Archive for Music

Motown’s “Funk Brothers” on DVD

“I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day…”

The opening bass line that precedes the above lyric to the “Temptations” song “My Girl”, is instantly recognizable, instantly evoking a time/ place/age gone but still very much alive when the music plays. (I still know all the words.)

I watched the DVD, “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” again. It tells the story of the “Funk Brothers”, those musicians who rhythmically supported the stars of Motown with their piano, drums, horn section and guitars. According to the liner notes, “They played on more #1 records than the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Elvis combined…”

There are interviews, funny and touching, with the guys as they reminisce about their experiences at “Hitsville, USA”.  Unknown by the thousands of us that religiously bought a new 45 whenever possible, they drove the beat behind the Motown hit records from the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder (he was “little” then), the Miracles, etc. The stars were good, but so was the band.

We are also treated to concert footage – artists of today singing the old songs. It’s been a long time, but the music lives – they do a great job, different but still great.

 

Barbra!

Streisand Bwy Album 2

A few years ago, Ms Streisand was all over PBS with her show “Barbra Streisand: One Night Only At the Village Vanguard”.  She can still touch people with her voice and it was fun to listen and watch her wrap her tiny audience (the NYC club only seats about 150) around her finger – or vocal chords in this case.  Barbra is still amazing.

I wanted to hear her, so I dug out one of the diva’s old records “The Broadway Album” (yes, “album” – like I said “old”, but now on CD) and again was in awe of her renditions of some great songs from past musicals. I have a weakness for Broadway show tunes, especially those songs from Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gershwin – music from Porgy & Bess, Carousel, West Side Story, The King & I, etc. These songs appeals to me because they always have a story to tell, an emotion to crystallize, a longing to express.

Over the years, these poems set to music have become “standards” – they haven’t gone away, they are being sung someplace, somewhere every day. Whether in person or on CD, Ms Streisand’s versions are beautiful, soaring, romantic, funny, perfect.

Barbra Streisand – a treasure!

 

 

 

CD Corner: Luther Vandross

Listened again to “The Ultimate Luther Vandross“. It contains great classics from the 80’s and 90’s that are still staples of “soul”, “smooth listening” radio stations around the country: “A House Is Not A Home”, “Power of Love”, “Here and Now”, “Superstar”, “Give Me the Reason”, “Never Too Much”, “Dance With My Father” (which won the Grammy for “Song of the Year” 2004).

Starting off as a back up and commercial jingles singer, Vandross’ solo career began in 1981 with the hit album “Never Too Much”. He went on to win 8 Grammys and sell 25 million CDs.


Saw him only once in concert, but, like the rest of the audience was in the “Luther” zone throughout his terrific performance. Warm, personable and soooo talented, you were pulled right in and ya loved it.

BTW: There are of course several of his clips on youtube. You might even be able to find complete CDs.

However you do it, expect brilliant listening!

 

Luther Vandross Revisited!

Listened again to “The Ultimate Luther Vandross“. It contains great classics from the 80’s and 90’s that are still staples of “soul”,  and “smooth listening” radio stations around the country:
“A House Is Not A Home”, “Power of Love”, “Here and Now”, “Superstar”, “Give Me the Reason”, “Never Too Much. There are also some more recent songs like, “Dance With My Father” (which won the Grammy for “Song of the Year” 2004).

Starting off as a back up singer and writer of jingles, Vandross’ solo career began in 1981 with the hit album “Never Too Much”. He went on to win 8 Grammys and sell 25 million CDs.

Saw him only once in concert, but, like the rest of the audience was in the “Luther” zone throughout his terrific performance. Warm, personable and soooo talented, you were pulled right in and ya loved it.

Luther Vandross is still magic!

 

Brian Stokes Mitchell – Like Him!

The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific”  is running on PBS again during their pledge weeks. Its not the Mary Martin film of 1950’s, but a musical done “in concert”, (all in character and full voice w/o sets), at Carnegie Hall. He starred as Emile the estate owner – the entire cast was great, but as always, Brian Stokes Mitchell stood out.

As he sings “This Nearly Was Mine”, he uses his voice to paint a picture of a man lamenting about a “paradise” he has always wanted and dreamt about, and just missed reaching. Beautiful and heartbreaking. (He got a standing “O” for that one.)

Mr. Mitchell elevates all that he graces with his presence. From his non singing comedy turn as Trevor the weatherman on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, to performing with the Boston Pops. Always intense, always present, he is always excellent.

