Monday, April 29, 2013

Annalisa Ewald - Live at the Factory Underground

This article was first published at Blogcritics

For approximately half an hour, no doubt energized by the lively audience, Ewald played a set of 15 classical guitar pieces  chosen she tells us from “Argentine tangos, Spanish folk music, Brazilian choros, and even a couple of ‘cousins’ from the Renaissance courts.” It is an eclectic sampling of the best in the musical repertoire available for the instrument. Perhaps the only thing that’s missing is a transcription of the adagio from Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez,” a piece that no guitar recital wherever it is held should be without. Although, it does open the possibility of some future recording of the whole concerto with the full orchestra in tow. Ewald plays with skill and taste; it would be a treat to hear her in all out concert mode, this despite her protestations that the Factory Underground setting was “most unlike Carnegie Hall. Which was all to the good.” I guess I would just like to hear her play what I imagine is the most popular classical piece for the guitar in all its splendor.

She opens with “Soleares” a composition she calls “the mother of flamenco” in her notes to each of the tracks. This is followed by “Farucca,” a “light song” from the Galicia region of northwestern Spain “which speaks of sunny subjects like love and bawdy humor.” “Monotonia” is a composition particularly appropriate, she tells us, for the more informal setting, its composer Rodrigo Riera among those in 20th century Latin America who were celebrating popular guitar music. “Por Una Cabeza” is the first of the tangos on the album, the famous “La Cumparsita” comes later embedded in “Milonga.”

Ewald is joined by her 15 year old student Caroline Golino for two Renaissance compositions: “Mr. Dowland’s Midnight” originally written for solo lute and “Les Buffons,” a variation on a familiar dance theme by W. Heckel which she calls “a perfect pub piece.” There is a “Prelude” by Hector Villa-Lobos giving a nod to the concert hall. She closes with two bonus tracks “Vals Venezolano No.1” and “No. 2” by Antonio Lauro, one of the first guitar composers, she explains, “to meld the European and Latin musical traditions.”
Annalisa Ewald may not have the name recognition that a guitarist like Sharon Isbin has, but if she produces a few more albums like this one, she’ll be right up there. Not only does Live at The Factory Underground show her joy in the music, it makes that joy contagious.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Music Review: Michel Camilo - What's Up?

This article was first published at Blogcritics

First there was John Medeski’s A Different Time, then there was Billy Lester’s Storytime, and now comes Michel Camilo with What’s Up, the third in a trio of excellent solo piano jazz albums I’ve reviewed in the past few weeks. A Grammy, Emmy and Latin Grammy Award winning pianist and composer, Camilo has put together a varied collection of seven original compositions as well as four  Latin and jazz standards highlighting the breadth of his range on the instrument. As the pianist explains: “This recording expresses my desire to explore the contrasts of color, harmonic texture, rhythm and nuances of jazz piano playing. Here is my love for the many musical influences I have been exposed to over the years.”

Whether he is revisiting his Afro-Caribbean roots in tunes like Compay Segundo’s “Chan Chan” and his own “Island Beat” or presenting his “take on the perpetual polyrhythmic intricacies” of Paul Desmond’s
classic “Take Five,” he is taking up what he calls the biggest challenge for any jazz pianist “to contribute to the rich tradition of solo piano styles.” It is this mosaic of different styles all developed with consummate virtuosity which is the hallmark of the album.

From the upbeat energy of the title song which begins the set with an energetic boogie vibe to the final contemplative coda, “At Dawn” the focus is on stylistic variety. A Camilo original like “A Place in Time” has a darker tone with roots in the classical nocturne while “Sandra’s Serenade” plays like a piece that could have come from the pen of a composer like Erik Satie. “On Fire” is a show piece for the pianist’s flashing fingers as he burns over the keys. It is a pianistic tour de force that will leave you with your mouth hanging open. A classic like “Alone Together” gets a blues treatment, and Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” has a long improvised introduction leading to the familiar melody.

What’s Up is the second release in Sony Classical’s resurrection of the fabled OKeh jazz label which is focusing on what they call “Global Expressions in Jazz.” While it is Camilo’s first effort for OKeh, it does mark the pianist’s return to the Sony Music family where he had previously recorded for Portrait, Epic and Columbia.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Comedy Review: Al Madrigal - Why is the Rabbit Crying?

This article was first published at Blogcritics

Al Madrigal’s Comedy Central Stand-up Special Why is the Rabbit Crying? scheduled to close out “Stand-up Month” on April 26th will be available in an extended and uncensored CD/DVD Combo at the end of the month as well. For something a bit over an hour, Madrigal talks about everything from the  Cholo coach of his kid’s midget football team and the competition for snack assignments to his young daughter’s invasion of his “me time” in the bathroom and his ideas for naming wi/fi networks. It takes the comic a while to hit his stride, but once he gets going, he turns in a fine set. He has the kind of pleasant, good natured stage presence that has the audience pulling for him from the moment he opens his mouth.

Perhaps best known for his appearances as a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Madrigal has also shown up on a variety of late night shows including Conan, The Tonight Show, Lopez Tonight, Chelsea Lately and Jimmy Kimmel Live. He has been named Best Stand-Up Comedian by the HBO/U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. 

Essentially a story teller, he is at his best spinning out tales at length. His story about the cleaning woman who mistakenly ate some chocolates laced with hallucinogenic mushrooms back in his college days is hilarious, and the punch line of his rant on a strip mall massage is an absolute classic. His riffs on his family and raising his kids are amusing gems about the perils of child rearing. Of course, politically incorrect bits like his explanation of what a Cholo is and his search for a day laborer, he only manages to get away with because of his own Latin heritage. Even the title of the special which is a reference to gang tattoos would be taboo for an Anglo comedian. Sample video clips are available on the Comedy Central site.

Bonus material on the DVD include Madrigal’s half hour special Comedy Central Presents Al Madrigal with audio commentary by the comedian and Louis Katz, his appearance on the network’s Shorties Watchin’ Shorties and his report on the Tucson ban on Mexican-American studies from The Daily Show.