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Brad’s Morning Exercise Music Rundown, 8th Installment: Aaron Bowen, Marjorie Martinez, Karim Kanal, Zucco San, Joe Psalmist and the usual compilations from Uncut and Mojo

June 28, 2014

Sit Ups

Sit Ups

For my eighth “Morning Exercise Rundown,” – the seventh of which ran on 21 Jan. – I have a whopping collection of something like 10 CDs from various sources, but unique so far in this column, all but the compilations from Mojo and Uncut are from musicians I have met and heard since that last instalment at open mics and through other person connections. None, that is to say, is really well-known.

The Morning Exercise Music Philosophy

As a reminder to readers, therefore, the idea behind this regular column is that for most of my life I avoided classic daily physical exercise because I felt I was able to avoid it and it bored me to death. In recent years, I had a kind of flash of aged inspiration and realized that I might bore myself to death if I DON’T do exercises. (No time in life for exercise? No! No time in life to NOT exercise!) That did not, however, alleviate the boredom of doing them. So it is that when not doing my nighttime exercise of riding my unicycle around the neighborhood – which does NOT bore me – I do my exercises in the morning (sit ups, push ups, etc.) while listening to new (and old) CDs that I acquire from compilations of magazines, that I also occasionally buy or receive from budding musicians at open mics, or any other source.

I do not pretend to be a music critic, but simply to talk about and describe, and give my impressions of the music I listen to during my morning exercises. Keep in mind that my impressions and opinions, therefore, will have been formed while straining to reach a record number of push ups, sit ups, couch ups, stretch downs and simply catching my breath. So maybe my opinion will be warped.

Aaron Bowen and His Paul Simon-like Vocals and Virtuoso Guitar Playing

Aaron Bowen Karaoke Fallback Plan

Aaron Bowen Karaoke Fallback Plan

I first heard Aaron Bowen playing at an open mic in Paris a few months ago, and heard enough in the din of chatter, television and pub noise to think that this guy had some kind of real and individual talent, both vocal and on guitar. So it was with no hesitation at all that when I saw he was doing a short concert at another venue that I decided to go and give a listen. When he announced at the end of that show that he had some CDs for sale, I immediately went on my attack and took both. Hailing from San Diego, and just on one of his many visits to Paris, Aaron Bowen has an ethereal sound and fairly involved lyrics, but ultimately an often fast-moving, classic pop-sound to his melodies and rhythms. And his vocals so often sound like Paul Simon, it’s astounding. From intricate fingerpicking to rambunctious strumming, Bowen puts his own being into the performance, and on the CDs you’re still left with a strong, melodious, imaginary world. The first album is “The Karaoke Fallback Plan,” which in no way resembles karaoke, and the other is his latest album, “The Quarryman’s Footbath.” They can be listened to many times, too, these CDs, as you delve into the lyrics and add dimensions to your understanding, slowly, as the full sound is not evident on first listen – i.e., this is not bubblegum pop music lyrics, but more comparable to the kind of involved Paul Simon stuff of that writer’s maturity.

Marjorie Martinez, the Bluesy, Jazzy, Pop Lady of Nice

Marjorie Martinez

Marjorie Martinez

I first heard and met Marjorie Martinez in Nice when I showed up for the open mic jam session of Wednesday night at the Shapko bar and discovered that it had changed days and I had stepped into a gig by Marjorie. She invited me to play if I wanted to, though, and then a sax player joined her, and the night took on the aspect of a jam…before she returned to playing her gig. I saw her a few nights later playing out front of a restaurant with a bass player and keyboard player. By then, I had already listened to her two CDs that I had grabbed that first night, having been enthralled by her guitar playing, vocals, her musicality in general. Think Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Bonnie Raitt. In fact, Marjorie Martinez is a little bit of all them – with a very strong talent for jazz singing as well. She is, it turns out, a major attraction in the Nice music scene, playing all over the place, and recording with some fabulous musicians when not entertaining live. The two CDs that she was selling were both different, with her quartet, being much more jazz-oriented, and the other, called “Travelin’ Alone,” being more pop – middle-of-the-road U.S. country rock style pop, and all in English, her own compositions included. But it’s not easy to pigeon-hole this funky, rocking’ guitar player singer, and even on the album with the quartet her cover songs are by Jimi Hendrix, Lennon and McCartney and Janis Joplin….

The Constrasting Sounds of Joe Psalmist, Zucco San and Karim Kanal

Joe Psalmist

Joe Psalmist

It has taken me three years or so to hear Joe Psalmist in his full band and CD-mode. His new CD, “If I don’t praise you Lord,” is just what it sounds like: One long praise to the Lord in the form of dance and gospel and bluesy melody music from this Spanish expat from Nigeria. I first hear Joe playing his keyboards and singing along at an Irish pub open mic in Barcelona a few years ago and we kept in touch. But we did not meet up again until he invited me to his open mic in April, and I found his vast cross-section of musical vocal talents ranging from classic rock to blues to gospel. This CD is just one long pure praise the Lord hymn of 12 songs that really move you….

Zucco San‘s single “Undefinite Time,” by comparison was a real discovery for me from a musician I have heard in more open mics around Paris than just about any others. I’m used to hearing Zucco’s airy, Jeff Buckley interpretations and other interpretations of classic pop and rock. He almost always wows his audiences with his application and raw emotion; so it was really interesting to hear his voice in a recording like this and see what dimensions it can take in a recording studio. I never had the occasion to hear Zucco San outside of the open mic situation until he invited a friend and I to a showing of some videos and short films he worked on in his other role as actor and musician, and he had some of the CDs there. The music video for Undefinite Time” and the music he wrote for the short film, Toi Femmes, were superb as well.

