Friday, 6 December 2013

Jazz in a Sacred Space: Etienne Charles at the Little Carib Theatre, Trinidad - a Concert review

Fresh from an exciting TEDx Port of Spain talk in the morning, the always dapper Etienne Charles and his band delivered a superb set of jazz at the gala opening of his Creole Soul tour stop in Trinidad on the evening of November 30 at the Little Carib Theatre in Port of Spain. A homecoming of sorts—this is the second return on this tour having performed at Jazz on the Beach in April this year in Tobago—this stop solidifies the star status of this highly personable trumpeter and musician.

Delivering two sold-out shows on that weekend, it became obvious that this venue is too small for the natural local audience of this globe-trotting musician. After forty-plus international performances in support of his latest CD Creole Soul, Charles again raises the bar for local musicians to go over, and continues to serve as an apt inspiration of desired goals.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

I Am Élan Parlē: A declaration of Independence

Liner notes for élan parlē’s 2013 CD, I Am Élan Parlē
In 2000, I was living in the US capital, Washington DC, some five hours driving south on the I-95 from the mecca of Caribbean –American cultural existence, New York, and five hours flying north from Trinidad; remote, yet within reach. Howard University, Georgia Avenue, the T&T Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue: district landmarks of connectedness for a homesick soul. Caribbean musical heritage peppers the shelves of the Library of Congress, at the Smithsonian Institution, in the many book stores and those ubiquitous mementos from that age, the record & CD store. The sounds of Trinidad, the echoes of having fun were silently present in this international city.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

This Is Élan Parlé: A concert review

Michael “Ming” Low Chew Tung and his band/brand Élan Parlé proved why they are a necessary force in the music industry here in Trinidad and Tobago on Saturday 28 at Queen’s Hall. A two hour performance of original instrumental tunes and arrangements interspersed with revealing conversation, interesting music lessons and funny stories made for an entertainment package that continues the high standard set by show producer, Curtain Call Productions.

Admitting that this was the first “full concert” in seven years, the band with a new line-up of players delivered on the promise of one explosive night of Caribbean jazz fusion. Culling compositions from his publishing catalogue going back to the debut CD, “Tribal Voices” in 2000, Ming commanded an ensemble of seasoned “young lion” musicians to play with the easy elegance that defines the Élan Parlé sound.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

John John - Citagrandson - A CD Review¹

Soul is, in the words of writer Nelson George, “a one word summation of our [Black America’s] spirit, our desires and self-esteem.” In T&T in the 1970s, local bands like Kalyan and Sound Revolution flirted with the sounds and rhythms of soul music and channelled its celebratory spirit. In 2013, a new avatar for soul has arrived.

John John debuts as the local poster boy for neo-soul singers with his first album Citagrandson on Highway Records. The self-penned 12 tracks on this CD paint the picture of a young man discovering his true self and exploring his longings. “Let’s Make Music” is brutally frank about his desires:  “...take off those clothes/make 10 toes 20, your chakras exposed.”

Production values that look to the larger world for validation, excellently highlighting John John’s slinky voice to effect, are keys that the label and artist can depend on for making that international breakthrough.
  1. This review appeared in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian as part of the article, "Music from John John: T&T’S SOUL"
© 2013, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Electric ascendance of Etienne Charles: Creole Soul – a CD Review¹

With his simple declaration to this writer, “sound is my art...I just try to create,” Trinidadian jazz trumpeter Etienne Charles puts into context his role of creator and producer in relation to his latest recording Creole Soul, out now on Culture Shock Music and distributed in North America by RED/Sony Music Entertainment,. This new album, previewed earlier this year in Tobago at Jazz on the Beach at Mt Irvine reveals to this writer an evolution of his art that parallels our most distinguished author and the jazz idiom’s most eclectic trumpeter and influence.

The fourth studio album from this US-based musician and teacher bristles with a kind of energy that comes from the realization that one has gone beyond; beyond the usual expectations of a Caribbean existence, beyond the boundary of the usual sonic influences that have paved the way for this jazz lion. The familiar tropes of calypso rhythm inflected jazz that have been a hallmark of our jazz here for decades—from Duke Ellington's A Drum is a Woman (1956) to Rupert Clemendore's Le Jazz Trinidad (1961) and Dizzy Gillespie's Jambo Caribe (1964)—are abandoned for a modern post-bop and jazz fusion take on the material and all its thematic and stylistic influences in the New World.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

The evolution of Ruth Osman: Letting Go - a CD Review¹

Ruth Osman launched her debut CD, “Letting Go” on the first weekend in July in a pair of spectacularly produced concerts at the Little Carib Theatre. Those concerts set a new benchmark for these kinds of events here, and one wishes that all CD launches operate at this level of professionalism where production value is honoured and audience expectation are not dashed.

