Live Review: Anuhea at The Highline Ballroom, March 18, 2017

 

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article and photos by Ernest Barteldes

Anuhea

March 18, 2017

Highline Ballroom

New York, NY

I discovered the music of Maui-born Anuhea quite by accident. Shortly before Renata and I traveled to Hawaii, I started listening to a Hawaiian 105 KINE, a Honolulu radio station to get the place’s vibe, and one song made me smile whenever it was on their playlist. The song’s name was “Forever Summer,” a duet between Anuhea and Justin Young in which they sang about how it was always warm in the company of their significant other even if the weather was less than formidable.

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As someone who used to live in a tropical land and now has to face the reality of snow storms and a very short summer, I got the meaning behind the words, and started paying attention to the artist. I eventually got to know other tunes in her repertoire and ‘liked’ her page on Facebook, making a mental note to catch her live if she ever came to town.

To open the evening was indie singer-songwriter Mahi, who is also the guitarist for Anuhea’s band. Accompanied by his own Fender strat and drummer Revelation, he did a few covers – including Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” and an original ballad called “Be Mine.” He engaged the crowd by cracking jokes and also getting the audience to sing along to some of the tunes.

After a brief break, Anuhea took to the stage with her band (Mahi, Revelation and a bassist), playing reggae-tinged original tunes. Among the highlights was “Big Deal,” the first of her tunes to catch the attention of radio stations in Hawaii, and “A Simple Love Song,” a recent single whose video was actually shot during her first appearance in New York.

Her band has great chemistry together, and feed off each other quite well. They had wonderful three and four-part harmonies on many of the tunes, and that made for a very enjoyable experience. While she played mostly original material, she included a cover of Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing” with an arrangement closer to her own style. To my personal delight she included the aforementioned “Forever Summer” with Mahi taking over Justin Young’s vocal parts. There was a joke around the recent Disney cartoon “Moana,” and the band played a snippet of “How Far I’ll Go” as part of it to great response.

The set was short but highly enjoyable – I hope I get another chance to hear her live again soon.

Preview: Mariza At Town Hall and NJPAC

Mariza

Saturday, October 15 at Town Hall

Sunday, October 16 at NJPAC (featuring Bebel Gilberto)

For more information visit Mariza.com

By Ernest Barteldes

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Back in 2009 I was fortunate to be in the audience at Carnegie Hall to hear Mariza sing in support of Terra, (2008) an album that was a bit of a crossover for her – in addition to the traditional fados that caused her to be called “the next Amalia Rodrigues,” she included songs like Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” (backed by Gonzalo Rubalcaba) and The Beatles’ “Yesterday” with a jazz-inflected treatment that was quite different from what you hear on the streets of Alfama.

At the time I was not aware that she was about to embark into a half-decade hiatus to dedicate herself to starting a family . I was glad that to hear she was ready to go back on the road when I was assigned to write a preview of her Krakow debut earlier this year, and was eager to hear her in the US again.

I guess I am getting my wish.

Mariza returns with “Mundo” (Nonesuch, 2016), a disc that  takes her music to yet a further direction, embracing pop, jazz and other genres with a little help of several guest artists who sometimes take the spotlight entirely away from her.

Produced by Javier Limon, the album blends more traditional fados with more modern grooves – the first example being “Paixao,” a ballad that begins with a more classical feel then incorporates electric bass and percussion – something not very commonly heard In an album of this genre – the impression I had was as if Queen’s Brian May had decided to produce the tune then decided not to multi-track his legendary Red Special guitar into it. Another great moment is “Padoce de Ceu Azul,” a ballad with a laid-back feel that gives a chance to hear Mariza outside of the usual dramatic sound of fado.

Fans of Lisbon’s signature sound should not worry – most of the tunes keep into the format, but I agree that Mariza should go beyond their comfort zone as Cristina Branco, Ivete Sangalo and others have done before her. But she is not just expanding, but bringing fado to the 21st Century – “Sem Ti” is clearly inside the genre but cleverly brings other elements to it – without completely breaking away.

I am not sure how Mariza is going to bring all the music together on a live format, but am certainly curious. She always has the ability to surprise audiences with unexpected surprises – at Carnegie Hall she had all the mikes turned off and did a few songs acapella the way it is done back home.

I can assure everyone in the audience – wherever they were – heard every note.

Music Review: Ania Dąbrowska’s Dla Naiwnych Marzycieli

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by Ernest Barteldes

 

As I have written in earlier posts, I stumbled into the music of Polish pop singer Ania Dąbrowska quite by accident – I was looking into something I can’t even remember and her name sort of popped up. I got curious and found out she is from Chełm, , the southern Polish city my wife also comes from.