Known best for Broadway musical theater – I was fortunate to see him twice as the dapper & tragic “Coalhouse Walker ” in “Ragtime”, (1998). His other credits include Jelly’s Last Jam (1992), Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), a revival of Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate” (1999), for which he won a Tony, and August Wilson’s “King Hedley II” (2001)

He also has a CD – “Brian Stokes Mitchell” – Jazz, show tunes and pop standards with his own special style. He is a baritone with great feeling.

Brian Stokes Mitchell – I like him.

Michael Jackson

“This Is It” is the documentary released in DVD that captured the final days of the “King of Pop” as he prepared for a concert tour in 2009. I’ll be honest, I began to watch with some hesitation – Is this going to be a sad, tragic documentary about a frail former super star? (I didn’t really want to see that.) But happily, no worries.

“This Is It” is a joyous celebration of the pop entertainer’s talent and hard work.  This compilation of rehearsal footage includes a lot of the songs and dance moves we all know and love and as the show is rehearsed and shaped, we also get to see the attention to detail, the professionalism that was Michael Jackson. He was totally present and engaged. Nothing was too small to go over until it was right. He loved it all.

It becomes obvious why MJ was not “famous” just for wearing gem encrusted gloves –  his fans loved him because he so obviously cared about them. He wanted his audience to be entertained. He wanted them to say “Wow” and they did.

Michael Jackson, R.I.P. (Still hard to believe)

Lura * Music of Cape Verde

Lura sings the music of Cape Verde, an island off the west coast of Africa which declared independence from Portugal in 1975.

Singing both in Portuguese, and in the language of her small country, she mixes some of the musical traditions, like “Morna”, with a more contemporary, urban sound.  Different from the better known tragic, emotional Portuguese “Fado” songs, the music from the Cape Verde interior catches you up in its smooth, jazz-like rhythms.

“Di Kopu ku Alma” (Of Body & Soul)

“Fela!” * Loved It!

This might be a totally “African Diaspora” type of thing, but you know how your shoulders start to go up and down whenever you hear drums? Well, imagine an entire audience bouncing their shoulders in time with the music/drums of” Fela!”

I like to get to my theater seat early and watch the audience come in- I’m nosy and I enjoy it. But, there was an extra bonus this time because while we think we’re waiting for the seats to fill and the play to start, this musical has already begun – there is a great band that plays Afrobeat rhythms nonstop until the official “curtain up” moment.  By setting the tone and mood this way, the audience is prepared for a rousing, exciting, powerful, fun experience.

The story introduces us to Nigerian musician and activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti, 1938-1997, as he plays his last show, full of music, dancing and Nigerian political commentary, at his club, “da Shrine”. The funny and sad, exciting and tragic events unfold to the pulsating, layered sounds of the Afrobeat music Fela made popular in the 70’s.  The play was a terrific emotional roller coaster ride and I was wiped by the time the lights went up. (I just love it when I am totally engaged and invested in what’s going on- love it, love it, love it.)

“Fela!” was wonderful. I will see it again.

BTW: – “Fela!” has been nominated for tons of Tony Awards including, Best Musical, Best Lead (Sahr Ngaujah), Best featured (Lilias White), Best Director/Best Choreographer (Bill T. Jones – he’s a genius!) I predict lots of wins!


New CDs: Jazz!


During the past  holiday season, record companies seemed intent on creating a  “Box Set” for anything that wasn’t nailed down.  The good news for Jazz lovers is that there are lots of new packages of Jazz greats in a box. Abundance!

* “The Complete Miles Davis Columbia Album Collection” – 70 CD set (yes, 70) with DVD)

* “Ella Fitzgerald: Twelve Nights in Hollywood” – 4 CD set from Ella’s 1961 engagement at the Crescendo Club in Los Angeles

* John Coltrane’s, “Giant Steps”

*And there are also new compilations of early live recordings from Billie Holiday and Oscar Petersen.

Youssou N’ Dour

“I Bring What I Love” – is a documentary film about Youssou N’Dour, the pop music superstar from Senegal, West Africa.

N’ Dour is revered all across Africa for his “remarkable range and poise and for his prodigious musical intelligence as a writer, bandleader and producer. He absorbs the entire Senegalese musical spectrum in his work, often filtering it through the lens of genre-defying rock or pop music from outside his culture. N’Dour has made “mbalax”—a blend of Senegal’s traditional griot percussion and praise-singing with Afro-Cuban music—famous throughout the world during more than 20 years of recording and touring outside of Senegal with his band, The Super Étoile”.

The director of  “I Bring What I Love”,  Elizabeth Chai Vasahelyi, followed the singer for 2 years through Africa, Europe and the U.S. to bring us a picture of this super talented and complex man that spread  the music and rhythms of his homeland worldwide.