My Polish Music Loot: Anna Maria Jopek, Monika Brodka and… The Beatles

By Ernest Barteldes

 

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Cover art for Brodka’s “Clashes”

Whenever we travel abroad, I always try to bring home some of the country’s local music, and I make a point of visiting local music stores and pick out some interesting albums not easily found in the US market or on download – so on our fourth trip to Poland (for a wedding – more on the travel blog) I made a stop at Chelm’s Empik  and picked out a few albums.

The quantity was not as high as in previous trips since we were in the country for just a few days and there were only a few titles I was thinking about – but there were a few discoveries that I am glad to have found just by browsing through the store.

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Cover art for Niebo by Anna Maria Jopek

Regular readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of Polish World Music singer Anna Maria Jopek, and that I have been slowly purchasing her full collection – in the last a few months I found many of her albums on Walmart.com (don’t ask me why they carry imported albums, but they do) but one that eluded me was Niebo (Universal, 2006), her tenth release in which she continued to branch out into different musical styles, moving away from her previous pop and jazz-inflected albums and into a more diverse sound.

On that online order I also included a DVD copy of the 1981 film “Blind Chance” (Pzypadek), whose plot shows the consequences of the main character making a train or not. According to critics, the film inspired both Sliding Doors (1998) and Run, Lola, Run (1998) in which separate scenarios influences the outcomes of one’s reality.

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Brodka’s Moje Piosenki cover art

A few days before the trip, one of my students at ASA told me about a young singer called Monika Brodka, a contestant – like Ania Dąbrowska before her – of her country’s version of Pop Idol.  I heard some of her clips on Youtube and decided to check out her albums once I got to Poland. On my first visit I picked up a 2-CD set of her two first albums, “Album,” and “Moj Piosenki” (both on Sony Music) – they’re both well-crafted pop albums, but since they were produced following her Idol win, they sound very similar to Dąbrowska’s first discs – after all,  they had the same producer (Bogdan Kondracki) and likely some of the same musicians.

 

What really got my attention was Clashes (2017), her fourth release – no longer constrained by big corporate labels but now with the independent PIAS Recordings, the album is incredibly personal and experimental with no songs in Polish – the music has a unique texture, and she explores the music in a fearless manner that embraces World, jazz and pop tendencies.

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My last music purchase there had zero to do with Polish music – it was actually the 2-disc 50th Anniversary edition of The Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I just decided to buy it there because the price was considerably lower than what I could find in the US. It was definitely worth it since I saved about $10 and this album has been on my list for a while – and upon hearing the new mix I was immediately blown away by the new mix, which enhances Ringo’s drumming and also has a more centered sound more similar to its original mono mix.

While I have ripped all the music to my iPhone, I haven’t had the chance to fully appreciate them in the little time I have had since purchasing them – but that time will eventually come – not soon enough.

 

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CD/DVD Review: George Fest

By Ernest Barteldes

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When I first heard about George Fest, I thought it was really great idea: bring together a new generation of rock performers (alongside a handful of more established ones) to take stabs at George Harrison’s canon to younger fans who might not even had been around when Harrison released his final hit records in the late 80s.

 

I recall receiving an e-mail from a publicist about the release of the concert film and CD from the 2014 tribute show in Los Angeles shorty before its release , but due to my workload at the time it kind of fell through the cracks and it only came back to my mind when I caught the end of the film on MTV – when the entire ensemble ran through The Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle with Care.” I was intrigued and ordered the box from the New York Public Library (no, I don’t do Netflix) and sat down to listen to it as soon as it came in.

It was a fun show to watch, but I felt that the musicians could have been a bit more inventive with the music.  After all, these were bands like The Flaming Lips (who took on “It’s All Too Much,” and oft-overlooked track from “Yellow Submarine”) and members of The Strokes, Heart, Spoon and other bands. However, with few exceptions they played most of the tunes a bit too closely to the original arrangements, sounding more like cover bands than they should have.

There were, however, some brilliant moments: San Francisco’s Black Rebel Motorcycle Club took on “The Art of Dying (from “All Things Must Pass”) and slowed it down, playing with distorted guitars and deadpan vocals that better translated the tune’s mood than Harrison’s overproduced version. Norah Jones (who also did “Something”) took advantage of the country feel of “Behind the Locked Door” to make the tune her own with a soulful vocal delivery and her own acoustic guitar accompaniment. The Cult’s Ian Astbury gives a chillingly beautiful take on “Be Here Now,” an obscure track from “Living in the Material World.”