During our recent visit to my wife’s homeland, we visited several stores looking for music to bring back home (sure, I could have used iTunes for some titles but prices for regular CDs are much better there), so during a stop at the local Empik  I picked up a few of Dabrowska’s first few releases and proceeded to check them out. I was impressed with how she seems to want to surprise listeners from time to time with interesting arrangements that include bass solos (she does play the instrument, but the liners don’t give us much information on that matter),  flutes and other instruments that you don’t often come across in pop albums.

After we came back home I purchased the MP3 version of her sixth release, Dla Naiwnych Marzycieli, and gave it a few spins.  Though I haven’t heard all of her albums yet, I can say this is arguably her best album yet. She has veered a bit from the retro feel of earlier efforts and embraced a more contemporary direction – that can be felt immediately on the opening track, “Nieprawda,” a keyboard-led reggae with a catchy hook that gets you moving from the start, and also on “Gdy Nic Nie Muszę,” a jazz-inflected tune led by brush drums, keyboards and woodwinds.

Other notable tracks include “Bez Chiebe,” an R&B-inspired ballad with multi-layered vocals and a nice guitar-centered arrangement and “I’m Trying to Fight It,” the sole English-language track on the disc, whose lyrics speak about the hardships of moving on after the end of a breakup. The piano-based title track has poignant vocals, and “Nie Patrzę” sounds like something that could be played in American Top 40 radio – but good.

The lead single on the album is the power ballad “W Głowie” – its accompanying video plays as  a short action movie in which she escapes a couple of assassins inside what seems to be a shopping mall parking lot with the help of a mysterious black man – most of her videos play like that, telling the story in an almost cinematic manner.

Dąbrowska is a singer worth checking out. She has clearly evolved since her early Polish Idol days (I read somewhere that she has appeared on her country’s version of The Voice as a judge, but I didn’t have a chance to see an episode while I was there). Her music is smart and quite engaging – even if like me, you don’t have a clue what she is singing about.

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.

Angelique Kidjo’s Celia Cruz Tribute + Yosvany Terry Quintet at Celebrate Brooklyn

 

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Angelique Kidjo 

Yosvany Terry Quintet +

Angelique Kidjo

Celebrate Brooklyn

Prospect Park Bandshell

July 29, 2016

article and pictures by Ernest Barteldes

On an evening dedicated to the memory of the late salsa queen Celia Cruz, the Yosvany Terry quintet (Terry: saxes and chekeré; Yunior Terry: bass; Michael Rodriguez: trumpet; Manuel Valera: piano, Obed Calvaire: drums) came on with an energetic set of original music starting with an uptempo number with a strong Brazilian groove. The band played quite loosely, allowing for lots of free improvisation throughout. Following that vocalist Yanelle McPherson for a Irakere cover with very focused Afro-Cuban roots.

Valera was featured with an extended piano solo that followed some Spanish-language spoken word by the bandleader, who took the checker (an African made of a dried gourd and beads strung on the outside) and did a piece mostly based on it until the band joined in. McPherson returned for the last number,  an uptempo rumba with an extended drum solo that got the audience moving.

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Yosvany Terry Quintet

After a short break Angelique Kidjo came to the stage at first accompanied solely by an acoustic guitar with a ballad in her native Fulani. The 12-piece band (which included Terry and guest percussionist Pedrito Martinez) then kicked in – Kidjo immediately embodied Cruz’s fiery style, singing one of her classic numbers  – including Cruz’s signature “Azucar” cry, and followed that with a joyous original tune she explained was inspired by hearing the singer performing in Benin when she was thirteen years old.

One of the set’s highlight’s was the inclusion of a Spanish language version of “Voce Abusou,” a tune originally penned in Portuguese by the duo of Antonio Carlos & Jocafi (the song was also covered by Ella Fitzgerald)  – here it was given a more Afro-Cuban treatment, with focus on the percussion. After the tune, Kidjo acknowledged the  various influences present on the set, and stated that Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian music “survives through pain”  and given the current political climate, “you fight hate with kindness.”

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Angelique Kidjo

During one of the numbers, Kidjo left the stage (followed by some of the musicians) and walked around the audience, singing with great gusto. She also invited some members of the crowd to come up and dance along with the music.

The set ended with Kidjo’s classic “Tumba,” a song with a lively beat that has become her signature number – the audience was on their feet dancing and singing along to the chorus  – the ending of what was one of the season’s most memorable shows.

Angelique Kidjo is probably one of the few singers today that can do justice to Celia Cruz’s music – she has the same spirit and a voice just as strong as the late diva – I happened to be at Cruz’ final performance at Central Park Summerstage, and I am sure that she was looking down from heaven with a smile. It was a wonderful tribute – which I hope Kidjo takes on the road. More people deserve to hear this again and again.

