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.

Music Reviews: Marisa Monte’s Colecao and David Feldman’s Horizonte: Two From Brazil

By Ernest Barteldes

Colecao

Marisa Monte

Universal Music

David Feldman

Horizonte

Self-released

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Marisa Monte is not what you would call a conventional performer – in spite of having a very successful career spanning almost three decades (yes, her debut was released in 1989), she was reportedly not too happy with the idea of releasing a collection of her greatest hits. However, since her contract with Universal Music (which merged with EMI in 2011) called for a compilation, the solution was to put together a selection of lesser-known tunes that either appeared as duets in other performers’ albums or in movie soundtracks – plus a handful that had never seen the light of day until then.

Being the perfectionist that Monte is, this is no hastily thrown-together compilation but a carefully curated tune selection. A couple of those tracks might be well-known to World Music fans, such her duet with David Byrne on the Jobim classic “Waters of March” that appeared on the first Red, Hot and Rio album in 1996 – it is a welcome update on the bossa nova compositions, filled with electronic sounds and the Afro-Brazilian percussion of Carlinhos Brown. Another is the gentle balad “Ilusion,” a bilingual (English/Portuguese duet with Mexican singer Julieta Venegas from the latter’s MTV Unplugged disc.

Among the highlights is “Nu Com a Minha Musica,” a Caetano Veloso composition originally featured on the criminally ignored Red, Hot & Rio 2, a celebration of the Tropicalia Generation led by Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Ze and others. Also great is “Chuva No Mar,” a duet with Portuguese fado singer Carminho.

Because Monte is such a versatile singer, many fans don’t realize how good she is at belting out a traditional samba – in fact, she has done considerable effortsto record voices from samba, and “Volta Meu Amor” and “Dizem Que o Amor” are excellent examples of that – she loses herself in the music with zero pretension and emerges with very enjoyable moments.

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I first encountered the sounds of pianist David Feldman as part of the Brazilian side of Scott Feiner’s “Pandeiro Jazz” project (he recorded his second album of that concept with a band based in Rio). A few years later, he participated in drummer Duduka Da Fonseca’s contemporary-driven trio. In recent years I heard he’d been performing Stateside, but I didn’t have the chance to catch him live.

In spite of his English-sounding name, Feldman was born in Rio and lived in New York for a number of years following his graaduation from the New School of Jazz and Cotemporary Music until he returned to Brazil, where he has a solid career both as a bandleader and a sideman with the likes of Leny Andrade, Maria Rita and Leo Gandeldman, to name a few.

On “Horizonte,” Feldman showcases his bossa nova chops in tunes like “Tetê,” a gentle samba that evokes memories of mid-career Jobim with a touch of Dorival Caymmi, featuring guitarist Toninho Horta on guitar and vocals. “Esqueceram de Mim no Aeroporto,” however, goes into more contemporary direction. Marcio Bahia’s drums have rich polyrythms that complement Feldman’s groove in a perfect manner – bassist Andre Vasconcelos completes the backdrop with gusto with his bassline (plus an accomplished solo halfway through).

Ceu e Mar” follows a similar direction – a modern piece with clear influence from samba jazz, specially via the rhythm section, who keeps the feel in Rio even if Feldman takes the music somewhere else. “Sliding Ways,” on the other hand, sounds like a jazz homage to gafiera samba, the kind played in ballrooms in Brazil. Trombonist Raul de Souza guests, giving the tune a hummable feel rarely found in jazz albums these days.

Terence Blanchard at Summerstage/Clove Lakes Park – August 5, 2016

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Terence Blanchard at Clove Lakes Park

Article and pictures by Ernest Barteldes

Terence Blanchard & E-Collective

Summerstage at Clove Lakes Park

Staten Island, NY

August 5, 2016

 

 

On an evening dedicated to the memory of Eric Garner, the Staten Island African-American dad killed while in police custody (members of his family were in attendance) in 2014 there were a handful of performers and activists on stage before the headlining artist went on stage – including a young  woman who did a spoken word piece on police violence and the consequences it has on the different communities around the nation and a statement by New York City Councilwoman Debbie Rose.

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Spoken word, beautifully made. 