The deeper cuts were the best surprise here – while standards like “My Sweet Lord” (with an honest delivery from Brian Wilson) and “Taxman” (by The Cold War Kids) were on the set list, we also got to hear seldom-heard tunes like “Savoy Truffle” (Dhani Harrison, who sounds and looks too much like his father) and “Any Road” (from George’s last album, “Brainwashed”). But there were a few missed opportunities – for instance, why have ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic do a straight version of “What is Life” when he could have amused us with “This Song is Just Six Words Long,”  his hilarious parody of “I’ve Got My Mind Set on You” instead?

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One could say such a rendition would offend hardcore George Harrison fans, but then again that was not even a Harrison composition in the first place, but a cover of an obscure track originally recorded in the early 60s by African-American R&B singer James Ray (go ahead, Google it).  The tune, incidentally, is also on the set, played by the numbers by The Killers’ Brandon Flowers.
I am not in any way going to say it is a bad album – it is nice to hear all these young artists take on this music of my favorite Beatle with such gusto, but as I have said earlier, I would have liked if more of them had tried to be more inventive with the tunes, just as George himself did whenever he played live. You pay tribute not by imitating but by reinventing the music – and giving it your own take.

Remembering George Martin

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By Ernest Barteldes

 

Like most Beatles fans, I got to recognize George Martin’s name by looking at the credit printed on the back of every one of the band’s albums except Let It Be (ironically, the first Fab Four album I have ever heard), which was Phil Spector’s one shot at salvaging a train wreck of a record that would probably have tarnished the reputation of one of the greatest groups ever.

As I grew up, though, I realized that Martin was way more than this – over the years, I discovered many fantastic recordings he had been involved with, including Jeff Beck’s “Beck-Ola” and the soundtrack of the infamous Peter Frampton-Bee Gees soundtrack of “Sgt. Pepper’s” movie (the picture sucked but the music was pretty amazing). As I researched music, I realized that Martin was beyond being the “Fifth Beatle” – he was an amazingly special musical personality, and if it were not for him, those four guys might not have gotten far.

The proof goes by listening to the material they recorded before Martin came into the picture. Anyone with half a brain that has heard “The Decca Tapes” realizes that the Beatles were little more than a garage band, and that the guy who rejected them was right – I mean, without someone with a vision behind the controls, they might have turned out to be just another guitar band on the way out.

I will not elaborate much about Martin’s career because every single obituary has said the same. Instead, allow me to bring to light one of the best pieces of music he ever created, the underrated “In My Life,” a record that he created to mark his retirement (that didn’t really happen – he did work on a handful of albums after that), in which he re-created some of the gems he had worked with the Beatles with a plethora of guests that included many of the greatest music and screen stars of the time.

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The idea was to end his illustrious career by inviting some of his favorite artists to do some Beatles music from more of a symphonic point of view – and then some. The tunes he chose were least obvious one – for instance, he avoided big hits like “Yesterday,” opting instead for tunes like “Here, There and Everywhere,” “Come Together” and “I Am the Walrus” instead – hearing these tunes in a new light convinced me his talent was intact.

“A Hard Day’s Night” was performed by actress Goldie Hawn with a big band, using a slower tempo that made it more like a blues, while Robin Williams and Bobby McFerrin took on “Come Together.” McFerrin did the famous bass line with his voice, and also sang co-lead with Williams. Celine Dion took ownership of “Here, There and Everywhere” by delivering what was arguably her best studio performance to date.

Among my personal favorites on that disc is the spoken-word version of “In My Life” with backing of Martin’s piano and the trademark voice of Sean Connery, who speaks the lyrics with the feeling of someone who has experienced much in life (never mind the song was written by a 25-year-old John Lennon).  Also marvelous is Jeff Beck’s instrumental take on “A Day in the Life” with the backing of a full orchestra – the version is so perfect that it was ultimately re-released on the soundtrack of the movie “Across The Universe.”

Although this was planned to be Martin’s final opus, full retirement ultimately (and fortunately for his fans) eluded him.  After the disc was released, he still produced Elton John’s remake of “Candle In the Wind” in tribute to Princess Diana and worked on the Cirque du Soleil’s “Love” mash-up with his son Giles.  He was a force of nature in his own right – who happened to be at the right place at the right time when The Beatles auditioned to him.

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.