Music Preview: What to Hear in June: SummerStage & Celebrate Brooklyn

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McCoy Tyner

By Ernest Barteldes

 

I love listening to music in clubs or arenas, but nothing really compares to heading outside during the summer to enjoy concerts in the outdoors.  Sure, it’s sometimes sticky and horribly crowded, but on the bright side many of the concerts happen to be free or at a very low cost (Celebrate Brooklyn has a long-standing policy of a $3 donation), so it is a great opportunity to get to know artists that you might not have the opportunity to know about otherwise.

Over the years, I have discovered many new artists from all kinds of backgrounds – the first time I heard Colombia’s Aterciopelados, Mali’s Amadou & Mariam and Puerto Rico’s Calle 13 was either at Central Park SummerStage or at Celebrate Brooklyn. I really cannot tell you how many times I have attended shows at both venues, but many were amazing experiences (sure, there were a few duds too, but let’s forget about those for now) that I will not forget anytime soon.

I was going to write a single preview for the entire calendar for this season. However, I found that to be a daunting task, so I decided instead to pick some favorites for the month of June and give readers of this blog a better preview for every month until the concerts come to an end in August-September. The picks below are based on my own preferences and not by what someone might have told me, and I also avoided paid benefit concerts, so you will not find any listings for those shows even though they might be quite interesting.

Things kick off in an extremely interesting way with a salute to legendary jazz pianist McCoy Tyner – who I heard live for the first time at Central Park SummerStage, the same venue that is paying tribute to him this year on June 4th.  And what a band does he have behind him, all gods of music in their own right –  Ron Carter (bass), Wallace Roney (trumpet) and Roy Haynes (drums).  You could not ask for anything better, really – it is like dying and going to jazz heaven for one evening.

Celebrate Brooklyn is not too shabby either – their season opens with none other than Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings (June 8), who is known for her energetic performance style and overall great voice.  Like many African-American singers of her generation, she started out singing in church in Brooklyn and then gravitated to funk and soul in the 1970s, doing lots of backing session work. She was a late bloomer, and not until the late 1990s did she get her real break – and the rest, as they say, is history.

I have always thought that Yiddish music has not gotten enough attention – especially its more modern incarnations that have incorporated jazz tendencies and garnered more mainstream attention. A chance to catch this new wave of Yiddish music (the first time I heard these new direction was in a documentary about young Jews in Poland a few years back) will happen on June 15, when several stars come together for a mini-festival called Yiddish Soul: A Concert of Cantorial and Chassidic Superstars.

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Baaba Maal

Among the most influential Senegalese musicians around is Baaba Maal, a singer and guitarist who blends various musical influences (Celebrate Brooklyn, June 16). He sings in the unique Pulaar language, blending styles that go from more traditional rhythms to more popular sounds – including salsa. He will be sharing the spotlight with Lakou Mizik, a band formed following the devastating 2010 earthquake in their native Haiti.

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Angie Stone

Angie Stone (SummerStage at Betsy Head Park, June 22) got her first big break as part of the all-female outfit Sequence, when her voice led the hit 1979 “Funk You Up” (not to be confused with the recent hit “Uptown Funk,” which actually seems to borrow a lot from that old track), but it was not until the 90s when she established herself as a bona-fide solo act as one of the leading voices of the so-called “neo-soul” movement (a term many musicians have recently been avoiding). She recently released a new album entitled Dream (Shanachie Entertainment/Conjunction Entertainment/TopNotch Music), which takes her music into a whole new direction.

For fans of Afro-Latin beats, be sure to catch Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loka (Celebrate Brooklyn, June 24), a Congolese musician of Angolan roots. I recall hearing one of their earlier albums and was impressed by their sound – they include songs inspired by the Caribbean and also Brazil – once I had to check if I was still listening to the same disc, because they go into so many different directions that it can be a bit overwhelming – but thoroughly satisfying to the ear.

Come back to these pages for reviews of some of these concerts and also previews of what’s to come in the coming months – it should be a very, very interesting season indeed.

 

 

 

 

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Concert Review: Tito Nieves at East River Park

Tito Nieves at East River Park

Tito Nieves at East River Park

By Ernest Barteldes

Tito Nieves

Summerstage at East River Park Amphitheatre

August 4, 2015

New York, NY

Playing before a filled to capacity East River Park Amphitheater,  salsa legend Tito Nieves took to the stage backed by a 10-piece band and kicked the set with a high energy number that had those standing next to the stage pairing up to dance. He paused briefly to thank the audience for being there and saying he was happy to be ‘back home’ to the Lower East Side.  He then followed with the English-language “I’ll Always Love You” (not to be confused with the Dolly Parton hit of the same name).  He also coached the audience to scream at the top of their lungs (“for New York”) during an up-tempo number that celebrated being part of this city’s community.

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Nieves then stepped back to the backing microphones as he brought his three backing vocalists to the spotlight as each sang lead in one number – something you don’t usually see with major stars. One of the tunes name-called several Latin American countries and got a screaming ovation when Puerto Rico was mentioned. When Nieves returned to the lead microphone, he briefly spoke of the various Latin clubs he performed in New York, and tricked the audience when he mentioned a place that was not a club but a popular hotel.

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Nieves is regarded as “The Pavarotti of salsa”, and deservedly gets that nickname.  He has great energy and a potent voice – he has great communication with his fans, and sings each number with great feeling. That is especially true with tunes that have something deeper to say – an example of this is “Fabricando Fantasias,” a mid-tempo ballad about a bitter breakup and a man’s refusal to accept the end of a love affair.

Towards the end of the set, the pace picked up and became almost relentless – Nieves had a burst of energy at this point – songs just came one after the other with no pause.  At the encore he did a very up-tempo song in which he jumped and stopped the band for several fake endings that made the audience scream.

I was half hoping that Nieves would include a couple of songs from Unity (Universal Music), the Michael Jackson salsa tribute album he participated in earlier this year. That didn’t happen, but the choices were clearly crowd-pleasers for his core fans.  It was a lovely evening of Latin Music in just the right atmosphere.

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.