The production team of Jason Dasent and his team at Studio Jay Recording Ltd created a new milieu for Ruth in the concert and on the record. On this 10-track CD, this Guyanese song bird has evolved from the easy elegance of her tropical neo-folk acoustic trio, Jacoustik—featuring Marva Newton and James Fenton on guitar and congas respectively—to the lush layering of synthesizers and background vocal harmonies of this recording.

In an instant, the listener realises that this record is making a commercial statement beyond the confines of the neo-folk genre. The worldliness of the production signals a departure from the status quo for this singer who has been performing in T&T for over five years. A couple tracks work well in this new milieu of layered sounds namely “New Blues” with the organ that mimics the Doors/Ray Manzarek sound over a jazz waltz tempo. The bluesy wail is not missed as Ruth channels the lyrics intent; a series of repeated couplets professing love and asking for a continued presence, “Don’t ever leave, boy. / You’ve got what I need.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

An American in Paradise: The sense of Belonging of Andy Narell

Andy Narell
American pannist and composer Andy Narell is an iconoclast who fearlessly challenges the narrow definitions of acceptable pan music. He is global, and his usefulness as an ambassador for our national instrument is tainted by suspicion long held by panmen and the pan fraternity in general here. It may be a an attitude of his own making. Long held beliefs are hard to dispel with logic. Pan pioneer Rudolf "Fish Eye" Ollivierre welcomed itinerant writer Patrick Leigh Fermor back in 1950 to Hell Yard, as described in his travel book The Traveller's Tree—"The ease of his manner was admirable"—implying a sense of awe and acceptance we have nurtured over the years in this region for "tourists." Narell has long ago stopped being a tourist. He is one of us and thus, prone to the same criticisms and praise as the rest of us. He is critical of our music, our Panorama and we react without obsequiousness. And rightly so, for that is the Caribbean posture, effectively practised by the panman forever; never back down from a challenge.

Andy Narell belongs to a pantheon of expatriate creative types who “belong” here and at the same time are aware of their difficulty of so belonging. Important regional authors were temporary immigrants to these shores in the mid-20th century—Edgar Mittelholzer in 1941-48, George Lamming in 1946-50, Derek Walcott in 1959-76—and their presence and experiences added to the canon of West Indian literature. Port of Spain, and by extension, the island is a place frequented by those wanderers in search of inspiration and succour. It still is a moving place designed to shape memory and ways of feeling. (Narell is temporarily resident in St Lucia now, acting as the festival patron for the 17th annual Jazz in the South in Laborie beginning on May 1, 2013.)

Sunday, 21 April 2013

April is Jazz Month in Trinidad too¹

In a month of many entertainment options labelled “jazz”, the first weekend showcased some of the best music performances heard in these parts for a while. April has been recognised as Jazz Appreciation Month in the United States via the Smithsonian along with the UNESCO sponsored International Jazz Day culminating at month’s end with global jazz events including Trinidad.

Pianist Master Gunnery Sgt Robert Boguslaw, and double bassist Gunnery Sgt Eric Sabo—of “The President’s Own” US Marine Band—along with saxophonist Jeffrey Wills of Nashville, Tennessee were here in T&T for a second year to give jazz performances and do music workshops on the first weekend. These skilled musicians spoke the language of jazz that has not been heard locally for a while with performances reflecting the styles of Thelonius Monk, Chick Corea, even handling Etienne Charles “Santimanité” with technical aplomb. Mixing standards with original compositions, the solos captured the swing music ethos majestically with the virtuosity of the solos of a high calibre. Boguslaw's piano style is worth emulating locally as an immediate template for expansion of the genre.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Never Look Back: Brownman Ali and jazz life in Toronto

Brownman relaxing at his studio in Toronto. Photo by Monika Godomska
A couple months ago, I reached out to Brownman Ali, Trinidad-born trumpeter working out of Toronto, and here for a couple dates with Sean Thomas and BJ Saunders, to discuss Toronto and its jazz scene. I got no response until just yesterday evening, Friday 12 April. Coincidentally, my column on the subject came out in the Trinidad Guardian on that morning titled "Canada a haven for Caribbean musicians."

