Book Review: Rita Lee’s Candid and Brutally Honest Autobiography

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By Ernest Barteldes

Rita Lee: Uma Autobiografia

Globo Livros

$ 8.99  Kindle Edition(in Portuguese)/ $ 38 paperback

The music of Brazilian rock superstar Rita Lee Jones has been part of my life as far as I can remember, starting from when her signature song “Ovelha Negra” hit Brazilian airwaves in the mid-1970s until pretty much present day, even if I haven’t yet listened to her 2012 release Reza (“Prayer”).  I have attended her shows over the years (including her last NYC appearance in 2003), and her music has been part of the soundtrack of my life along with every other musician or band that I have admired over the years.

When I heard that she had released an autobiography I was a bit curious but didn’t really make a point of reading immediately. However, my mother so kindly bought it for me as a Christmas present and I could not resist to crack the tome and find out what it was all about.

Like with any rock biography, readers tend to want the author to go straight to the stories behind the music, but since this is also her own story, we spend a few pages learning about Lee’s childhood and her relationship with her parents,  two sisters and extended family in a large house in Sao Paulo.  I was actually surprised to learn that she had quite a stable family life – she went to Communion with her family, and had a pretty normal life save for the horrible story in which Lee was raped with a screwdriver at seven years of age – and that the culprit was never caught.

When we get to the 60s, things get juicy, as she describes her years with Os Mutantes and their relationship with the Tropicalista movement started by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. We also learn the ugly side of the band and the way she was unceremoniously ousted from the band once the two Brandao brothers decided to take the band into a Yes-inspired progressive direction, and then we follow her entire career with details on the recording of every album she made all the way to her retirement, when she decided to stop touring and dedicate herself to family and a quieter lifestyle.

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The book is highly personal, and she does not gloss over the darker moments of her life, including her infamous 1976 arrest for drug possession while she was pregnant with her first son Beto Lee, her addictions and especially the self-destructive behavior that almost destroyed her relationship with husband and longtime songwriting partner Roberto de Carvalho. She is brutally honest when it comes to her disdain to the Mutantes reunion and also her detractors – especially late rock critic Ezequiel Neves, who openly hated her and printed his vitriol in the press with impunity, even spreading rumors about her health.

It is a very good read – it is not yet available in English, but it surely deserves to be translated even if it only reaches a small audience of her die-hard fans who did not have a chance to learn Portuguese, as suggested by the English lyrics of Caetano Veloso’s “Baby” – which she recorded with Os Mutantes, by the way.

George Michael : An Appreciation

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By Ernest Barteldes

I never paid much attention to George Michael during his early Wham! days – of course “Careless Whisper” was impossible to avoid during the mid-80s, but his stuff was not what I was into in the first place – but I had newfound respect for him when I saw him literally steal the show when he fronted Queen during the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert in April 1992 – the way he owned “Somebody to Love” was amazing to see and hear – and his duet with Lisa Stansfield on “These Are The Days of Our Lives” was also heartfelt and sincere.

For the next few years didn’t follow George Michael’s career much except for the songs everyone heard on the radio, but in 1996 I got into a relationship with a woman who was a die-hard fan of his music and thanks to her I got to know the music behind the hits – the ones that were part of an album but that were not necessarily well-known – tunes like “Waiting For The Day” from Listen Without Prejudice or “You Have Been Loved” from Older, which show a different side of Michael’s work – honest tunes written from the heart that he might have known might not have any radio play at all.

I was also amused when he collaborated with bossa nova icon Astrud Gilberto for “Desafinado” – an Antonio Carlos Jobim song released in late 1996 for the charity album Red, Hot & Rio (which also featured contributions from David Byrne, Marisa Monte, Caetano Veloso and others) – it was interesting to hear him softly crooning in Portuguese – a complete shift from his more electronic/dance floor stuff.

I also enjoyed listening to Songs From The Last Century, his Phil Ramone album of jazz covers from – my favorites being his playful take on “My Baby Just Cares for Me” and the depression-era tune “Brother, Won’t You Spare a Dime.”