Karim Kanal

Karim Kanal

Karim Kanal is the only musician here that I have not met. He is my girlfriend’s sometime guitar teacher and a musical mentor at the fabulous Centre Musical Barbara, Fleury Goutte d’Or in Paris, which exists to help nurture young musicians. His CD, “Espace(s),” of his guitar compositions, part lead, part fingerpicking, struck me as a kind of world music fusion jazz kind of thing, that even though it is nowhere near the kind of orchestration of a Weather Report, has a lot of the feel and melody style of such compositions. There’s a little bit of a Pat Metheny feel to this too….

Uncut, Mojo Compilations Give Me a Revelation – at Least to Me

Maybe this is not new as an idea for anyone else, and I never claimed to be a music critic or expert, so what seems new to me is no doubt old hat to those in the know, but when I was listening to the recent batches of compilations from Uncut and Mojo of the latest best music around – according to them – I suddenly had a revelation. I was listening, in particular, I think, to the CD from Mojo for the month of May called “Death Disco” and including such artists from the past and present as Felt, Orange Juice, Bush Tetras, Sonic Youth, The Fall, Young Marble Giants, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu, The Nightingales and others, and then I was listening to the Uncut compilation “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!” followed by the Uncut compilation called “One For the Road,” with lots more recent bands, and suddenly, I said to myself that a lot of the new music around today that has a folk feel to it, using acoustic or only quietly used electronic instruments sounds like the spitting image of the electro music of the 1980s, but yes, with acoustic, “traditional” stringed and keyboard instruments. It is the heart and soul of electro, with similar melodic approaches and vocal styles, but not with electronic instruments. So, is this an original thought, or am I showing my ignorance and there’s already a name for it…?

I may well have been simply over-intoxicated by my morning exercises and the endorphins that coursed through my system, augmented by the same sent via the music….

Well, that rounds that up. Another, rather large, morning exercise crop of CDs, my eighth edition since I started doing this in April of last year….

Playing at the Samba Brasil Horta in Barcelona

May 8, 2014

Samba Brasil Barcelona

Samba Brasil Barcelona

BARCELONA – No wonder lists of open mic venues are needed: I’ve been playing in Barcelona for five years and I’m still discovering new open mic venues. Just when I think I’ve found them all – and that there are not that many – I find a new one. As it turned out, last night’s open mic at the Samba Brasil, near the Horta metro station, was one I had heard about and forgotten each year, since I’m not usually here on Wednesday nights.

As it also turned out, I only learned of this open mic – which has been running for three years – thanks to having made a friend at the George Payne open mic three years ago and maintained contact: Run by Joe Psalmist, a Nigerian expat, the Samba Brasil bar open mic takes place every Wednesday, and because it is a little out of the center of the city, it is less visible than most in Barcelona. But it is well worth the visit, for the warm MCing by Joe, for his fabulous voice, keyboard playing, and repertoire, and above all, for the great warm treatment by the clients and managers of the bar.

Oh, and that name Samba Brasil, it has nothing really to do with the style of music at this open mic: There is no Brazilian theme to this. It’s part open mic, part jam and bar live karaoke – I mean, it’s whatever you want it to be, and Joe is always ready to play along with you on keyboards if you are a singer and cannot play an instrument. Actually, he even played along with me while I played a couple of songs on my guitar, and sang.

The neighbourhood may be outside the downtown area, but it is well worth the visit too, as it has a taste to it of small cafés and twisty old Spanish streets that is quite different to that of the downtown with its ramblas or dark Gothic section. And anyway, this open mic starts at the very humane and Spanish hour of around 11 p.m. So no problem with being limited by time in terms of getting there….

By the way, Joe tells me that he also runs a jam session at the same bar on Sunday nights. So that sounds worth checking out too….

Playing at the George Payne open mic in Barcelona

May 20, 2011

Sometimes on my worldwide musical adventure I get the feeling that an open mic here or there has been thrown together just for me. When I played in Cologne two years ago I found what was certainly the only open mic in the city, and it happened to be on the first day I arrived, the Thursday, I stumble across it immediately while searching the bars desperately for an open mic, and it had only existed for three months. Although Barcelona is full of open jam sessions, the strict open mic mic format is more rare. Two years ago I discovered an open mic on the Monday night at an Irish pub called the George Payne, on the Place Urquinaona. But it did not last long. Yesterday after an internet search, I found it was happening again, and it was on Thursdays.

I arrived last night to find that it has only existed since last week, but in only one week it has become a great success. There were all sorts of accomplished musicians and bands there to play last night in this vast “Irish Pub,” which looks more like a Texas whorehouse, if you ask me – although I’ve never set foot in a pub in Ireland OR a Texas whorehouse…. but anyway….

This time around it was more Spanish, too, as the MC, Max, is Spanish, and there were more Spanish-speaking performers, despite the Irish pub aspect to it. There were the usual expats too, and some very good ones. In fact, most of the performers were a multicultural mix – from Joe-Psalmist of Nigerian origin to Jesse Masterson and Paul Henry of Argentine, Spanish, U.S. and British mix to me, a Canadian living in Paris….

Most of us did around three songs, although the guys dressed up like the Blues Brothers – Masterson and Henry – did a lot more, by popular demand.

Oh, forgot to mention, the Internet also led me astray as I first went to a very hip musical venue called KGB, that was supposed to have an open mic according to the net, but which had some kind of pin-up girl thing going on instead. Reminded me of the venue in Paris called the Machine du Moulin Rouge.

Now onwards to the many blues, rock and jazz jams in the coming days….

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