Shortly after that Terence Blanchard came on stage backed by a quartet (bass, keys, drums, guitar) starting with the complex title piece from his album “Breathless” – entirely recorded in tribute to Garner – that included a four-part harmony on his synth trumpet.  The piece was very contemporary and pretty much centered on his instrument –  he had little connection with the audience and didn’t seem interested on their feedback  – something he seemed to be focused on doing for the entire evening.

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Blanchard and his synth trumpet

The pieces went from contemporary jazz to jazz-rock but with no New Orleans connection – something I had hoped to hear that night considering the bandleader’s roots.  The band was incredibly well-rehearsed and tight but seemed unable to connect except for one moment when the guitarist really rocked out and had the audience applauding.  Blanchard used a lot of effects on his trumpet and sometimes drowned out the band entirely as he experimented with the various extraneous sounds he was able to create with his horn.

This was an evening of hard jazz – probably a bit off for a park on Staten Island, but I guess audiences need to be taken out of their comfort zones at times. I did not expect to hear this kind of music there, but I did enjoy it at times.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that Blanchard is a fantastically talented musician, but from what I have been listening live over the years  he seems to have become one of these jazz cats who play at the peak of their  intellectuality and technique and not seem to care about fans. Then again, being this a concert in memory of a victim of police brutality maybe the tone was appropriate – but most of the audience was not aware of that)

It was not a bad show overall, but it was not what I was expecting to hear. He barely communicated with the crowd, and when he did he seemed a bit uncomfortable doing so. A show clearly aimed at jazz purists or those interested in really out there material – suitable for a club or a jazz festival. Another reviewer focused on the social part of the evening, but I’d rather look at the music on its own.

Single Review: Karar by Duke Guillaume

By Ernest Barteldes

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    “Karar” by Duke Guillaume

For those familiar with saxophonist and bandleader Duke Guillaume’s devotional work both as a solo artist and with The Metropolitan Big Band, this single is quite a departure. “Karar” seems to draw inspiration from the sonic mix more closely identified with South Florida, blending electronics with classic jazz and Latin-esque sensibilities (which probably explains the cover, which pictures the musician embracing the sun and the beach), tending to follow more a dance vibe than trying to sound too improvisational

While the main melody keeps on a straight dance beat, things get quite interesting in the chorus, where a Latin samba-reggae mood kicks in, taking you away from Florida and more into the streets of Bahia, where the Afro-inspired drums play as the crowds follow them through the narrow streets of the Historical District every Tuesday night. I also felt a bit of Puerto Rico’s reggaeton into the mix – a beat that has yet to be explored by jazz musicians.

You can check out the track below:

 

Album Review: Hiromi/Spark

By Ernest Barteldes

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I have been following Hiromi’s career for quite a while – I have always been in awe not only of her unique approach to jazz piano but also her fiery performances  either as a bandleader or a side player with Stanley Clarke, which I was fortunate enough to hear not once but twice – at the Blue Note (with Lenny White on drums) and later that year at Central Park Summerstage.

When playing live, she becomes almost one with the music, using her entire body to deliver the music. She has incredible speed and her tunes mix more traditional contemporary jazz with electronic elements.  When performing with her band, the sound is incredibly tight, and their chemistry is palpable.

On Spark (Telarc/Concord), Hiromi reunites with the trio project from 2010’s “Move” (Telarc/Concord), which is rounded out by Anthony Jackson (electric bass) and Simon Phillips (drums).  The disc opens with the title track, a nine-minute tour-de-force that begins with a mellow, classically inflected piano solo that evolves into a progressive piece in which the bandleader exercises her creativity with a solid backbeat from the rhythm section.

“In a Trance” is a fast-paced in which Phillips doubles the entire piano’s notes with the drums – everything is played with incredible speed that it takes a few hearings to fully grasp everything, but just as you adjust the song changes pace into a Brazilian-like, laid-back feel before it goes back to the original melody.  Things don’t quite slow down until “Wake Up and Dream,” a mellifluous solo piano ballad reminiscent of 2009’s “Place to Be,” her only solo piano album to date. “Spark” closes with “All’s Well,” a straight-ahead, bluesy tune that allows the band to stretch and showcase a more playful side.

With “Spark,” Hiromi has not veered from her path of musical exploration, and the tunes have welcome twists that surprise even fans familiar with her previous works.