After I relocated to the US I kind of lost touch with his music. I barely noticed “Patience,” but did listen to “Concert,” his live album recorded with the backing of the London Symphony Orchestra. Though his popularity waned in the US following his arrest for “lewd behavior” in the US, he remained popular in Europe – I recall being in Poland in 2010 and catching a TV special of a performance in support of “Patience” – which included “Shoot The Dog,” an anti-George Bush song I which he performed with a blow-up doll of the former U.S. president – quite controversial at the time.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/125719770″>GEORGE MICHAEL – Shoot the Dog</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user14102033″>MUSIC BOX CHANNEL</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I was saddened to hear of his passing via my CNN iPhone app notifications. At first I thought it was some kind of false alarm – but as the hours passed I realized it had been true. George Michael’s death adds to what has arguably been one of the worst years for the music business – after so many other legends left us.

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.

Capsule Reviews: John Basile. Calixto Oviedo, Ivete Sangalo & Criollo

By Ernest Barteldes

I know it’s been a while since I posted any  new disc reviews – during the summer I pretty much refrain from doing that because I am either out there attending concerts (reviewing either here or for All About Jazz), so when Labor Day comes along there is a pile of neglected records begging to be heard and reviewed.

Now years ago I would have had a number of outlets to write in-depth reviews of these wonderful works, but considering that way too many publications have either disappeared or hired so-called “music editors” who think they are the last bottle of Coca-Cola in the desert, I have created this labor of love in which I bring you some of the music that I have heard and appreciated.

Since summer is over and that means that I won’t be heading to concerts as often, I would like to offer you a selection of recordings that were released in the last few weeks and that I think deserve to be checked out. This is not in any specific order of preference – check them out:

A picture of a street sign for Liverpool’s most famous street greets you on John Basile’s Penny Lane (Self-released) ,a jazz tribute to the works of the Fab Four. Kicking off with the symphonic “Eleanor Rigby,” Basile works through some of the Beatles’ deep cuts while finding a new way to improvise around hits like “Can’t Buy me Love” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” the latter of which sounds nothing like what was played at the Ed Sullivan Theater thanks to the creativity around the arrangements. Sadly, Basile pulled a Sinatra and credited “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” to Lennon/McCartney – I am assuming this was a typo since it is one of George Harrison’s most beloved and well-known songs after “Something”.

I first heard master drummer Calixto Oviedo at the Jazz Standard a couple of years ago, and was impressed by his creativity and dexterity, as you can see from a review I published on All About Jazz when he was in town as part of the New Dimensions in Jazz program, which continues to showcase new voices in Latin jazz.  We have stayed in touch on social media since then, and he was nice enough to send me a copy of his “Cuban Train: Como Suena,” which is like a party to the ears.  I expected to hear more traditional material, but here he expands the music into various directions, going from modern jazz to more traditional material

Last year Renata and I attended a free show in Fortaleza in tribute to the late singer-songwriter Tim Maia. The concert was part of a national tour sponsored by Nivea (the popular cosmetic brand) that featured singers Ivete Sangalo and Criollo, who did their own takes on the music, often sharing duets. I was not able to review that show because there was a large crowd and it was just impossible to take notes there.  The duo also released a studio album (I was hoping for a live DVD or something, but that has yet to materialize) with some of the songs included on the tour.  Among the most notable are Criollo’s take on “Chocolate” (a hit for Marisa Monte – I am assuming that is why Sangalo did not carry that one), which has a nice R&B feel, and “Corone Antonio Bento,” a song with strong northeastern Brazilian roots. The disc does a very good job of bringing Maia’s music to younger generations.

Interview: Catching Up With Laura Cheadle

by Ernest Barteldes

Over the past few years I have seen Laura Cheadle and her Family Band about four times, but I rarely had an opportunity to write anything about her save a short profile that came out in the City Arts back in 2011 (it was a series of short pieces on up-and-coming new voices in jazz and blues – you can check it out here http://cityarts.info/2011/05/03/laura-cheadle).

Four years on, she has continued her pursuit as an independent artist – she partly relocated from Philadelphia to New York and has appeared in various locales here since then. She has not abandoned her hometown completely, as she explains in this e-mail interview conducted during the last week of February.

Cheadle has a great funk and blues-inspired sound. Backed by a band mostly formed by her family members under the direction of her father, keyboardist James Cheadle, she belts out original tunes with a very personal feel. The musicians are very tight – they have been performing together for many years, and there doesn’t seem to be any ego battles there – they seem extremely happy to be doing this together.

You moved from Philly to NYC – what made you make that decision?

