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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
bradspurgeon

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….

Changes at Shapko Bar in Nice – and a Word on Marjorie Martinez and Wednesday Night

May 24, 2014
bradspurgeon

Marjorie Martinez

Marjorie Martinez

NICE, France – My feeling is that it is better to be late and short than to completely ignore my experience playing my songs, and listening to those of Marjorie Martinez, at Shapko Bar in Nice on Wednesday night. I mean, here I am on the Riviera, having suddenly disappeared from this blog and got sucked up by the sudden appearance of sunlight and sea air – or something like that.

But the more important reason for writing a post here on my evening playing music at Shapko Bar in Nice on Wednesday night is for the record of this blog: I’ve written about the amazing Shapko Bar on rue Rossetti in the old town of Nice since 2011. It became the highlight for me of coming to play in Nice.

So it was at first a shock to arrive for the Wednesday night jam session at Shapko and to find that rather than a band occupying the neat little stage on the lower part of the room it was now several tables full of patrons sitting there drinking, talking, and listening to the music of a woman playing at the mic on the new stage area in front of the bar at the front of the venue.

I learned immediately that Dimitri Shapko, the wonderful Russian saxophone player who founded the bar had just recently sold it to a new owner. I then approached the woman behind the mic – with her Gibson acoustic – after she finished her set, and I asked her if there was some kind of open jam, as there always had been. She said, “No,” but then immediately, in the spirit of Shapko, said that if I wanted to play some songs I could.

So I took the stage after her next set and I sang three or four songs, mostly mine, and “Wicked Game.” I then later spoke to the new owner of the bar, and he said he planned to continue the same spirit of the old Shapko bar – and he has maintained the same name – including having any concerts that start the evening finish as a jam. But there is also an official jam session night on Thursdays, and any kind of music goes.

A Change of Ownership at Shapko Bar

So the good news is that we have not entirely lost Shapko Bar. But let’s see how it develops….

In the meantime, Marjorie Martinez impressed the hell out of me: She had a very cool way of playing that guitar, ranging from folk rock, soft rock and blues into some very adept and fabulous sounding jazz stuff. That came in handy when she opened the stage for the jam, and a saxophone player went up and jammed with her. I mention Marjorie’s range and guitar playing first, but it is her singing voice that is the real center of her show: She sounds like a cross between Rickie Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt.

She is French, but her English accent is almost impeccable. In fact, in the gig it was impeccable. It was just in hearing her on her albums – that I bought and later listened to, that I noticed the slightest hint of a French accent. She writes most of her own music, but does not shy away from cover songs either, especially the jazz stuff. In fact, a lot of her own songs have a jazz feel to them in parts, and her backing musicians are clearly jazz-oriented. A very, very interesting discovery, this Marjorie Martinez of the French Riviera – because she is a local….

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