JANUARY 2007                back

Globalfest: January 21st at Webster Hall (pictured: Sara Tavares, Lila Downs, Dengue Fever)

For each of the last three years Globalfest has been one of my favorite shows of the year and this year that streak will not be broken. The net effect of spending five hours listening to an assortment of diverse music from around the world with other like-minded music enthusiasts is that it creates in me a sense of well-being or nirvana that's likely to last for days.

In the final analysis that's the whole purpose of my musical quest. I'm looking for artists who create in me a sense of wonder, awe, excitement, sadness, joy or any number of emotional responses that make me appreciate being alive. Globalfest has consistently offered all of those plus the sense of discovery that comes from seeing such an artist for the first time. Vusi Mahlasela, Lura, and Emeiline Michel are just a few who went on to become favorites of mine after seeing them at Globalfest. The beautiful thing about my quest is that there are many holy grails with new ones forming all the time, so no matter how many times I find it, the quest is never over.

Lila Downs is a perfect example of an artist who reaches me on a multiple of levels. She sings in English, Spanish and several native Mexican Indian languages and her repertoire includes traditional Mexican and Latin music, reggae, folk, soul and even psychedelic rock among others. She has a beautiful voice with tremendous range and her sense of joy while performing permeates the room. In fact, I can't leave the room when she's performing which is one reason why I only saw ten of the twelve acts at this event. Her band members play sax and clarinet, accordion, harp and fiddle, guitars and lots of percussion and she adds quite a bit of percussion and dancing herself. She's also one of the most photogenic subjects I've photographed which you can see from the picture above and from my previous two reviews of her.

Later in the evening I went downstairs to see Colombian singer Lucia Pulido who takes the traditional music called chimuria, played by Colombian street bands, and gives it a modern treatment making it sound almost avant-garde at times. While waiting for the set to begin, Lila Downs walked into the room and another fan began showering her with praise while standing right next to me. When he finished she looked at me and I said "I don't know him, but I agree with everything he said". She laughed and thanked me. Life is good! Oh, Lucia and her band Palenque were also very good.

  The evening began with another favorite of mine Sara Tavares, who is from both Portugal and Cape Verde and who I've reviewed before. She sings in English, Portuguese and Cape Verdean Crioulo and her music, which blends influences from all three cultures, includes beautiful melodies, relaxing pop rhythms, samba and Afro beats. She also plays beautiful nylon string acoustic guitar backed by four excellent musicians and has a smooth sexy style that some would compare to Sade.

I caught a little bit of Dengue Fever (unintentional pun), an L.A. rock band with a Cambodian lead singer who play Cambodian pop which is an unusual blend of surf, psychedelic and garage rock. Lead singer Chhom Nimol has a girlish but strong voice and her American band was excellent. They performed an energetic set of catchy pop/rock tunes which was fun. What I saw of Parisian/Palestinian brothers Le Trio Joubran, who play ouds built by brother Wissam, was a sort of "dueling ouds" with some fun back and forth between the brothers.

  The Carolina Chocolate Drops are a string band who play music from the Carolina Piedmont Region. Fiddler and banjo player, Rhiannon Giddens, opened the set by saying most people associate this music with mountains and white people but they were here to dispel that misconception. Still, my best attempt is to describe it as  "old time mountain music" similar to Ralph Stanley. Babylon Circus is a French ska group with lots of horns and an energy level rarely seen with singers and musicians constantly on the move.

With so many horns, assorted percussion instruments and backup singers in the house, one guy with a guitar is a tough sell. I walked into the main room and heard Brazilian singer/songwriter/guitarist, Lenine, performing a song and walked out of the room within a minute or so. But standing in the stairwell looking at the schedule, his music began to creep into my head. He's a good guitarist blending some funky base lines with his Brazilian beats and the music had an emotional punch that brought Peter Gabriel to mind. I went back in and enjoyed a few more songs.

My favorite "discoveries" at this Globalfest were Andy Palacio & The Garifuna Collective and Julia Sarr & Patrice Larose. Palacio and his group take the traditional music of the Garifuna culture from Belize and other coastal Central American countries and infuse it with an energy that any rock group would be proud of. Layered harmonies and lots of percussion made this set very exciting. I'd go see them again. Julia Sarr, who has sung with Youssou N'Dour and Julio Iglesias, has teamed up with French guitarist Patrice Larose whose flamenco influenced guitar playing complimented her voice so beautifully that I wish I had caught more of their set. (Julia Sarr Video)

I didn't get to see Israel's Boom Pam or Les Primitifs Du Futur from France but it's not likely that I could have left this show feeling any more satisfied. Besides all the great music, I also had some nice conversations with an assortment of music fans and industry types (APAP is in town, see review below) including singer/songwriter Morley who I reviewed last year at Joe's Pub. I wonder who's going to be at Globalfest 2008?

