Caribbean jazz, like its North American precursor, has been a collaborative effort: a musical conversation, despite singular stars in the pantheon. Ijó, out of Trinidad, seek to fulfil the role of eminent conversationalists within the context of the myriad musical influences that bathe their island nation. This new band on the Caribbean jazz scene is made up of top individual session musicians, a kind of supergroup that does not disappoint on their first effort. Orisha drumming is captured on “Black Rose”, alongside a hint of the transplanted Indian presence in “Nari” and world fusion gone mad on the track “Ijó” — just some of the soundscapes one may traverse on this album. Long in gestation, Grafted takes its time to grow on the listener. So powerful are the individual voices that the “accents” are sometimes hard to decipher within the elegance of the melodies and harmonies.
Elan Trotman, Boston-based contemporary jazz saxophonist from Barbados discusses the business of jazz with Jazz in the Islands. In 2019, he released his new album Dear Marvin, a saxophone tribute to the late great Marvin Gaye on the Woodward Avenue label. We get the Caribbean-American perspective from this Berklee College of Music alumnus about the significance and possible advantage of label distribution in enhancing the brand via radio and physical sales. This year also marks the sixth anniversary of his Barbados Jazz Excursion, a major destination festival in the islands where contemporary jazz meets the sun, sand and sea Audio courtesy iRADIO.tt
When wanderlust coincides with discovery, great things can happen. When it is your job to travel to perform, it should be your duty to discover all that you are in the context of new vistas. Saxophone sideman to the stars Godwin Louis has travelled to over one hundred countries, and focused his discovery on the history of African and diaspora music across the world. His aptly titled debut album Global, a two-CD package, features “compositions that emerged out of research that he performed in Africa and Latin America on the music exported out of Africa, to the rest of the world via the transatlantic slave trade.” Audacious in scope, adept in execution, this Haitian-American has compiled a record featuring jazz syncopation that juxtaposes with African rhythm and Latin American voices and Antillean grooves, making this a testament to the idea of connectedness in modern music. By joining all the musical dots, Louis spiritually finds his way home.
MDR Jonathan Michel
Haitian-American bassist Jonathan Michel calls his debut album MDR “an entry into the world of music as me. I think it’s a great representation.” And with that declaration, Michel, along with drummer Jeremy Dutton and vibraphonist Joel Ross, plays trio-based jazz that becomes an extension of the live gig scene this musician has been a part of for much of his career. The album touches on a range of genres that identify with the Caribbean-born in the diaspora. Jazz, spirituals, Haitian folk songs, R&B are all distilled through that enhanced prism with small-unit playing; bass and drum anchor a space for the vibraphone to resonate. The bass is never far away, and we hear why Michel is the leader on this album, with the old Negro spiritual “Wade in the Water” taking a frenetic spin in tandem with the improvisations of the vibraphone. Fellow Haitian child-of-the-diaspora Melanie Charles adds her soul-inspired voice on the bookend tracks.
Cimarrón Josean Jacobo & Tumbao
Pianist Josean Jacobo has been heralded as the “Ambassador of Afro-Dominican Jazz,” and with that understanding, the listener must negotiate a minefield of ideas and ideologies on “Dominicanness” and the image of the island as a tourist playground. On Cimarrón, Jacobo, along with the band Tumbao — a unique combo of two saxes, drums, and percussion — present a solid interface of music born in the American melting pot of New Orleans and traditional folkloric rhythms from African-descended natives of Hispaniola. His piano soars and floats on the ten songs here, while the polyrhythms of the hand drums and other percussion give credence to a history of solid representation of the music of African souls who have mingled and transformed Spanish-derived sounds to create what we today know as salve, congos, bachata, and more. The language of jazz has broadened in this context, and this album is a distinctive beginning for new listeners.
Young, gifted Grenadian guitarist Jeremy Hector makes his album debut with the aid of countryman — and Canadian Music Award winner — Eddie Bullen at the production helm. There is a flawless sheen to the smooth jazz tropes that ooze like treacle from these eleven tracks. That could be a bad thing, in that there is a sameness of song profile, but there’s a silver lining in the sound of that guitar. The tone of Hector’s instrument is remarkably listenable, suggesting there’s more for the audience than sonic fantasies of island life and tropical vacations. Hector’s mature supple fretting technique allows for fluid playing, and the listener’s obvious ease of engagement with these compositions — ten, self-composed — add to the idea that this debut was long overdue. A Caribbean rhythmic aesthetic shines through on the tracks “St Paul” and “Islander”, in particular, to give this album a unique distinction.
