Friday, 17 October 2014

On a Lighter Note: a review¹

For the second consecutive Friday in October, there has been an opportunity for enhanced entertainment in Port of Spain that features a mingling and interface of jazz performance and western classical music personnel.  The Classical Music Development Foundation's production, “On a Lighter Note” at the Little Carib Theatre showcased light classical songs and jazz vocal favourites by coloratura soprano Natalia Dopwell accompanied by the Dominant Seventh Calypso Jazz Band led by trumpeter Rellon Brown. Unfortunately, this three night event was avoided by a wider audience on the gala première night therefore denying the performers a critical ovation and measure of what works and what does not.

The ninety minute show was a celebration of the film and musical theatre songs of the Gershwins (Embraceable You, Summertime, I’ve Got Rhythm), Cole Porter (Begin the Beguine, I’ve Got You Under My Skin), Andrew Lloyd-Webber (Half a Moment), as were Natalia’s takes of the show tunes from The Scarlet Pimpernel (Only Love) and Jeeves (Half a Moment) that allowed her to relax into a milieu that defined excellence.  The show was also a nod to the style of “crossover classical” made popular by another diva, Sarah Brightman. The opening song, “Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote)” was dedicated to activist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh; maybe a subtle jab at his solitary determination and idealism against all odds, but an apt song choice with a message that was not missed by the small audience.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The din of nostalgia: The Keate Street Jazz Octet at Martin’s Piano Bar – a review¹

Aidan Chamberlin, assistant professor at UTT informed the small audience of about a couple dozen at Martin’s Piano Bar that the performance they were about to witness that cool Friday night (3 October) was the debut public performance of the newly formed Keate Street Jazz Octet conscripted from the staff of UTT Music department with Alea Nicholson sitting in as guest pianist. Their agglomeration was inspired by a visit earlier in 2014 by the Michigan State University jazz professors including Trinidadian trumpet ace Etienne Charles, and students. The Americans showcased the possibilities of big band and especially the octet ensembles in the context of jazz: four horns and a rhythm section can swing.

In the context of jazz in Trinidad, the audience was in for the uninspired reading of stock music charts of the jazz greats. With almost sonic perfection—one would expect no less from UTT music instructors—especially from the horn section of Chamberlin on trombone, Anthony Woodroffe, Jr. on tenor sax, Yevgeny Dokshansky on alto sax and Errol Ince on trumpet, the octet moved through a selection of early- to mid-20th century jazz standards ranging from Gershwin (Fascinating Rhythm) and Fats Waller (Ain’t Misbehavin’) to Erroll Garner (Misty) and Dizzy Gillespie (Night in Tunisia).

Monday, 1 September 2014

Caribbean Beat Reviews – September/October 2014ª


Homeward Bound Clifford Charles

Guitarist Clifford Charles fifth CD, Homeward Bound, continues a trend of re-definition of the music of these isles. Charles has endeavoured to convert soca’s high beats-per-minute freneticism into smooth jazz for easier consumption by an audience less inclined to be defined as “bacchanalist.” This may not be high achievement for the jazz connoisseur, but in the hands of this player, the ongoing efforts of many Caribbean artists to “crossover” make sense with this music on this album. The music never veers towards the kitschy excess of the genre. Recent soca hits such as Destra’s “Call My Name” and Bunji Garlin’s ”Differentology” evoke the essence of universal popular appeal. Recorded live in studio with his quartet, Charles maintains the chops that are recognizable for the effortless rhythm playing and solid soloing. Three originals balance the five soca smooth jazz covers and provide the basis for a soundtrack for a resort-inspired frolic.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Theron Shaw: Gumbo Caribe - a CD review¹


Theron Shaw is well known in local music circles as the go-to man for guitar support ranging from jazz to calypso. His two previous releases signalled a willingness to engage with native cultural mores and tackle Caribbean Jazz not only as a way to “tropicalise” harmonically complex original music, but as a way to validate and valorise calypsoes, ethnic music and folk songs in a surprisingly new context. With his third release on CD, Gumbo Caribe, Shaw almost exclusively utilises the talents of a cadre of Boston-based BerkLee College of Music faculty and alumni to expand the thematic influences beyond the border.

Those musicians include Trinidad-born professor of music, Ron Reid, who acts as producer and earns an album artist credit, along with dynamic drummer Harvey Wirht, originally from Suriname. Reid has honed his skill of pulling superlative performances out of musicians—last year, that was on display at his One Night Only concert at All Saints Church Hall with local jazz talent—and on this album, the challenging variety of moods is adequately handled. Wirht leads by example to masterfully interpret the varied rhythms that are explored on this album. The challenge, if there is one at all, of playing live with musicians “outside the box” is recognised by the listener as the new aesthetics of jazz: just play...well!

