Thursday, 1 December 2016

Jazz as the new fad in Trinidad or All That Jazz...Or Is It?

"Dancing in the Tropics," an illustration by Bernie Fuchs. A metaphor for adult music, "jazz" is the new signifier of how we dance and how we listen to music once we are over 35 years old.

Last year, I blogged about the plethora of jazz events in T&T making it the new “after-carnival music.” In less that two months, there were at least ten events that were themed as “jazz.” Now, truth be told, the definition of jazz in the Caribbean is fluid, and the emphasis is more on the ambience than on the music. A lot of instrumental music is considered “jazz” here in these islands, but a closer inspection would show that despite definitions, what we are seeing is the faddishness of jazz being used as a tool to market music and the experience of music to a more mature crowd.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Etienne Charles and the conquest of the Americas: a CD Review of San Jose Suite¹

Antillean art is this restoration of our shattered histories...
—DEREK WALCOTT, Nobel lecture, 1992.

The scars by which America is marked are deep... The evils are manifest, naked to the view of anyone who cares to see them.
—ÓSCAR ARIAS SÁNCHEZ, Nobel lecture, 1987.

For me, Art is the restoration of order. It may discuss all sort of terrible things, but there must be satisfaction at the end. A little bit of hunger, but also satisfaction.
—TONI MORRISON, Nobel laureate. Interview with Don Swaim, 1987

San Jose Suite

ETIENNE CHARLES
SAN JOSE SUITE
(Culture Shock Music)


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Whenever T&T jazz trumpeter and composer Etienne Charles releases an album, it is an event. In this case, it is his latest opus, the ten-part San José Suite — soon to be performed live in T&T for the first time on November 20. [The album was released in June this year.] This suite dares to magnify the idea of the wider Americas as a crucible for the continuing assimilation and transformation of disparate musical influences. It is a space where the Naipaulian idea of “small places with simple economies bred small people with simple destinies” is turned on its head forever.

Charles uses the coincidence of the name of San José to make a subliminal link between the Caribbean, Latin American and North American cultural tendencies. The real commonality is the idea of the African diaspora intersection with the Native American antecedents to act as the base for a new direction in jazz.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Caribbean Beat Caribbean Playlist – November/December 2016ª


Dis 1. 4. Raf Andy Narell 

(Listen 2 Records)

As if driving home the point that the pendulum of commercial influence for steelpan appears to be moving away from Trinidad was not enough, now comes the new release by American steelpan musician Andy Narell that boasts not one, but two CDs of refined exploitation of the sound and ambience of the steelpan in the context of a jazz quartet and as musical partner with piano. Dis 1. 4. Raf, a tribute to the late Caribbean jazz pioneer Raf Robertson, is another rung in the ladder of success of Narell. With his cohort of players from Cuba and Guadeloupe, Narell on this album weaves a new path for the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago to tread that encompasses influences beyond the archipelago. On the second CD, a duet, he juxtaposes the enhanced idea of modern percussive and rhythmic sounds from the New World—the steelpan—and the Old World—the piano—to subdued and subtle brilliance.

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  1. More Caribbean Playlist reviews appear in the November/December 2016 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.
© 2016, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The pot bubbling: Cousoumeh by Akinola Sennon – a Review¹

Steelpan player and Siparia Deltones musical director, Akinola Sennon has released a new album of pan jazz on the independent Ropeadope Records label. The album, Cousoumeh, is a mix of effective songwriting and performance and a daring leap into a new way of hearing improvised music from the Caribbean.

Ropeadope Records—an increasingly important record label in the US that is home to jazz pannists Leon Foster Thomas and Jonathan Scales—remarks openly that the record, “is an interpretation of jazz where the heritage of the island [Trinidad] and the full sense of the African diaspora collide, sometimes in a polished way and sometimes with a raw undercurrent.” In recognising that simultaneous pattern of up and down production value, one is effectively exposed to two sides of the musical adventure that Sennon has pursued in the making of this album.

On the one hand, Sennon along with percussionist Tambi Gwindi works with four young Boston-based musicians, drummer Shane Dahler, pianist Chris McCarthy, bassist Cole Davis and trumpeter Alonzo Demetrius Ryan Jr. on half the tunes on the eight-song album. Americans all, this aggregation approaches the idea of the Caribbean and Sennon's music with adroit solos and converses musically in a language that speaks to a proficiency of jazz improvisation while still searching for the Afro-Caribbean aesthetic.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Caribbean Beat Caribbean Playlist - September/October 2016ª


Metamorphosis Leon Foster Thomas 

(Ropeadope Records)

Caribbean musicians are increasingly moving to the metropolitan commercial centres of the music business world to spread the rhythms and sounds created in these islands. Leon Foster Thomas, a Trinidadian steeplan virtuoso, is resident in Miami, Florida and is relying on that connection to a larger market to spread the sound of the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago. Metaporphosis, Thomas' third album, is his debut on important jazz label Ropeadope Records, and signals a critical and commercial blossoming beyond his early funky steelpan jazz beginnings into a standout quartet leader; a metamorphosis if you will. Ten tracks of progressive jazz fusion that highlights the intelligent interplay between steelpan and other instruments without losing the idea that Caribbean music can be improvised and swing. World fusion is in effect. Haitian-born, New York-bred trumpeter Jean Caze and master Latin jazz percussionist, Sammy Figueroa guest on the album.



