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.

The deficiencies in distribution are upended by the idea that this fine musician has again put into the wider public domain, music that challenges our notion of identity, and clarifies what it means to be a New World African.  Imbizo Moyenne represents a calling together—a gathering of minds—to create and is the follow-up album to Moyenne’s first CD, New Hope released in 2000. Containing all original compositions by Moyenne, this album’s music is suffused with the rhythmic tropes of the French Antilles and Spanish Caribbean, as well as our familiar calypso, blues and shango rhythms.

Esdelle noted that when she was composing she was guided by her understanding of the African experience in the Americas. The use of the myriad rhythms of the African New World, the Caribbean was recently explored by trumpeter Etienne Charles in his chart-topping release Creole Soul, so the extension of the commonality of the people of the African diaspora to express our presence in unique music is applauded.
The performances showed a confidence in the improvisation by Esdelle on piano and superb pannist, Glenford Sobers, Jr.  Songs such as “Final Farewell” and “Out of Thin Air” showcase this excellently.

The rhythm section of Douglas Redon on bass, Junior Noel on djembe and Kalabash (jazz band) founding member, Darren Sheppard on drums economically explored the range of pulses that course through African-Caribbean blood. The provenance of a new world rhythm has to begin at a point.  African retention is a given. A kinship to Haiti, for instance negates original input influenced by voices and landscape and exchange outside Hipaniola. Our music is not circumscribed by nostalgia. Jazz in Trinidad and the Caribbean evolves with the new opportunities that come from exchange.

This album was recorded live in 2010 at a concert at CLR James Auditorium in Valsayn. It was part of the Sound Connection Project of Esdelle’s Ethnic Jazz Club Co. Ltd that engaged some of the top audio engineers from the famed EGREM record label in Cuba. The interplay between a live audience and Esdelle’s band with their implied nod to the engineers’ heritage make for sonic treats. There is always an inherent risk that a live recording of jazz may produce music that wasn’t “perfect” like a regular studio recording. That leap of faith is always the surprise that continues to sustain jazz music and its variations globally. This music will not disappear, and neither should our desire to own it.



  1. An edited version of this review appeared in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian as, "Moyenne’s joyful mix of Caribbean and African"
© 2013, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

This review of the album launch in May was rejected for publication. It is reprinted here for context and for the record..

An album launch by Moyenne that never was

Chantal Esdelle and Moyenne made a poor start to their campaign to launch their new CD, Imbizo Moyenne at the Little Carib Theatre on Saturday May 25. A number of factors lead one to this conclusion, primarily the fact that there was no physical CD available for purchase or for critical review that night. An album launch at a minimum must have the physical album available for purchase.

The given excuse for the non-delivery of product noted the laudable south-south collaboration between a Columbian CD manufacturer and the Trinidadian album producer, however, this major shortcoming  is unforgivable, suffice to say that a number of people commented on that fact. It is a mere technicality that the album is currently available digitally online. This experience must be contrasted with the concert the night before by Raf Robertson, “Majesty Live” where his new CD release Majesty was presented in a live setting. The juxtaposition of the two CD launch concerts laid bare the production value deficiencies between these two artistes. Raf’s CD was available; expectations of CD purchase by Chantal’s audience, some who were also at Raf’s show, were dashed.

The concert was ostensibly to showcase the songs on the new album, and as such Moyenne played all the tunes as well as a couple of tunes from their regular repertoire. I use the word “played” specifically since the audience was subjected to simply listening to three of the eight tracks being played in its entirety by the house system instead of the assembled musicians on stage. The interplay of live performance and the sight of static musicians onstage in a darkened theatre while tracks played made for a disconcerting experience.

What we did hear was interesting, however. Imbizo Moyenne represents a calling together to create and is a follow-up album to Moyenne’s first CD, New Hope released in 2000. It contains original compositions by Moyenne in the main.  This album’s music is suffused with the rhythms of the French Antilles and Spanish Caribbean and the recording holds promise as an audio treat.  The performance on the three tracks played showed a confidence in the improvisation of Chantal and superb pannist, Glenford Sobers, Jr.  The live performance reinforced that observation.

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, Chantal 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, Chantal has a body of original compositions on these two CDs now that places 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.

This album was recorded live in 2010 at a concert at CLJ James Auditorium in Valsayn. It was part of the Sound Connection Project of Chantal’s Ethnic Jazz Club Co. Ltd that engaged some of the top audio engineers from the famed EGREM record label in Cuba via MUSICUBA, the leading recognized Cuban Artistic Representation Agency for artists, technicians and performers.  The engineering team that led, recorded, and mastered the recording was Adolfo Martinez “Fito” Rodriguez, Luis González Durán and Reinier López González. “Fito” is the resident engineer for the Cuban group Buena Fé and has also done work with Quincy Jones' projects.

It must be noted that Sound Connection Project that yielded this CD was underwritten in part by both the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism and Trinidad and Tobago Entertainment Company (TT Ent), the Trade ministry’s hobbyhorse of derision. TT Ent’s mandate then and now is to facilitate the development of a globally competitive entertainment industry. This project in its delivery appears to make a mockery of that mandate by its outcome Saturday night.

A suggested chauvinistic obligation to purchase local products must be replaced with a realisation that only quality in both the artistic and commercial sense matters.  In this day and age as we strive in T&T to make the music industry an economic growth pole component, the pressures upon artistes to become more efficient in the delivery of product and to ably enhance the expectations of an audience must be positively utilized. This reviewer awaits the final launch of the CD for purchase. (Setlist)

26 May 2013

© 2013, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.