Shaw says:
Gumbo Caribe represents a mix of styles and influences that I’ve been nurturing developing for a number of years. You will hear influences from the French Caribbean via the mennde and mazurka [mazouk], a Brazilian textured partido alto, and of course my own twists of calypso and folk rhythms.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Caribbean Beat Reviews – July/August 2014ª

Jazz Racine Haïti Jacques Schwarz-Bart

Guadeloupean tenor saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart, as a child heard Haitian vodou ritual songs played by his mother and celebrated author, Simone Schwarz-Bart, as a soundtrack to their life of literary idyll in the Caribbean. That memory of the music, and his own yearning to create jazz that is reflective of his French-Caribbean heritage propelled Schwarz-Bart to first perform and later, to record Jazz Racine Haïti as a document of the spiritual journey beyond Haiti all the way back to Africa. To re-arrange vodou music for this band featuring jazz musicians and two houngans (vodou priests) was an exercise to engage with the greatness of this music. “That dialogue with silence [music] creates a doorway to the unknown.” “Legba Nan Baye” fuses, in real time, ritual music and jazz, voice and tenor sax. African-Caribbean grooves that drive this music beyond spirituality achieve a synergy where modern jazz and vodou are one.

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TriniJazz Project Various Artists

Michael “Ming “ Low Chew Tung is the architect of 21st century jazz recording and performance in Trinidad and Tobago, following on from mentors like Clive Zanda and Mike Boothman, prolifically producing original music to add to the local canon. Now, he acts as mentor and producer for a new generation of young jazz musicians and singers with a new CD, TriniJazz Project. Polished arrangements and smooth jazz elements shouldn’t suggest any sell-out to the aesthetics of Caribbean luxe tourism or middlebrow leisure culture, but in the hands of the players, Tony Paul (sax), Rodney Alexander (bass), Modupe Onilu (percussion), Dean Williams (guitar) and smoky voiced chanteuse Vaughnette Bigford these ten tunes are a celebration of how we sing, dance and live in these islands. The reframed calypsoes of Bigford, the rhythmic pulse of Onilu, and the improvised joy by the others say “trinijazz” is the definition of accomplished.

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Friday, 16 May 2014

All Star Tribute to Ralph MacDonald – a concert review¹

On a picturesque plateau above Arima overlooking the distant Caroni plains, the Holy Cross College Alumni produced a jazz event for the ages—Jazz on D Hill—featuring an All Star Tribute to Ralph MacDonald on Mother’s Day, May 11. The music of the late Trini-by-blood musician, composer and producer resonated in the night as some of the best and most famous musicians in jazz covered the songs spanning MacDonald’s solo career from the 1970s to his untimely death in 2011 and beyond.

Led by trumpeter, Etienne Charles, this aggregation of superstars of jazz included multiple Grammy award winner Marcus Miller on bass guitar, Buddy Williams, one of the most recorded drummers of all time, pannist extraordinaire Robert Greenidge along with other MacDonald album alumnae, vocalists Nadirah Shakoor and Dennis Collins, Barbadian stars Arturo Tappin on tenor saxophone and Nicholas Branker on keyboards, and Charles’ Creole Soul band mates Alex Wintz and Kris Bowers on guitar and keyboards respectively.

The most significant inclusion in this All Star grouping was Gary Fritz, MacDonald’s cousin who had the joyous responsibility of recreating the percussion parts that audiences have grown accustomed to over the years from MacDonald. The classic “Jam on the Groove” has a percussion break that utilized toy hammers that exemplified how the mundane can become extraordinary in the hands of a master. For the disco hit, “Calypso Breakdown,” MacDonald’s son Atiba joined the All Stars to play the iron and enhance the “engine room” to joyous ovation. At that point the rains came down, but the magic lingered.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Chantal Esdelle and Moyenne: Imbizo Moyenne - a CD review¹

"Chantal Esdelle, a Berklee College of Music graduate, holds an important place among jazz musicians here, as she is one of, if not the only female band leader who is a renowned pianist in this island. She is part of a lineage that would probably include Winifred Atwell and tangentially Hazel Scott. Unlike those two artistes, Esdelle has been able to mine the musical influences of Trinidad and in a deeper sense, Africa and the African diaspora in the New World for her compositions. Further, unlike Atwell and Scott, Esdelle has a body of original compositions on her two CD releases that now place her ahead of a number of jazz luminaries in the islands who still balk at releasing original music, thus diluting the well of local copyrights to be exploited by the world..."

The above quoted epigraph was from an aborted review of the CD launch event for Imbizo Moyenne. the new CD from Chantal Esdelle and Moyenne, back in May 2013. The sentiment, however, is an absolute truth. There is no denying that Esdelle, and by extension Moyenne deserve to be heard, more so in our context as a burgeoning music industry. Time has allowed the disappointment of that release event to be replaced with the joy in heralding this new music. Out now in CD format to supplement the digital version already available in limited release, this simply packaged CD fills a yawning gap in the canon of locally-released jazz music.