I am actually in Philly half the week and NYC the other half so I get the best of both worlds and cities 🙂 I’ll always be a Philly girl but the allure of New York City is so seducing to my soul. The magic is incredible. I am also meeting so many amazing musicians and opportunities here. I love both cities in different ways.

Your “Family Band” – how did that come together? And how do you keep everyone’s egos in check since you are the front woman?

It’s just been completely natural for us. I literally was four years old when I began singing with my family. We are unbelievably close and it just feels natural. I know most people would think that we have egos with each other, but we don’t. Performing together is the same as eating dinner together.. It’s natural and pure.

Your father has long experience as a musician and arranger. How does his experience play in your music?

 This plays a large part in my music! My dad is an incredible musician and not only performs with me and plays on my recordings, but he also records me in his professional studio and produces my albums. On some of my songs, he is playing every instrument. I am extremely lucky to have him. He has taught me since a young age about the details that go into making real music.

Ever since I was a baby my Dad has been playing and recording music around me. He used to take me to his studio and work with me right there in my toddler chair. I remember The Soul Survivors rehearsing in our basement when I was little and so many great musicians have passed through our houses through the years. My Dad always had a recording studio in or near the house and my brothers and I were always encouraged to participate in whatever capacity my Dad would want us to. I sang on many of his tracks and got to see him work and so understood the whole arranging/recording process firsthand.

You have a new album – how is it dealing as an independent musician with the dramatic changes in the music industry? Do you think the current formats – Spotify, iTunes and Rhapsody, for instance – are doing a service or a disservice?

It definitely is hard, especially when people listen to you for free. However, for people to learn about you, they must listen to you. A positive side for me is that a lot of people come to my shows and still buy CDs in person . My band has always been a band where people come and dance and I’m very thankful that people continue to come and support our music.

Don’t you think they represent music today the way that, say, radio did in the past? After all, folks don’t pay to listen to the radio…

 Yes but many people stream Spotify all day and do not ever feel the need to buy iTunes . It doesn’t bother me as my fan base still buys CDs. I also have nothing  against Spotify or any of the latest technology . I’m an old soul, born in the wrong generation. I am now buying records 🙂 sounds the best

What are your main influences as a songwriter, and principally as a singer?

As a songwriter, I have always idolized James Taylor. I feel like he writes in a way that makes you nostalgic for an experience that you have never had. Stevie Wonder vocally has always been the ultimate inspiration. He sill can sing better than ever .

New York seems to be becoming less and less welcoming to indie artists – so many venues have closed, and club owners refuse to take responsibility for their own clubs – how do you deal with that?

I have actually felt the opposite of this. Since being up here often, I have joined local groups of songwriters and jams that are extremely supportive. The clubs I am playing are also paying very well. I know not all of NYC is like this but there are many communities that support the arts. One of the best parts of NYC is the unknown and how you can meet different artists and learn about hidden gems or venues at any given time.

Check her out at www.lauracheadle.com

Disc Review: Altas/Tiempo de Bestias

By Ernest Barteldes

The band formerly known as Panal S.A. de C.V. (a  Colorado-based trio formed by Enrique Jimenez, Juan Carlos Flores and Israel Jimenez)  defines itself as an experimental instrumental band, but I see them as more than that. Their songs could easily lend themselves to extended jams that could go beyond the confines five or six minutes of the seven tracks on their (sort of debut) EP Época de Bestias.

 The album kicks off with “Altepetl,” a distortion-heavy rocker reminiscent of the early days of Black Sabbath with a touch of psychedelics. There are no virtuoso moments – guitars scream at you with gusto as to announce that the show has begun. Things move into a different direction with “Aokigahara,” a trippy tour-de-force  in which electronics plays a central role around  guitars and jazz-inflected drums. My personal favorite is “Black Sand,” a tune that is quite surprising. A gentle piano starts the song out, and then for a while the song evolves into a progressive-style ballad. Around the fifth minute things completely change and things become much heavier with a greater emphasis on guitar and drums.

“You Knew I Was A Snake” begins with a snippet of a Spanish-language oath of office of a Mexican president (not sure who that was, but by the sound it seems like something quite ancient) that introduces an uptempo number based mostly around keyboards.

I have run into band member Enrique Jimenez various times during the annual Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York City, but they have never (to the best of my knowledge) participated in any of the showcases. I think it is time for the organizers to give these guys a shot, because it is clear their time has come.

To purchase the album visit http://www.altasiscoming.com/