 

Sharon Katz and The Peace Train: Jan 20th at The Hilton Mid-town

The Arts Presenters Conference (APAP) is in New York this week which means there are lots of musical events around town including this showcase at The Hilton featuring numerous artists from around the world. I was unfamiliar with Sharon Katz until last year when my friends Mabelle and Paul went to the Hudson Clearwater Music Festival and came away most impressed by this group. When Mabelle discovered that they would be part of this showcase, she made sure I knew about it.

Sharon Katz was an anti apartheid social activist writing and performing songs of spiritual inspiration and social change when, in the early 90's, she put together a 500 member youth choir for three performances of her material. The group was subsequently trimmed to 150 members for a train tour of South Africa where they performed at each stop. The notoriety of that event led Nelson Mandela to request that Sharon write and perform some songs that would teach the citizens how to vote in their first democratic elections. This amazing course of events eventually led to her working on projects with people like Sting and Paul Simon and also gave her a name for her band.

When my friend Joseph and I arrived at the Hilton, we went to the Madison Suite where a band called The Screaming Orphans was finishing their set. They were a pop/rock group of four young Irish girls whose music reminded me of The Cranberries.  Joseph commented on how vibrant and alive Irish music is to which I commented that great suffering often leads to artistic achievement which explains why there are so many great Irish writers. I mention this because after the Peace Train set Joseph exclaimed "That was even more vibrant and uplifting then the Irish music, they must have really suffered!" Both funny and poignant.

The group was comprised of three singers, saxophone, bass, drums and Sharon on guitar and vocals. They explained the meaning of the songs before performing them and the three very talented singers shared lead vocals with Sharon and all harmonized beautifully. The one familiar song they performed was Pata Pata ,which was a great international hit for South African singer Miriam Makeba back in the 60's. You know the song whether you realize it or not as it was a mega hit and has been covered many dozens of times from Percy Faith to Tito Puentes. With the limited space they also did as much dancing as practical but it was easy to see that with more space it would have been a dancing extravaganza. This is a group I look forward to seeing again.

I would have liked to explore some of the other artists at this event but I was headed downtown for a free tribute show to the Grateful Dead which you can read about directly below.

 

The American Beauty Project: Jan 20th at The Winter Garden Atrium

The American Beauty Project is a tribute to The Grateful Dead where a diverse group of artists perform the songs from two of the band's most highly regarded and well-known albums, Workingman's Dead  (Saturday) and American Beauty (Sunday). Each song is performed by a different artist or group with a lot of mixing and matching of musicians throughout.

This was the most heavily attended event I've ever seen at The Winter Garden. Apparently "Deadheads" come out in big numbers for any "Dead fix" they can get. The show is a great concept with great material and a wonderfully eclectic mix of musicians making it something of high interest to me. The one big problem was the acoustics in the Winter Garden.  It was so crowded that we were up on the majestic staircase in the back of the room and the sound was awful.

One of my favorite bands, Ollabelle, opened the show with an original arrangement of Uncle John's Band which I might have loved except I couldn't hear the piano or the harmonies. Through no fault of their own the performance could barely be appreciated. John Pareles of the Times wrote that they included a little touch of Sugar Magnolia in the piece but they could have slipped in some In-A- Gadda- Da-Vida and I would not have noticed from my vantage point. The Holmes Brothers, a gospel, blues, folk and rock trio, were joined by jazz and blues singer Catherine Russell for High Time and suffered the same result as Ollabelle.

Larry Campbell, who's best known as a producer and for playing various string instruments for Bob Dylan and others, was more acoustic and somewhat easier to hear. Playing acoustic guitar and backed by vocalists Rob Barraco and Teresa Williams their version of Dire Wolf was the closest vocal arrangement to the original and the easiest to hear and appreciate.

Catherine Russell (pictured above) returned for New Speedway Boogie followed by The Klezmatics version of Cumberland Blues and by then I had had enough. I don't want to complain about a free show involving such talented artists but it was just too frustrating for me to stay any longer not being able to hear.  I would go again but I would get there even earlier and get a seat in front of the amps. I'm guessing John Pareles had a good seat. It's good to be king.