Jazz in the wider Americas is more than improvisation that engages the blues and swing, but an evolving exploration of sounds, rhythms and cultural tendencies that inform the music that is the definition of freedom. San Jose Suite, Etienne Charles' sixth album, is a mature contemplation of this Trinidadian trumpeter's wider encounters with the elements of creole music in the New World. Drawing inspiration from three San José cities in the Americas—Costa Rica, California and Trinidad—Charles re-tells the stories and histories of those communities, its people and their commonalities, with jazz that is both rhythmically diverse and harmonically expressive enough to never be cliched. “Cahuita”, “Boruca”, “Revolt”, “Speed City” are musical statements of keen observation, celebratory reflection and musical adroitness. This album is also a signal to the listener that jazz in the 21st century is in the hands of a burgeoning trumpet pioneer charting modern directions much like Armstrong, Davis and Marsalis before him.
In 2016, the idea of a calypso jazz band recording reminiscent of those pre-combo dance band records of the late 1950s to the early 1960s comes as a shock to the tendencies of modern local musicians to follow the faddishness of this new generation of music consumers. Trumpeter Rellon Brown along with his young Dominant Seventh CalypsoJazz Band, on their new CD HomeGrown, peel back the pomp and gloss of current tropes to resurrect the idea of creole dance band music. The music, recorded live in the studio, serves as a kind of instigator for moving hips and feet, and as a beacon of native pride in what worked and what did not.
Recently launched at a concert at the Little Carib Theatre, the album's fare runs the gamut of progressive post bop on Trackers to cloying songcraft on a cover of the Ralph MacDonald-written classic Just the Two of Us. The broad mix gives the impression that this debut its trying to be all things to all men. It certainly fulfils the ambition of showcasing local song writing and indigenous musicianship; Ralph MacDonald was the son of early Trinidadian calypsonian Macbeth the Great and identified with his heritage.
Drummer Zane Rodulfo on his debut EP Pathways shows a maturity beyond his twenty-six years as composer of and rhythmic support for a short set of original jazz instrumentals. Dissecting the music, one is awed by the seemingly cultivated approach of the musical themes on this production. As a graduate of both Oberlin College and New York University, Rodulfo has an unsurprisingly studied approach, but the artist’s youth throws a wrench in the theory that this level of quiet contemplation must come with age and experience. Rodulfo’s Trinidad roots are reflected purely in the sound, not necessarily the rhythms. He composed four of the five tunes on this collection himself, and the superlative interplay between jazz guitar or saxophone and the effectively anchored rhythm section suggests that as a producer he is not selfish, and his gifts lie in creating environments for musicians to run free without bombast. This EP is a great launching pad for a stellar international career.
It happened last night. I have known Vaughnette Bigford for a while now as a superb singer in the style of those smoky voiced songstresses from a bygone jazz era reborn in the 21st century. Abbey Lincoln “reborn” as Cassandra Wilson. Nina Simone, however, is the template I see when I see Vaughnette. Another is Miriam Makeba. Them two born she! VOH'net! Our Vaughnette is the modern creole chanteuse, the New World African queen. Not a diva, but the real thing imbuing a Trinidadian ethos missing from many young interlopers singing jazz here.
Vaughnette has been a star for many years. A star who has her own in-demand splendid concerts in the south, Shades of Vaughnette. I have written about her three Shades concerts over the years. (I, II, III) I had hosted her at Jazz Artists on the Greens in 2009 before she made her live debut as a SONGBIRD in that series later that year at Aura Restaurant (now Town on Cipriani Blvd.). I recognise her worth. I know that when Vaughnette sings, an audience expectation of a fulfilling experience will be met and exceeded. I know that she will deliver at a level of professionalism that supersedes even stars in other genres.
Smooth jazz is a music genre that purists love to hate, but in the Caribbean, it is increasingly becoming the pleasing soundtrack of resort life for fortunate travellers in search of sun, sand and sea. Purity be damned when there is a market for the slick and increasingly popular sound in these isles. Toronto-based Grenadian keyboardist and music producer Eddie Bullen, says that this album “is a musical reflection of [his] life as a teenager growing up on the ‘spice island’ of Grenada,” but it can also be seen as a catalogue of all the smooth jazz tropes that have marked the music for either fame or disdain. Piano trills, ubiquitous programmed synths, chill vibes, funky motifs; they are all there. Spice Island is a metaphor for an idealised Caribbean vacation. Sure handed production values that augur well for this album to be a call card for jazz cruises makes this a listenable treat.
For One To Love Cécile McLorin Salvant
Haitian pride remains intact despite generations of miscegenation and migration. Jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant notes that with pride: “I was not at all raised in an African-American family culture. My dad is Haitian, mom is French-Guadeloupean, and in Miami [where she was born], on top of that, we had more of a Caribbean vibe.” Heritage and identity are touchstones for conversations among others, but the music on this third album by Salvant speaks to an all-encompassing American heritage: jazz. Depending on your perspective, this album can either challenge expectations or satisfy the soul as she continues her efforts at mining the early songs of the genre to create new impressions for new audiences. Five originals balance this set of veritable unheralded standards from a bygone era cementing this album as a new recipe for jazz singing. Recasting love songs and imbuing new meaning to a jaded lyric is Salvant’s goal. Well played.
Toronto-based Cuban trumpeter Alexis Baro has released a ten-track album of jazz music that has the chill vibe in effect, but also focuses on the idea that you can take an islander to the city, but his island-ness is a hard thing to shake off. Laid-back sensuality is an apt phrase to describe the mood of the album, but Afro-Cuban sentiments and rhythms creep in seductively, giving the impression that one is listening to a duality of ambition. On “Eres”, fellow Toronto-based Cuban rapper Telmary (Díaz) provides a spoken-word juxtaposition to Baro’s muted horn; hot hiphop à la Habana. On “African Prince”, Baro blows frenetically and on point over conga drums as a segue to a languid piano solo that serves as a lesson in Latin jazz. Canadian spoken word artist Dwayne Morgan smoothly defines what his guilty pleasures are on the title track. Consuming this album could be yours.