Live Review: Leslie DiNicola, Lee DeWyze & Wakey Wakey at The Cutting Room

By Ernest Barteldes

 

Leslie DiNicola, Lee DeWyze & Wakey Wakey

Cutting Room

February 12, 2016

New York, NY

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On the CD release event for folk/rock singer Lee Dewyze at the Midtown Manhattan music venue, Leslie DiNicola opened the evening accompanied by guitarist Greg Neal, playing a short set comprised mostly of original tunes. I had never heard of her music before, but I was impressed by her strong voice and honest delivery – on the sole cover (a song by Demi Lovato), she made it sound her own, departing from the original version and giving it her distinctive feel.

Next up was Wakey! Wakey! (the stage name of singer-songwriter and actor Michael Grubbs), who accompanied himself on the electric piano, playing songs from his upcoming album “Overreactivist” (Family) and other tunes from his catalogue. It was a lively set in which he cracked jokes about his being a longtime fan of Harry Connick Jr.  and other personal stories. Among the highlights was a tune about New York in which he was critical of religious piety and small town life versus the way he was brought up. He also played “Heartbroke,” a tune he performed on the TV show “One Tree Hill,” where he got one of his big breaks.

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Wakey Wakey

Wakey! Wakey! is clearly inspired by jazz and musical theatre – his vocal chops and delivery seem fit for musicals, and his piano skills have strains of jazz without being exactly improvisational. The set was highly entertaining and the music was quite interesting to hear.

After a short break Lee Dewyze came on, backed by his own acoustic guitar and an electronic bass drum pedal, which he used to mark some parts of the tunes. He mostly showcased music from “Oil and Water,” (Shanachie) but also included a handful of older songs, including a very personal cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me” that focused mostly on his guttural vocals and accomplished guitar strumming.

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He had the stage set up with book-like lights around him, and there were also several books scattered around him – there was no explanation what it was about, and concentrated instead on speaking about his music and approach to songwriting.

Dewyze used several guitar tunings, including open and drop D (a technique famously used by Brian May on Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls”). He made little reference to his time on American Idol (he was the winner of season 9), stating once between songs that he’d prefer to be remembered for his own songwriting than his time on the TV contest.

I was impressed by how much control he has of his voice – he goes from singing in an almost whispered tone to a stronger, throaty voice – this was mostly evident on “Stay with Me” and the music on the new album.

It was a memorable evening of musical discovery – I don’t often get to hear independent pop artists, but I definitely would like to hear more from these three performers in the near future.

Disc Reviews: The African Blues Project + Putumayo’s Afro-Caribbean Party

By Ernest Barteldes

The West African Blues Project (Arc Music) came into my mailbox in a package from Europe that included several other CDs, and it kind of got lost in the shuffle as I sorted out all the music I’d received while Renata and I were in Brazil – two weeks don’t seem to be a lot, but when you get advance music to review like I do, it does get problematic.

The album brings together guitarist Ramon Goose and multi-instrumentalist Moudou Touré, and they do an intriguing blend of American blues and West African folk music. It’s not quite a blues record per se but a collection of tunes that show how two distinct genres come together seamlessly. For instance, “Lolambe” is a fast-paced shuffle dominated by guitar and drums and frantic vocals at an incredible pace. “The Lighthouse Keeper” is the closest to a twelve-bar blues that you can get here, with heartfelt vocals, a cleverly played acoustic guitar and a nice bass & drums backbeat. Also notable are “Casamance River Blues, a pleading slow-tempo tune and also “Kayre,” a reggae-tinged mostly acoustic number.

Putumayo’s Afro Caribbean Party follows in the tradition of its previous releases – a small sample of various artists from different areas of the Caribbean that looks outside the usual box of Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Cuba – the disc opens with Martinique’s Kali, who sings “La Grev Bare Mwen,” an up-tempo zouk played mostly with acoustic instruments, and follows with Jamaica-born Clinton Fearon (and current Seattle resident)’s “Come By Yah,” an cheerful tune about enjoying the beauties of life.

Cuba is represented by Asere, a sextet that does a mix of traditional and modern music – they have the traditional elements of the music – congas, acoustic guitar and horns – but their approach is attuned to the sensibilities of modern pop music, as evidenced by “A Favor del Viento.”   Also worth checking out is “Mango LaFrance” from Jan Sebon & Kazak International, a Haitian ensemble that plays West African-inspired music.

Both albums are highly enjoyable, and are immensely cool when heard side by side – you really notice where some of the sounds came from, and how they evolved in different directions while retaining the same basic essence.