Concert Review: Mehmet Polat Trio at Drom

Mehmet Polat Trio

Drom

January 19th 2016

New York, NY

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By Ernest Barteldes

 

On the closing concert of their tour in support of Next Spring (Homerecords.be, 2015), the Mehmet Polat Trio (Polat: oud; Sinan Arat: ney; Bao Sissoko : kora) took to the stage of New York City’s Drom for a selection of original songs.  Polat briefly introduced the trio telling the audience what the music was about and immediately set out into their set, opening with a mellow-sounding number based around a simple chord sequence, with all the members freely improvising around the melody.

Without interruption, they went right into the second number, a syncopated tune mostly based around Sissoko’s instrument. The trio kept at this pace, going from seamlessly from song to song without pausing – the end of each tune prompted the next, but the differences were quite noticeable as the rhythm and melodic groove constantly changed.

The chemistry that Polat, Arat and Sissoko have is very evident – just a glance at each other is enough to communicate where the music might be going, and during improvised moments they just find themselves in great synchronicity, finishing off a solo where one of them left off. During a short break between songs, Polat talked about their instruments’ origins and their sonic particularities, and then went on to play two final tunes, beginning with a composition by Sissoko that had a strong West African feel with some traditional Turkish tones in between. The groove seemed to go around a single chord with lots of improvised moments. They closed the set with a tune that was based around the kora and that picked up speed every few bars, which kept audience members wondering when it was actually going to end – a simple melody that stayed in my head for at least a few hours.

The Mehmet Polat Trio rarely performs stateside, but they should be returning in the summer – it would be great to hear them again, since we don’t have many opportunities to hear a group to dares to take traditional music to the next level – one that so greatly integrates two cultures in such an amazing manner.

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Ernest Barteldes’ Annual Christmas Music Wrap-Up is Back!

By Ernest Barteldes

 

For quite a few years I ran an annual wrap-up of the new Christmas music on NewCity over in Chicago, but attentive readers might have noticed that it didn’t happen back in 2014. I got a number of emails about it not only from publicists but also from music fans who looked forward to my annual list of must-haves and albums to ignore.

As I have stated before, the new editor who took over the music site (their publisher used to run it himself, but he seems to have wanted to delegate power to other people) pretty much turned his back on long-time contributors  so a review I had already written ended up unpublished. After confronting both the publisher and the new editor over the article I pretty much gave up on dealing with so-called “visionary” individuals and decided to start – for better or worse – this music blog.

Anyway, enough kvetching, it’s time to look at some of the selections for this year:

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Jazz pianist David Benoit is one of the most talented contemporary pianists of his generation, and his third Holiday-themed album “Believe” (Concord Music) is one of the best I have heard in a long time. Sticking strictly to a straight-ahead format, he goes through a number of standards, masterfully bringing together the Charlie Brown TV specials with “Guaraldi Medley,” a beautiful tribute to the pianist who helped introduce a generation of kids to jazz. Vocalist Jane Monheit joins the trio rounded out by drummer Jamey Tate and bass player David Hughes to create the kind of album that is not your usual classic radio stuff, but something you could hear anytime.

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Thirty years after its bandleader’s passing, The Count Basie Orchestra has continued to make music without any sign of slowing down. Currently under the direction of trumpetist William “Scotty” Barnhart, they have recently collaborated with the likes of Tony Bennett and Ledisi, the latter of whom is a featured performer in “A Very Swingin’ Basie Christmas (Concord), a fabulous piece of music that is sure to be spinning when Renata and I spend our annual Christmas retreat at home away from everyone else that annoys us.

One of the best tracks is “The Christmas Song” fronted by the fabulous Ledisi, who keeps her New Orleans roots on a very traditional arrangement. Things also stay in the Big Easy with “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” led by pianist extraordinaire Ellis Marsalis, the legend who happens to have fathered some of the greatest jazz bandleaders of their generation  say what you will about their individual personalities, but you must admit their talents are unquestionable and undeniable.

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I am not one to say much about someone trying to introduce a new Holiday song to the canon, but Rebecca Angel and the band led by her bandleader father Dennis Angel actually pull it off with their single “My Favorite Time of the Year,” a groovy, bossa-inspired tune with a sincere vocal that might just make it into the canon, specially thanks to the smart arrangement and an honest vocal delivery.

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One of the most anticipated Holiday albums to me is Broadway Cares’ “Carols for a Cure,” when the casts of several shows in town come together to come up with a mix of classic songs, original and parodies.

