Saturday, 10 April 2010

Karl Doyle: The Brand New Heavy

Tuesday, April, 6, was the date of a fascinating event in the calendar of jazz performances here in Port of Spain. Karl Doyle, along with his partner Jean-Marc Aimey hosted the second jam session of their weekly Jazz & Fusion Tuesdays @ La Casa de Ibiza that featured young lion musicians, saxman and flautist Tony Paul, panmen Derron Ellies and Kern Sumerville, bassist Peter Noel, guitarist Dean Williams and Karl himself on drums. Even Modupe Folasade Onilu fell in on drums for a couple of numbers. A couple singers even ventured into the realm of kings.

This jam inspired this writer to give a running commentary on Facebook via Twitter to one of the fans who is abroad. As I tweeted that night,
"Karl Doyle & krew just turned a bunch of limers into jazz fans. Awesome!"
Karl's experiment to project the scores/leadsheets onto a large screen for the musicians to follow and improvise was brilliant, with results that again show me that jazz is in good hands with these young lions. Pulling tunes from the songbooks of the masters—John Coltrane's "Impressions" and "Mr. P.C.", Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower", Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk", Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon", and Sonny Rollins' "Airegin"—the musicians showed skill in the technical ability of improvising using melody and rhythm, and the mastery of their respective instruments. It was apparent that after Karl laid down a rhythm, the musicians followed running the chord changes, then improvised soloing for a few more bars…then a jam. The music was always hot.

Tony Paul plays the saxophone like someone with many more years experience than he is alive! He has no equal locally. Period! I heard Dean Williams use his effects board to give a new voice to the sound of jazz guitar. Derron Ellies on an un-chromed tenor pan was a revelation to me as a rhythmic improviser, as was the improved dexterity of Kern Sumerville. On Coltrane's "Impressions" I tweeted,
"Peter Noel playing 6 string bass like it have no tomorrow! @Karl throw in a junkanoo rhythm. Interpolation of "Every Time Ah Pass", now Hosay [rhythm] in the jazz. Let others only contemplate!"
It was fun! Jazz has to be fun. We, in the Caribbean are fun people, and this worked in a number of contexts. One master jazz musician in the house grudgingly said the set "was great, if a bit loud and long." Karl's penchant to ramble on after the implied song finish seemed to have ticked off Tony Paul, but the audience lapped it up, either unknowing of the musical breaches or just happy to be entertained! For Karl, rhythm is king.

Karl's invention and fusion of funky Caribbean rhythms remind me of the acid jazz experiments of pioneers in the UK like the Brand New Heavies and Incognito. This music played that night is a category of its own, sui generis. Dynamic musical changes of genres are hoped for in generations. This is good stuff. I have posited that jazz in the Caribbean has never been about the aping of the American music performance. Recorded pioneers from John Buddy Williams, Rupert Clemendore (Le Jazz Primitif) to as far back as Lionel Belasco have sought not to be mimic men, but to be Caribbean artists. Our arts and culture in the Caribbean has always been about reinterpretation, and fusion. The languages of Kwéyòl and Papiamentu, the dances of Rex Nettleford, Beryl McBurnie and Astor Johnson, the music of Lancelot Layne, Brother Resistance (rapso) or Shorty, Pelham Goddard with Maestro (soca) have been about taking music, art and culture outside the box and seeking possibilities. A newspaper critic of the recent Jazz Artists on the Greens questioned "Where's the Jazz?" That rhetorical question, whether nudged along by competitive alignment with "purists" or by naiveté, ignores the overarching quest of musicians here for generations to fill the psychological void left by colonialism with their version of the "new." It also contemplates that definitions and templates are static. The sting of the critical voice does not alter facts here, or more critically, sell or un-sell tickets. Karl tells me that he just wants the "event by itself to build an audience." I am sure it will. This is action speaking louder than words!

Karl Doyle
The apple does not fall far from the tree. Karl's dad Anton chairs the group that produces the annual Jazz Artists on the Greens, and Karl's venture into producing more intimate events, while debatably profitable judging from the audience size on any night, is potentially successful in building an audience of new fans, young fans, who can only benefit the jazz crowd in these islands. (Full disclosure: I am also part of Production One Ltd. which produces Jazz Artists on the Greens.) And this 2 hour jam was only $20.00, a figure in my estimation too low for any profitable return, but certainly within the reach of a much larger potential audience. Karl has focused on providing an avenue for a number of musicians who need to keep working at their craft, and more importantly, need to be seen and heard outside of the atmosphere of a crowded "Greens" or some jazz festival. The exiting audience also sang their praises of an unashamedly exciting and new force in the entertainment options here in Trinidad.

Lenny Grant questioned me at another event recently, viz. "When did this jazz renaissance in Trinidad begin?" To which I replied, "You should be happy. It's always been here." I am happy. The notion that all of a sudden there is a jazz this and a jazz that is a product of new marketing opportunities. The idea of putting the word jazz together with anything is now in vogue—"a Jazz brunch," a "Wine and Jazz Evening," et al. It is a marketing phrase that relates to an apparent upscale event for a more mature set; it is not a jam session. The irony of that coupling in this instance was laid bare by the meanderings and wanderings of this bunch of talented young musicians in an upscale venue catering to a young audience who got it! The pockets of musical experimentation guided by a jazz vibe are coming to the fore. Musical entrepreneurs like Karl and Jean-Marc are the new generation using the new tools of social networking to spread the word that there is music here.

Karl Doyle: a musician, a music entrepreneur, a brand new heavy! Keep your head up, and the rhythm going.