a tune by legendary Detroit-born Afro harp player Dorothy Ashby (there was another tune of hers earlier in) that swung much harder than other tunes that evening and gave the opportunity for Strickland to add his only solo of the evening, which he took in a laid-back manner, concentrating more on the drums than the cymbals.

Except for Colombia’s Edmar Castañeda,  who takes more of a Latin-jazz approach to his playing, I had never heard jazz played on a harp – and until recently I had no knowledge of the work of Dorothy Ashby. Younger’s set was enjoyable and also educational, since it made me do some research jazz harp.

The evening was rounded out by a set with a saxophone trio featuring  Jack

DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Shepard.

 

 

Mariza at Summerstage/Central Park

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The Stage at Central Park

Summerstage at Central Park

June 23, 2018

New York, NY

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Mariza

On her debut Summerstage appearance,  Angolan-born and Portugal-based Mariza took to the stage backed by a five-piece band (accordion, percussion, Portuguese guitar, acoustic guitar and bass) to promote mostly material from her self-titled album (Warner Portugal, 2018), which of this writing was not yet available in the US market even though she mentioned it several times during the show.

The set opened with “Sou do Fado,” a traditional tune that has become a staple on her performances – it is a longing number in which she stretches her vocals, utilizing the melisma that are so common to the genre.  She then followed by a ballad  with few fado characteristics – something that has become more and more common on her records starting from 2008’s Terra, which included tunes by  Brazil’s Ivan Lins and also a cover of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” which she performed during the tour in support of that album that year.

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Mariza

Among the highlights was an original tune named “Ja Passou,” a ballad dedicated to her young son. The expression is common in Portugal, and it means that the “pain is over” (the term was actually used on the Luso-Portuguese version of “Let It Go” from the soundtrack of the movie “Frozen”), and it is usually told to young children when they get hurt in some way.

Hearing Mariza in an outdoor setting was quite refreshing, because in previous U.S. stops she mostly performed in theaters, and was interesting to hear her outdoors, and wondered how the outside temperature would affect her singing.  The truth is, it didn’t, and she sang with the same potency and passion that she has delivered in previous shows.

 

Weekend Music in Review: Frank Haye & Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, Brazil Summerfest featuring Elza Soares and Liniker & Os Caramelows at SummerStage in Central Park

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Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir

By Ernest Barteldes 

 

Frank Haye & The Brooklyn Interdenominational  

Gospel Choir 

BRIC at Celebrate Brooklyn 

August 4, 2017 

 

The Brooklyn Interdenominational Gospel Choir  – backed by keyboards, bass, guitar and horns – opened their short set by blending secular and Christian music, including snippets from Nina Simone’s “Ooh Child,” Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” and the Temptations’ “My Girl” and then drifting into a bluesy slow-tempo religious tune that set the tone for the remaining of their set – the music went in various directions, and included a song that challenged the singer as the key was modulated several times.  

One of my favorite moments was a country-inspired number whose lyrics spoke about self-doubt and finding your faith in spite of everything – which then went into the grand finale with the classic “Oh Happy Day” featuring a contralto that blew everyone away with her great energy and vocal prowess.  

The concert was followed by a screening of Creed with a live score performed by the Wordless Music Orchestra, which will be returning to the Prospect Park Bandshell on August 10 for a performance backing Selma fronted by Jason Moran 

 

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Liniker & Os Caramelows

Linikner & Os Caramelows + 

Elza Soares 

Brazil Summerfest at SummerStage 

In Central Park 

August 5, 2017 

 

The annual Brasil Summerfest – a weeklong festival showcasing Brazilian talent –  kicked off at SummerStage with Liniker & Os Caramelows, a large ensemble led by dress-clad Liniker Barros, a powerful singer who prefers to be considered genderless – on an early interview with a Brazilian newspaper, Liniker identified as “gay, black and poor” but hell the band can swing! Their music navigates from blues to funk but their roots are deeply rooted in Tropicalismo – Brazil’s response to Psychedelics that made musicians like Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa and Baby Consuelo household names in their native country. 

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Elza Soares

Elza Soares came on with a selection of music from “Mulher Do Fim Do Mundo,” her first release in over a decade. As Sao Paulo’s Folha de Sao Paulo noted, fans who were hoping to hear familiar sambas might have been a bit disappointed as she focused on new material – she sang seated on a a throne because of current back problems – but it was a stellar performance nevertheless. Due to current political problems in Brazil, the event was politically charged – some fans were screaming “Fora Temer” throughout the set (because many on the left want to get rid of embattled conservative president Michel Temer) – something she encouraged between songs.  

Soares acknowledged the “young Sao Paulo musicians” who made her album possible and kept on going with more alternative material – fans in the audience seemed well-schooled in the material and sang along with every song. Soares did veer into some more traditional material towards the end, but this was definitely her statement – she was not interested in rehashing the past but to look to the future instead – this was definitely not your grandma’s Elza Soares.

SummerStage in Central Park: Chicano Batman & Los Pericos at LAMC

by Ernest Barteldes

Chicano Batman + Los Pericos

LAMC at Summerstage in Central Park

July 15, 2017

 

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Chicano Batman

Los Angeles-based Chicano Batman came on stage with their Psychedelic-inspired sound, complete with Mellotron-based tunes and a look more suited to Ed Sullivan circa 1968 then Central Park in 2017, but I guess that is the message they want to convey. Though mostly a quartet, they were often enhanced by a pair of backing vocalists – one whom took over the keyboards when lead singer Eduardo Arenas either stepped away from the mic to sing lead or played guitar.