 

Unlike recent releases, there are no obvious celebrity voices, which makes for a better n overall an enjoyable experience –  except for the presence of Perez Hilton on “Happy All The Time” with the cast of “Elf” – I mean, what is a goddamn blogger doing on a Broadway album? Makes no sense to me, but since he is being featured for the third time in a row I must be missing something. Among best tracks this time around are “We Three Things” with “At This Performance,” which takes the classic tune to a whole new jazz-tinged direction. The best original is Chicago’s “Christmas in Fishnets,” which chronicles the routine of performers at the Great White Way during these festive days. Also notable is the mostly acoustic “Mary did You Know,”  a poignant folksy tune that asks Jesus’ mom about her expectations on the baby she held in her arms on that first Christmas.

These are all great albums – just check them out, all of them will make for a joyous season.

 

 

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

Festival Review: The 2015 Latin Alternative Music Conference

By Ernest Barteldes

Latin Alternative Music Conference

Various Locations

July 8-12, 2015

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I must say that at first I felt reluctant to register for the LAMC this year – after all I now have a day job that does not allow me to fully participate events like these – sure, I do enjoy being part of them, but I feel bad that due to my hours I am unable to say, attend panel discussions or late-night music showcases when I have to be at work for most of the day and up and ready to face classrooms full of students.

Maybe if I had a desk job I could spend the day drinking coffee and dealing with paperwork, but students notice when a teacher looks hungover from lack of sleep – and probably assume your appearance has to do with something else. So ultimately I did the Brazilian thing and registered at the last minute, and decided to cover the event to the best of my abilities – something I will have to do until this blog grows into something – ahem – gainful.

On Wednesday afternoon I headed to the Affinia hotel in midtown Manhattan hotel to pick up my credentials and the gift bag that comes with various goodies, which included a compilation CD of some of the artists showcased at the event, the official T-shirt for the conference and some things – including a power pack for smartphone provided by Verizon, one of the event’s main sponsors this year and sat down to study the program and made plans for the shows I would attend. I knew the indie showcase that evening would be impossible but there would be a lot I could check out with my time availability.

After I wrapped up my classes at work, I returned to the hotel to check out the vendors – Gibson had a beautiful display of new guitars, and I spent some time trying them out. I am a huge fan of the brand (I actually own two of them) and I was eager to check out the new semi-hollow Les Paul model. It certainly did not disappoint – it had that sweet, mellow sound of the 335 with a very lightweight body.

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Later that evening I headed out to SOBs to catch the acoustic showcase.  Each band or soloist plays two songs to give the audience (mostly LAMC attendees) an idea of what the music is about. The evening kicked off with Argentina’s Estelares, who played two tunes – some were singing along with them, and they played with great confidence although they were out of their more electric comfort zone. They were followed by Raquel Sofia, a Puerto Rican singer-songwriter who has worked with several big-name artists and is now doing her own stuff.  She accompanied herself on guitar, and sang with lots of soul. I stayed for just one more singer – Chile’s Rodrigo Solo, who came backed by a small ensemble behind him – unfortunately I had a few personal things to do and could not stay any longer.

On Friday Renata and I headed over to Prospect Park, where Chile’s Astro was already on stage. Their music blended Latin electronica with psychedelic influences and other sounds.  Their sound was heavy on percussion but went into various directions. Some tunes were synth-heavy, almost with a 80s feel. The band members are very versatile, switching instruments throughout the set  – at one point there was something wrong with their electronic equipment, and they just played a punk-inspired tune on guitar, bass and drums with no apparent embellishments, proving their ability to adapt when something goes wrong – other bands might have just stopped playing until the problem had been solved.

After a brief break, Argentina’s Los Autenticos Decadentes took to the stage. They started out with a strong disco-influenced sound but their music is not limited to that at all – they play traditional music, cumbia, rock, drinking songs and other genres.  The band has a total of 12 members, and they switch lead vocals throughout the show.  The band is clearly meant to party to, and the audience responded to that by jumping and dancing through most of the set – the only exception being ballad they played halfway through. They overstayed their time and a presenter tried to make them stop – they responded by going into a short encore that left fans asking for more.

On Saturday we headed to Central Park to hear Mexico’s Ximena Sariñana. We almost didn’t make it in because the security guard at the press entrance questioned me why I don’t carry press ID (I am a freelance writer, this has never been an issue EVER) and then took issue with a selfie stick that had been given to me at the Affinia a day earlier.   I got angry and was ready to leave, but Renata had a cooler head and suggested we go through the main entrance, where no one gave us any problems. We then headed to the press table and got our passes and headed inside, where Uruguay’s No Te Va Gustar were wrapping up their set.

Sariñana came on backed by a six-piece band and kicked off with two fast-paced tunes, quickly going into a funky tune. Her set was packed with her singles including   “Sin Ti No Puede Estar Tan Mal,” the lead single from her 2014 album “No Todo Lo Puedes Dar” and also “Different,” an English-language tune from her second self-titled album.

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She is a highly talented artist who is poised to be the next Shakira if audiences are willing to pay attention. She is quite charming and is also a skilled keyboard player. She has yet to develop the stage presence of someone like Ivete Sangalo or Julieta Venegas, but at 29 she is definitely on the write path.