Creole Big Band MizikOpéyi
(Aztec Musique / 3M)
MizikOpéyi is an interesting concept in the Caribbean: an ensemble in the style of a New Orleans big band, but one which “combines swing in all its forms with the rhythms of the Antilles, with a rejuvenating modernity.” Formed by former Malavoi lead singer Tony Chassseur and his fellow Martiniquan, pianist and arranger Thierry Vaton, the band mines the music of the French Antilles, Haiti, and other Creole music sources globally. On their fourth album, the eponymous Creole Big Band covers the Creole music of the Caribbean and the overseas department of Réunion, and adds new tunes that showcase their wide repertoire. It also fascinates with a sound that can rival any big band in the land of jazz, yet is suffused with a kind of Caribbean fusion originality. Guest soloists include Jacques Schwarz-Bart, Franck Nicolas, Orlando Valle, Alain Jean-Marie, and Michel Alibo, to name a few. A new favourite for the seeker of Caribbean excellence.
In a series of splendid jazz albums, trombonist and composer Reginald Cyntje has been musically chronicling the range of human emotions, and providing a musical engagement with the human spirit, the soul, the cerebral self. An intelligent understanding of ourselves culminates in this new recording, Rise of the Protester, which documents the resistance of the “hue man” to bondage, to deprivation, to prejudice, and to injustice in both Caribbean and American spaces, reflecting Cyntje’s multiple heritages as a Dominican raised in the US Virgin Islands, and now living in the United States. Taking his cues from a historical record of resistance, literal and figurative — from the likes of Harriet Tubman and “Queen” Mary Thomas of St Croix to Malcolm X and others — Cyntje’s evolution of protest is given gravitas with music that engages the urgent rhythms of Caribbean movement and the contemplative space of jazz. This is by no means mournful dissonance, but a joyous celebration of spirit wanting to be free.
My Good Day Ronald “Boo” Hinkson (Single)
St Lucian music icon and guitarist Ronald “Boo” Hinkson has a career equivalent to that of an ambassador for his native island and its annual jazz festival. The languid pleasures of Caribbean life are mirrored in the tropical smooth jazz feel of this song. Featuring the vocals of Irvin “Ace” Loctar and Shannon Pinel, and Hinkson’s “signature feathery touch,” this song’s inspirational message of hope and gratitude is made clearer when you grasp the relationship between our Caribbean realities and the vision of the tourist brochure. “Survival is the triumph of stubbornness,” said St Lucian poet Derek Walcott, and in these lyrics, you get the sense that a good day is just around the corner from a series of regular bad yesterdays. The jazz guitar in the hands of giants like Wes Montgomery and George Benson became the smooth sonic antidote to melancholy, and Hinkson merrily continues that tradition here.
Between 1956 and 1964, the major Cuban record label Panart captured the sounds and descargas — improvised musical jam sessions — of the most innovative native musicians on the island. With the freedom of jazz and the soul of Cuba, this is “a stylistic and historic panorama of Cuban music, from big band son montuno to Afro-Cuban rumba, mambo, cha-cha-chá, and country acoustic guajira music,” as described by compilation label Craft Recordings. This bit of history is here remastered for a new generation and collected in a five-LP box set (five CDs are another option), offering a unique glimpse of the zeitgeist of the nation during and after the Cuban Revolution, which nationalised Cuban culture and record companies. Legends of Cuban music recorded in that loose setting include mambo co-creators (and brothers) bassist Israel “Cachao” and pianist Orestes “Macho” López, alongside jazz drummer Guillermo Barreto and other pioneers. A keepsake for the ages.
The father of modern kaisojazz, Trinidadian pianist Clive Zanda recounts a career spanning from his days in England in the 1960s innovating with the fusion of calypso in the language of jazz, to his return to Trinidad and his collaboration with Scofield Pilgrim, Bajan-born kaisojazz theorist and pedagogue and beyond. The explorations of this new fusion exercise was given "proof of concept" in 1976 with the landmark album, clive zanda is here! "With dat kinda ting": Calypsojazz Innovations. His continuing efforts to create a philosophy for our understanding of jazz and kaiso music in the Caribbean are told with his development of a new book on the music and how to apply music theory to make kaisojazz music more than a niche music but a legacy. Audio courtesy iRADIO.tt