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Spark

Telarc/Concord

2016

Remembering Natalie Cole

By Ernest Barteldes

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Natalie Cole didn’t really register into my musical radar during her early career – in the 1980s I was deep into doing musical research on the origins of blues and jazz and was listening to stuff no one my age did – my ‘pop’ was stuff like Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Otis Redding, Etta James and Chuck Berry plus jazz icons such as Dave Brubeck and Louis Armstrong (thanks to this, I am able to write about music for all of you).

But when Cole released her now-classic Unforgettable… With Love (Elektra, 1991) I paid attention. I had been a fan of her father’s work, and it was refreshing to hear an album recorded with actual musicians at a time when everyone else seemed to rely synthesizers and computers. The title track, a duet with Natalie and her dad, became her signature song and was a bit overplayed at a time, but listening to the whole album reveals a burgeoning jazz singer with great pipes that completely changed her career.

I remember hearing another less-famous duet – one she recorded with Frank Sinatra on his “Duets” album (Capitol, 1993). The song was George and Ira Gershwin’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” in which she marvelously scatted during the instrumental break, making me remember of how Ella Fitzgerald improvised when singing alongside Sinatra over the years. That made me really pay attention to her, and from that point on I found myself with great respect to her talent.

I only got to hear her live once –  I am not sure if it was 2001 or 2002 – on a double bill at the City Center with Ray Charles. It was a memorable concert for many reasons: it was only my second show in New York, and I was thrilled to be able to hear two living legends on a single day.  We had lousy seats on the sixth floor, but the sound quality was great. Ray Charles kicked off the proceedings, doing classic songs such as “Hit The Road, Jack” and “Georgia on My Mind” – a tight set in which he played as many tunes as he could with the time he had.

Most of the audience was apparently there for Ray, so when he ended his set a lot of people left, which gave my companion and I a chance to sneak into a lower floor with better seats (we could have been ejected, but the person I went with had a bit of a devil-may-care attitude about things).  She came on after about half an hour. She was dressed in a form-fitting red dress and was very charming with the audience.  She sang mostly tunes from “Unforgettable” and “Stardust” (Elektra, 1996), closing with her R&B hit “This Will Be,” the sole song from her early career.

When I heard about her untimely passing, I found myself thinking about that one show I saw – a very happy occasion and a great memory of not one but two great performers who are now no longer among us – but still with us through the music they left behind.

Disc review: Trio da Paz “30”

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By Ernest Barteldes

 

Guitarist Romero Lubambo, drummer Duduka Da Fonseca and bassist Nilson Matta are all accomplished bandleaders in their own right, but when they get together as Trio da Paz there is clearly some extra musical magic going on.  The three musicians have fantastic chemistry together, and that can be heard not only on a live format but also in the studio.

The group began via informal rehearsals the three musicians did together before officially creating Trio da Paz, which now celebrates its 30th anniversary with 30 (Zoho), a record containing mostly original material written individually by Lubambo, Da Fonseca and Matta. The album kicks off with “Sampa 67,” a Matta composition that honors the city of the bassist’s birth (not to be confused by the similarly titled Caetano Veloso tune).  The track is centered on the bass and drums with guitar riffs.  They revisit Lubambo’s “For Donato,” a tune played around a bassline that is reminiscent of Dorival Caymmi’s “Samba da Minha Terra” but then goes into a completely different direction.

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The song was previously recorded by its composer on 2002’s Rio de Janeiro Underground, but here the arrangement is markedly faster than the original recording, focusing on all three band members.  Also revisited is Da Fonseca’s “Flying Over Rio,” a song previously featured on the drummer’s quintet album “Samba Jazz (Anzic, 2013). The Trio da Paz version is more stripped down, focusing on Lubambo’s nuanced guitar playing.

 

The trio also pays tribute to the late master guitarist Baden Powell with a cover of his “Samba Triste,” here played as an antithesis of its title – instead of being a “sad samba,” it appears as an up-tempo melody that showcases the band members’ individual chops.  It is notable that Lubambo recorded a handful of tracks using electric guitar (something I have never heard him doing with Trio da Paz) – “Outono, “a slow bossa that features a melodious solo from Matta, and also the aforementioned “Flying Over Rio.”

As someone who has seen this trio perform live many times in the past decade, I cannot wait to hear how they will treat these tunes on stage. I have been in awe of their music ever since I heard them for the first time at the Jazz Standard in 2005, and I hope they stick around for a very long time.