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The evening closed with an appearance by former Los Fabulosos Cadillacs’ vocalist Vicentico, who brought a mix of hard-hitting rock songs and romantic ballads reminiscent of Eros Ramazotti. He had fans singing along with him for many of the tunes – including some from his former band. One of the highlights was “Tengo Derechos,’ a poignant song about those who disappeared during Argentina’s brutal military regime, which he sang solely accompanied by his own acoustic guitar and a crowd of thousands.

The Latin Alternative Music Conference has been instrumental in bringing these and many Latin artists to the spotlight and also has brought some great stars to larger stages. I would probably not be aware of many of the bands I have written over the years if not for this conference – which I haven’t missed since I first heard about it.

Album Review: Mehmet Polat Trio/Next Spring

By Ernest Barteldes

I first heard about Turkish oud player Mehmet Polat a few years ago via Facebook – he sent me one of his CDs but unfortunately I could not find a home for a review at the time. The most obvious publication would have been Global Rhythm, but as fate would have it the magazine had already ceased publication by then, and for a reason or another none of the editors I worked with at the time seemed interested, so I was unable to do anything with it – one of the reasons why I decided to start this music page in the first place.

On his acoustic trio CD Next Spring (Home Records) he is joined by Sinan Arat on Ney (a flute-like instrument) and Malian kora player Zoumana Diarra for an album that blends two distinctive cultures with amazing results. Polat’s oud and Diarra’s kora have this amazing blend, the sound of each instrument complementing each other seamlessly while Arat weaves around the melodies. The music is very soothing, and the musicians’ expertise is unquestionable. Among my personal favorites is the title track, a cheerful welcome to the new season as winter goes away. Polat begins on his own and is joined by the trio one by one – Diarra plays a dexterous solo while Polat creates an intricate bassline on his instrument. “You Are Not Alone” has nothing to do with the Michael Jackson track of the same name – instead, it is a fast-paced number that allows all the musicians to explore their improvisational skills.  I also enjoyed the slow-tempo “Missing You” (another track with a famous rock namesake), a tune that has almost a meditational groove and the closing track “Amarula,” which I am guessing is about the famous South African liqueur made from the fruit of the marula tree. The tune is played in a cheerful tempo and again has plenty of improvisation around the melody.

Polat currently resides in Amsterdam and regularly tours around Europe (you can visit his website for dates). I am not aware of any plans of a U.S. visit, but I am sure that if the trio brought this material Stateside it would be much appreciated not only by World Music fans but also by those who enjoy improvisation – even if it is outside what one would call a jazz format.

For more information visit http://www.mehmetpolat.net/

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

Welcome to Music Whatever – What is This About?

By Ernest Barteldes

After years of contributing to alt-weeklies around the country, I have found it more and more difficult to deal with editors these days.   For instance, about a year ago I had a discussion over the fact that one of my reviews did not contain background information on the artist – basically, he wanted my reviews to look like a Wikipedia entry. I respectfully disagreed because I felt that wasting space (which was already limited in the first place) was basically distancing the music review itself, but he just said that is what he wanted and we amicably parted ways.

Other publications have also become way too niche, focusing on a single genre instead of expanding things to make things interesting. I still write for a small number of these, and I feel that it is really constricting to write about an artist and then getting answers back that my article doesn’t quite fit their vision (without exactly telling me what the heck they want in the first place. Finally, there are other magazines that have gone ‘local’ and that no longer accept work from writers that do not reside in their area. I can’t really blame them for that one, because sometimes there is a struggling writer in say, Phoenix and here I am in New York taking his or her opportunity (I still occasionally write for said publications when they can’t find a local that can do the job properly). And then there are those editors who prefer to discover the next Justin Bieber instead of an African player who actually deserves to be heard but it is not palatable to a wide array of readers (I actually had a discussion with an editor about that, I am not making this up).

As someone who has been writing about music for such a long time, I feel that there is way too much music that has been overlooked because it doesn’t fit a certain profile or is not considered to be cutting-edge in some 23-year-old who somehow got the job as editor even though he or she could not put two sentences together with any coherence, so I have decided to start my own music page that will focus on these overlooked gems. Here I will post anything that I find interesting and that doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves. I will not focus on any specific genre, so you might find me writing about African music one day, New York jazz the other and Polish pop the next.

I have yet to figure out how I will be able to monetize on this, so don’t expect to see daily posts for now because I still have to make a living. Guest posts are welcome but until I find a way to make this lucrative, I cannot promise payment. I understand it sucks, but I don’t have a trust fund to draw from.

This is a work in progress – I don’t have a set plan in my head, I just want to find space to write about the music that I find without having to exchange 100 emails trying to convince someone of my point of view. So bear with me during this process – and do not hesitate to send suggestions my way.