Monday, 20 February 2017

Carnival: The Sound of A People - A concert review¹


Trinidad Carnival music—its history and retention and its role in shaping our society—is the focus of musician and educator Etienne Charles' latest exploration of music in the Americas. In the context of creating increasingly interesting jazz responses to the myriad sounds and rhythms that inform Carnival music, Charles debuted parts of the still in-progress extended suite, Carnival: The Sound of a People at the Queen's Hall last Sunday.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

A Prologue to an Island Opus - Carnival: The Sound of a People at Queen’s Hall¹

In the heat and heart of the Carnival fête season when “we doh business”, Etienne Charles will allow us to imagine what creole intelligence sounds and looks like. On Sunday January 29, he will debut and preview at the Queen's Hall selections of his newest extended piece—a planned 3-CD length oratorio—called Carnival: The Sound of a People that locates the musical response of Afro-Caribbean people within this island space to the circumstances of slavery, colonialism and freedom. Adoption, adaptation and incorporation of the cultural traditions rendered with an ear to the broader musical tradition of the Americas, jazz, has allowed Charles to produce music that recognises local audiences' penchant to move to rhythm, and a global audiences' willingness to discover and be awed by the brilliance of New World African music.

Etienne Charles with 'Slim' and the
Moruga Bois drummers. © Maria Nunes
Errol Hill, in his book The Trinidad Carnival: Mandate for a National Theatre, wrote that “Carnival is inconceivable without music.” Music is indeed a central pillar of the Trinidad Carnival. Charles, with the award of a 2015 fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, was allowed to research and explore the music of the Carnivalesque processions, the canboulay and j'ouvert, the drum dances, the sacred and secular music with the call-and-response led by the chantwell, and other African cultural survivals in the Caribbean from pre-Emancipation to present. He embedded himself in the communities that retain the traditions of the blue devil, the jab jab, the black Indian, and in the gayelle of the stickfighter to capture the rhythm and song of the kalenda and the caliso.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Caribbean Beat Caribbean Playlist - January/February 2017ª


Family Tree Grégory Privat Trio 

(ACT Music)

Martiniquan pianist Grégory Privat reveals in his new album of music, Family Tree, the subtle links between the Caribbean trove of rhythms and melodies and the grand vocabulary of jazz. Supported this time by bassist Linley Marthe originally from Mauritius and fellow Martniquan Tilo Bertholo on drums, Privat with his fluid playing centres the idea that the roots of jazz are firmly planted in the Caribbean creole culture that was present at the genesis of jazz. The music finds inspiration in the beguine, the bèlè and gwoka of his native Martinique and Guadeloupe. Bassist and drummer Marthe and Bertholo respectively, despite their creole backgrounds, evince the African DNA of the new world rhythms that a Caribbean perspective has produced. Privat is a fine musician with solid classical and jazz training who on this album finds the core impulse of a iconoclast to dynamically paint anew the heritage and beauty of jazz that is found in these Antilles.

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Double Take Elan Trotman's Tropicality 

(Island Muzik Productions)

“First impressions are the most lasting,” is a popular proverb that makes the case for a grand debut to cement a perfect memory. Well, certainly not this time as Barbadian saxophonist Elan Trotman has recast a number of his previously released songs from his many years as a recording artist and given them a second look, a double take if you will. He has refreshed the sound and arrangements of his Caribbean-rhythm infused smooth jazz to make them shine through—to Caribbean ears at least—with the positioning of the steelpan in a more forward position. His vocals on Bill Withers' classic “Lovely Day” are direct and make one smile at the simple charm of this song. “Tradewinds” is the antithesis to a dull day in the tropics; lilting and easy to dance to. His band of fellow Berklee College of Music alumni, Tropicality, has the musical chops to make this new impression far from diminished.
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  1. More Caribbean Playlist reviews appear in the January/February 2017 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.
© 2016, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Jazz as the new fad in Trinidad or All That Jazz...Or Is It?

"Dancing in the Tropics," an illustration by Bernie Fuchs. A metaphor for adult music, "jazz" is the new signifier of how we dance and how we listen to music once we are over 35 years old.

