Get ready for a Caribbean influence this summer

By Howard Mandel

No place I know of offers more music for free to its residents and visitors than New York City in the summer. The quality and diversity of sounds we can hear in our parks should make us—all Big Apple chauvinism aside!—the envy of the world.

But then, the world is sending us its musicians. The Caribbean in particular is providing New York parks with the summer’s soundtrack. Latin jazz by Eddie Palmieri y La Perfecta II (at Soundview Park, Bronx, June 22), neo- and traditional salsa (for dates and places, see below) and its hip-hop/bachata derivations, veteran reggae stars Papa San (Soundview, June 29), Jimmy Cliff (SummerStage, July 11), Burning Spear (Rockefeller Park, July 21), Mykal Rose of Black Uhuru (Brooklyn’s Metrotech Center, Aug. 5) and the hottest bands from several islands are among the biggest of the season’s acts.

Tinariwen play SummerStage June 26. Photo by Eric Mullet

The sheer number of outdoor concert series is impressive unto staggering. The onslaught began May 17, when Karrin Allyson sang Brazilian jazz to usher in five successive Monday evenings in Bryant Park; these bookings lean to chamber music, which ain’t bad, with the Orion String Quartet, genre-busting fiddler Mark O’Connor, the Imani Winds and flutist Tara Helen O’Connor. To further highlight U.S.-based music over that from afar, the BAM R&B Festival at Brooklyn’s Metrotech Center on Thursdays, begins June 3 with Jennifer Holliday and includes P-Funk keyboard wiz Bernie Worrell (June 10), Bela Fleck’s bassist Victor Wooten (June 24), Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens (July 15) and soulful singer Bilal (July 22), as well as Nigerian drummer Tony Allen (June 17), Haiti’s Tabou Combo (July 1), Trinidad’s Mighty Sparrow (July 8) and Mali’s Vieux Farka Touré (July 29).

Celebrate Brooklyn! is launched by Norah Jones in Prospect Park June 9; hear Graham Haynes play Miles Davis with James Blood Ulmer as John McLaughlin in “Bitches Brew Revisited” on June 19. The River-to-River Festival, a looser coalition of events, starts with Make Music New York’s 100 punk bands sequestered on Governor’s Island June 20. Lincoln Center Out of Doors begins spotlighting cross-genre delights in late July. As of this writing, summer’s end is, happily, distant, but look forward to the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival at Marcus Garvey and Tompkins Square Park (Aug. 29 and 30).

Now, as to Gotham’s polyglot nature and the globe’s musical languages in our air: There’s a Haitian dance fest in Brooklyn’s Von King Park June 5; singer-songwriter Jose Conde and DJs Bobbito Garcia, Laylo and Sake-1 paying tribute to Fania Records and its Afro-Cuban, Nuyorican and Dominican sources in Central Park June 6. Neo-salsero Frankie Negrón is in Red Hook Park, Brooklyn, June 8.

Don’t confuse Brazil with the Caribbean or “Latin America,” but know that carioca rockers Os Paralamas do Sucesso and guitarist-singer-songwriter Maria Gadu are at SummerStage June 12.

Felix Hernandez, whose Rhythm Review record show of salsa, soul, funk and disco is heard on both WBGO and KISS-FM, spins for a June 17 dance party at Betsy Head Park, Brooklyn, and July 6 in Soundview Park (Bronx). Buena Vista Social Club comes to Prospect Park June 24, the same night Conjunto Clásico, with trumpets and a tres (12-string guitar) backing vocalist Tito Nieves, hits at St. Mary’s Park (Bronx). That’s also where the Abakuá Afro-Latin Dance Company and Areytos Performance Works perform (and teach basic Afro-Latin-funk moves to early attendees) June 26.

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe has a poetry slam at SummerStage June 30; La Orquesta de la Gente reuniting members of the late, lamented salsero Hector Lavoe’s Orquesta, plus the newly formed 8 y Más, pay tribute to Lavoe at St. Mary’s Park July 1. The 11th annual Latin Alternative Music Conference touches down at SummerStage July 7, and salsa king Hector Tricoche and Latin up ‘n’ comer Chris Alfinez are co-billed at St. Mary’s Park (Bronx) on that same night. In August, Highbridge Park in Manhattan hosts a series of Dominican-linked “bachata” performers.

You prefer African music? West Africa’s Baba Maal sings at SummerStage June 14; Salif Keita June 20; the Tuareg band Tinariwen wails about the southern Sahara June 26; ngoni (lute) traditionalist Bassekou is co-billed with po-mo musikers Burkina Electric July 25. Africa comes to Prospect Park July 11 (OkayAfrica with The Roots) and July 17 (Konono No. 1, Super Diamono and others).

You live in Queens? Then hear Olu Dara, cornetist and bluesy songster, in Queensbridge Park July 28.

There’s so much more. But what, none of it entices? Fine, stay home with the AC, listening to your iPod. You won’t know what you’ve missed.