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.

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Jon Batiste & Stay Human at Celebrate Brooklyn

Article and photos by Ernest Barteldes

 

Jon Batiste & Stay Human

Celebrate Brooklyn

Prospect Park Bandshell

Friday, July 22nd 2016

 

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Jon Baptiste

After two opening acts that included a brilliant saxophone trio formed by three very young musicians aged from 12 to 16 years of age, bandleader and evening curator Jon Batiste took to the stage on the melodica backed by an 8-piece band of multi-instrumentalists, kicking off the show with a marching band-style take on  the Christmas standard “My Favorite Things”  that was blended with  “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” He then went to the piano for an instrumental version of blues standard “St. James’ Infirmary” where he showcased his dexterity on the piano.

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Jon Baptiste

Stay Human have great chemistry together, responding to the bandleader’s grooves with expertise, even when he went off with some improvised moment – I guess that tightness comes from performing on a nightly basis on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS (I compare with the last time I saw the band at The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival two or three years ago).

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Young Sax Trio

Batiste is open to many genres – at one moment, he is playing a boogie take on the “Star Spangled Banner” and the next going into a full rock mode and then drifting into a personal take on “Pour Elise,” which featured a bass solo. The set included covers of The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” with the bassline played on the tuba, which preceded included a tuba battle and a full French Quarter-style marching band tune in which the ensemble walked into the audience.

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Stay Human

It was a great opportunity to see Batiste outside of the constraints of a TV studio setting, where he stretched the music and improvised freely – I heard some folks in the audience hoping Colbert would make an appearance (considering his recent vocal performances) but that did not happen – instead, the audience was taken to an amazing musical journey under the direction of an amazingly talented bandleader who we all hope to hear again – on stage – soon.

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

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.

Soul Rebels and Lettuce at Central Park Summerstage

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By Ernest Barteldes

Soul Rebels + Lettuce

Central Park Summerstage

Saturday, June 13, 2015

New York, NY

I had assumed the New Orleans ensemble would be closing this afternoon of music at Rumsey Playfield, so I ended up coming a bit late (due to significant subway delays) but was fortunate to have caught the final half of their set, in which they played their brass-heavy music with great ease and fluidity.

Among the highlights of what I was able to hear was an extended, creatively enhanced take on James Brown’s “Get on Up” that included several solos, and closing with Bruno Mars’ “Don’t Believe Me Just Watch” with a stronger blues-tinged feel.

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After a very brief break, Brooklyn-based Lettuce came on stage, kicking off their set with a very funky edge – focus was on the Hammond B-3 and guitars and their fantastic rhythm section with a strong funk-derived sound. At the same time, they stretched some of the tunes into extended jams that sometimes got tired, especially after having been exposed a more organic, soul-driven New Orleans sound.

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One of the highlights of their set, in fact, was when they invited The Soul Rebels to join them. It was then that the big, fat sound the marching band style band joined with the more electric Lettuce merged to get a new life – that allowed both bands to improvise freely and exchange smart riffs from a chemistry developed by touring together.

As the guests left the stage, it really felt like a bit of a lull – Lettuce never again picked up the same energy, and the music seemed to go into a more experimental direction that never really caught fire for me.  They are highly accomplished musicians but their sound just lost something to me – I hope to see them again in different circumstances to change my opinion.