I've tried to gauge the impact Caribbean artists have had in and on the Toronto music scene. I interviewed a number of artists from Trinidad resident in Toronto over a year in a number of genres including jazz. Brownman would have been the last. The conclusion arrived at, before this new interview, was that T&T artists and their native music were having a difficult time manoeuvring the Canadian music scene to a threshold that revenue streams were sustainable. In other words, a lot of them were not making that critical impact via radio airplay and CD sales—important for global exposure—beyond anything they had when they were here, relatively speaking. Toronto is no mecca for success for the few who have gone, as implied otherwise by the newspaper headline. Shazelle, singing pop is intriguing as a case study for what is now a new phenomenon by international talent scouts and labels: come to the Caribbean, find a beautiful girl and market them as pop singers (or rappers) leaving their exotic accent to tell their story. Worked for Rihanna!

I choose today to let Brownman's statement stand by itself to allow us to understand the perspective of this immigrant—or more correctly the child of an immigrant—who has not followed the path of official multiculturalism, but like Neil Bissoondath, who on the advice of his uncle VS Naipaul, chose to "go beyond the confines of cultural heritage." One senses that Brownman, who also migrated more than half a lifetime ago, has a similar sentiment regarding Trinidad to that written in Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada by Bissoondath : "I have no emotional attachment left...I miss nothing, am prey to no nostalgia."

Friday, 12 April 2013

Not so cool in the Great White North: Toronto and the Caribbean Jazz experience¹

Over the Carnival season recently ended, a couple Trini expat jazz musicians resident in the Great White North of Canada, Toronto to be exact, returned home for sustenance, vacation, and creative idyll. Anthony Pierre founder of Caribbean jazz outfit Kalabash and Brownman [Ali], multiple award winning and exalted trumpeter informally pressed the flesh with local musicians and fans, both outlining their plans for 2013. Their common experience in Toronto is one that can set a template for our musicians who seek favour in the big world abroad beyond the Caribbean diaspora cities.

Kalabash featuring Anthony Pierre has just finished recording a new CD—its second in 12 years—and is shopping it around to the summer jazz festival promoters as it seeks to get back into the active jazz performance scene after a quiet 2012. Brownman is the epitome of a busy musician performing close to 200 dates per year when not also teaching and doing workshops. He recently returned to TT after Carnival to perform 2 small gigs with top jazz drummer Sean Thomas and bassist BJ Saunders as a trio exploring modern electric jazz originally defined by Miles Davis after his Bitches Brew period. (Full Disclosure: This writer is a producer of the annual Jazz Artists on the Greens, and both Kalabash and Brownman have been featured artists there.)

Their return led to questions of the sustainability of a music career outside of this space, especially a jazz music career. Toronto, for all it’s worth, seems to be a haven for the Caribbean migrant seeking fortune in the creative industries. Caribbean born authors have found commercial and literary success there. Canada has been described in recent times as post-ethnic and trans-cultural, so the idea that Caribbean-born musicians playing jazz influenced by their homelands to an eager market there is not unreal. It is a more open market than the introverted and prescribed US, which is genre-defined and has restricts music with jargon terms such as world fusion jazz, ethnic jazz or non-Western jazz.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

High Notes and a Bright Future: 2012, a Year in TT Jazz¹


In the dwindling days of 2012 when there was a hubbub over the creative industries and the planned state enterprise model for its growth, we had the pending fall-out over the government's counter-strategy of using its favoured soca son to drive the local music industry. These conflicting regimes by separate ministries to make our music global ignored the fact that the industry of music happily went along, dynamic and fluid, all the time improvising to the changes in the nature of attribution (copyright), distribution and now global exploitation. Improvisation is a key element of jazz, and here in TT, that niche of the local music landscape reflects some of the bigger issues that plague and guide that industry.

The demise of the only local terrestrial station dedicated to jazz, WMJX 100.5 FM and its subsequent conversion to an online format a couple years ago would have put the nail in the coffin of a less cherished musical heritage. Jazz and certainly its Caribbean variant, however, continue finding its centre via concerts and a few new CD releases by those dedicated artistes challenging the music genres outside of soca, calypso and parang.