Last year, I blogged about the plethora of jazz events in T&T making it the new “after-carnival music.” In less that two months, there were at least ten events that were themed as “jazz.” Now, truth be told, the definition of jazz in the Caribbean is fluid, and the emphasis is more on the ambience than on the music. A lot of instrumental music is considered “jazz” here in these islands, but a closer inspection would show that despite definitions, what we are seeing is the faddishness of jazz being used as a tool to market music and the experience of music to a more mature crowd.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Etienne Charles and the conquest of the Americas: a CD Review of San Jose Suite¹

Antillean art is this restoration of our shattered histories...
—DEREK WALCOTT, Nobel lecture, 1992.

The scars by which America is marked are deep... The evils are manifest, naked to the view of anyone who cares to see them.
—ÓSCAR ARIAS SÁNCHEZ, Nobel lecture, 1987.

For me, Art is the restoration of order. It may discuss all sort of terrible things, but there must be satisfaction at the end. A little bit of hunger, but also satisfaction.
—TONI MORRISON, Nobel laureate. Interview with Don Swaim, 1987

San Jose Suite

ETIENNE CHARLES
SAN JOSE SUITE
(Culture Shock Music)


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Whenever T&T jazz trumpeter and composer Etienne Charles releases an album, it is an event. In this case, it is his latest opus, the ten-part San José Suite — soon to be performed live in T&T for the first time on November 20. [The album was released in June this year.] This suite dares to magnify the idea of the wider Americas as a crucible for the continuing assimilation and transformation of disparate musical influences. It is a space where the Naipaulian idea of “small places with simple economies bred small people with simple destinies” is turned on its head forever.

Charles uses the coincidence of the name of San José to make a subliminal link between the Caribbean, Latin American and North American cultural tendencies. The real commonality is the idea of the African diaspora intersection with the Native American antecedents to act as the base for a new direction in jazz.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Caribbean Beat Caribbean Playlist – November/December 2016ª


Dis 1. 4. Raf Andy Narell 

(Listen 2 Records)

As if driving home the point that the pendulum of commercial influence for steelpan appears to be moving away from Trinidad was not enough, now comes the new release by American steelpan musician Andy Narell that boasts not one, but two CDs of refined exploitation of the sound and ambience of the steelpan in the context of a jazz quartet and as musical partner with piano. Dis 1. 4. Raf, a tribute to the late Caribbean jazz pioneer Raf Robertson, is another rung in the ladder of success of Narell. With his cohort of players from Cuba and Guadeloupe, Narell on this album weaves a new path for the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago to tread that encompasses influences beyond the archipelago. On the second CD, a duet, he juxtaposes the enhanced idea of modern percussive and rhythmic sounds from the New World—the steelpan—and the Old World—the piano—to subdued and subtle brilliance.

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  1. More Caribbean Playlist reviews appear in the November/December 2016 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.
© 2016, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The pot bubbling: Cousoumeh by Akinola Sennon – a Review¹

Steelpan player and Siparia Deltones musical director, Akinola Sennon has released a new album of pan jazz on the independent Ropeadope Records label. The album, Cousoumeh, is a mix of effective songwriting and performance and a daring leap into a new way of hearing improvised music from the Caribbean.

Ropeadope Records—an increasingly important record label in the US that is home to jazz pannists Leon Foster Thomas and Jonathan Scales—remarks openly that the record, “is an interpretation of jazz where the heritage of the island [Trinidad] and the full sense of the African diaspora collide, sometimes in a polished way and sometimes with a raw undercurrent.” In recognising that simultaneous pattern of up and down production value, one is effectively exposed to two sides of the musical adventure that Sennon has pursued in the making of this album.

On the one hand, Sennon along with percussionist Tambi Gwindi works with four young Boston-based musicians, drummer Shane Dahler, pianist Chris McCarthy, bassist Cole Davis and trumpeter Alonzo Demetrius Ryan Jr. on half the tunes on the eight-song album. Americans all, this aggregation approaches the idea of the Caribbean and Sennon's music with adroit solos and converses musically in a language that speaks to a proficiency of jazz improvisation while still searching for the Afro-Caribbean aesthetic.