I half expected this edition of the LAMC to be a bit political given the current divisions in the United States, but was surprised that no one spoke of walls or anything related to the current president in this country: it was all about the music and little else. The band instead took the opportunity to showcase as many of their influences as possible, including a Cumbia-inflected tune and a ranchera in which the bassist took over the guitar while Arenas took over the bass guitar.

Chicano Batman has great chemistry together, but it seems they are not yet ready to play large stages like Rumsey Playfield.  There is no doubt about their talent – their instrumental moments were quite great – but they seemed a bit overwhelmed about being before a numerous audience like the ones often seen there – I guess we are looking at diamonds in the rough, and would be happy to learn they’ve evolved in coming years.

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Los Pericos

After a short break, Argentina’s Los Pericos brought a mix of funk and reggae with a Latin take – I felt they were very influenced by Brazil’s Paralamas do Sucesso – that got the audience moving from the moment they played their first chord.  They had great energy and effectively communicated with the crowd by calling on the different nationalities represented there.

Los Pericos has been around for three decades, and their set reflected that experience: the music went from disco-inflected moments to salsa and various other rhythms while never losing touch with their original influences. Since there were many in the audience who had probably never heard of them, the band jam-packed their set with their best material so people could know what they were about.  A handful of their tunes were in English – with lyrics that either talked about heartbreak or romantic defiance – but most were in their native Spanish.

It was a wonderful afternoon – I just wish the weather on Friday had been a bit better so I could have caught the showcase at Celebrate Brooklyn the previous night – it would have made for a much better musical experience.

Concert Review: DJ Sets by Quantic, Gilles Peterson and AFrika Bambaataa

Afrika Bambaata Singer

By Ernest Barteldes

Gilles Peterson + Quantic +

Afrika Bambaataa

Central Park Summerstage

New York, NY

August 8, 2015

I’ve  never quite  understood the point of featuring DJs at Summertage in Central Park. I say this meaning no disrespect to the profession –  I actually think that a good DJ can sometimes be even more entertaining than a band at times, but the atmosphere has to be right. At the Rumsey Playfield they are doing their thing in the middle of the day, when most clubbers are not even thinking about heading out. I understand having one at hand to warm up the crowd for a musical act, as DJ Greg Caz did a couple of years back when Bebel Gilberto was featured as part of the Brazil Summerfest Festival.

There was a celebratory mood at Summerstage when Renata and I arrived – the evening was promoted by Giant Step, the former label that now concentrates on event promotion and marketing. DJ Quantic was at the booth doing a mix of Latin, pop and even a few New Orleans-inspired cuts (specifically a brass version of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”) Most of the fans were clearly there for the headliners Afrika Bambattaa, but they followed the music attentively.

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Having nothing but a guy on the booth in the middle of the stage makes the stage feel a bit empty – I mean, this is a space that usually holds as many as 20 people. Sure, the music was quite intriguing but I did feel a lack of energy there.

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 Gilles Peterson soon followed and did a more uptempo set that included some Brazilian tunes with a concentration on psychedelic sounds. He had more of an upbeat groove and got the audience moving quite quickly – he got people moving with his smart selection.

Afrika Bambaataa  (born Kevin Donovan) was clearly more successful than the other two – he came on with several folks on stage that got things jumping – while he manned the equipment, rappers did their thing enticing the crowd to dance and follow the music.

It was certainly an enjoyable evening  – it was likely my last stop at Summerstage for the season (there still is  the Charlie Parker Festival late in August) since this year’s edition of the Brazilian Film Festival was canceled due to apparent financial constraints.

Concert Review: Dr. John & the Night Trippers at Central Park Summerstage

By Ernest Barteldes

Dr. John at Summerstage

Dr. John at Summerstage

Dr. John & The Night Trippers

Central Park Summerstage

August 1, 2015

New York, NY

It was a hot Saturday afternoon when Renata and I headed to Rumsey Playfield – I was excited about New Orleans legend Dr. John’s appearance there – I had really enjoyed Ske-Dat-De-Dat The Spirit Of Satch (Concord), his recent tribute to Louis Armstrong released late last year, and was looking forward to hearing the music played live. We arrived a bit too late to catch much of Amy Helm‘s (the daughter of the late Levon Helm) folksy set, but enjoyed the last few songs as we settled on our seats.

The Night Trippers  started out with a funk-inflected melody  – the four-piece ensemble directed by  his backup singer and trombonist Sarah Morrow, an energetic woman who asked the audience if “anyone needed a doctor.” Seconds later, Dr. John emerged on stage and walked to the piano (assisted by a cane) for a spirited rendition of “Iko Iko,”  one of the staples of his live sets. He kept the energy level high, pounding the piano with gusto and sometimes semi-rapping through the lyrics.

There was a lot of improvisation throughout the set – Morrow played extended solos, and Dr. John also exercised his great piano skills, stretching some numbers to as much as 10 minutes. He did not really delve into the music from the Armstrong tribute, but did include “What a Wonderful World”  and “Mack the Knife” played closely to the arrangement on the disc.

Sarah Morrow, Musical Director for Dr. John

Sarah Morrow, Musical Director for Dr. John

The only part of the set I didn’t really enjoy was when he picked up the guitar – his playing was a bit slow and lacked energy  (probably owing to the damage he sustained after a gun accident in the 60s) – but when he returned to the keys for numbers like “Good Night Irene”  you could virtually see sparks fly. Most of those in attendance were clearly longtime fans who sang along to many of the tunes (I was not familiar with many of them).

Dr. John is known for playing longer sets, and he did not disappoint – by the time he got to the closer “Such a Night,”  almost two hours had passed. It was not easy to be under the sun for such a long time, but it was definitely worth it to catch such a legend on a live format.