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Precious Metals Ron Reid 

(Mud Hut Music)

Ron Reid is a Berklee College of Music associate professor, and as such the expectation on this, his third album is high, more for the continuing exploration of Afro-Caribbean rhythms in the context of jazz in the Americas. Superb musicianship by a host of Berklee alumnae give this album a finish that is as assured as it is consummate. Reid plays bass and arranges all the music on the album that features jazz, samba, Afro-pop, and calypso rhythms among others, and segues between lyrical playing and evocative compositions that suggest varied moods. This Precious Metals project finds collaboration between and continuity with music that reflect Afro-Caribbean heritage, regardless of legacy. Melodies and rhythms are not static but celebratory. A balance of originals and covers of calypso and steelpan classics gives the album a leg up on the competition, since these songs have a sonic quality that positions the steelpan and Caribbean music for that matter, on a higher plane.



Sirocco Jeff Narell (Self Released)

Jeff Narell is the older brother of prolific steelpan recording artist Andy Narell, and together they were immersed into the world of the early steelbands—they participated in the Trinidad Music Festival on steelpans in 1966 as children—and have never looked back. Sirocco is Jeff Narell's fourth album as a leader, and finds him investigating the confluence between African percussion instruments and the New World invention of the steelpan. More than a simple dialogue between sounds and rhythms, this album showcases the link that has been suggested by ethnomusicologists as part of the syncretism—the merging of different cultures—evident in Caribbean music. The tunes explore melodies and sonic influences from both ends of the middle passage that show the retention of the African sound. Talking drums, djembes, strings and chants are interwoven with melodies from the Caribbean to make this a useful album that showcases the steelpan in a different and important light.

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  1. More Caribbean Playlist reviews appear in the September/October 2016 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.
© 2016, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Caribbean Beat Caribbean Playlist - July/August 2016ª

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San Jose Suite Etienne Charles 

(Culture Shock Music)


Jazz in the wider Americas is more than improvisation that engages the blues and swing, but an evolving exploration of sounds, rhythms and cultural tendencies that inform the music that is the definition of freedom. San Jose Suite, Etienne Charles' sixth album, is a mature contemplation of this Trinidadian trumpeter's wider encounters with the elements of creole music in the New World. Drawing inspiration from three San José cities in the Americas—Costa Rica, California and Trinidad—Charles re-tells the stories and histories of those communities, its people and their commonalities, with jazz that is both rhythmically diverse and harmonically expressive enough to never be cliched. “Cahuita”, “Boruca”, “Revolt”, “Speed City” are musical statements of keen observation, celebratory reflection and musical adroitness. This album is also a signal to the listener that jazz in the 21st century is in the hands of a burgeoning trumpet pioneer charting modern directions much like Armstrong, Davis and Marsalis before him.

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  1. More Caribbean Playlist reviews appear in the July/August 2016 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.
© 2016, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

HomeGrown, an album by Dominant Seventh CalypsoJazz Band - a review¹


 In 2016, the idea of a calypso jazz band recording reminiscent of those pre-combo dance band records of the late 1950s to the early 1960s comes as a shock to the tendencies of modern local musicians to follow the faddishness of this new generation of music consumers. Trumpeter Rellon Brown along with his young Dominant Seventh CalypsoJazz Band, on their new CD HomeGrown, peel back the pomp and gloss of current tropes to resurrect the idea of creole dance band music. The music, recorded live in the studio, serves as a kind of instigator for moving hips and feet, and as a beacon of native pride in what worked and what did not.

Recently launched at a concert at the Little Carib Theatre, the album's fare runs the gamut of progressive post bop on Trackers to cloying songcraft on a cover of the Ralph MacDonald-written classic Just the Two of Us. The broad mix gives the impression that this debut its trying to be all things to all men. It certainly fulfils the ambition of showcasing local song writing and indigenous musicianship; Ralph MacDonald was the son of early Trinidadian calypsonian Macbeth the Great and identified with his heritage.

Monday, 30 May 2016

JAOTG™ 2016 interview with Nigel A. Campbell of Production One Ltd on Co...

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Caribbean Beat Caribbean Playlist - May/June 2016ª

Pathways Zane Rodulfo

Drummer Zane Rodulfo on his debut EP Pathways shows a maturity beyond his twenty-six years as composer of and rhythmic support for a short set of original jazz instrumentals. Dissecting the music, one is awed by the seemingly cultivated approach of the musical themes on this production. As a graduate of both Oberlin College and New York University, Rodulfo has an unsurprisingly studied approach, but the artist’s youth throws a wrench in the theory that this level of quiet contemplation must come with age and experience. Rodulfo’s Trinidad roots are reflected purely in the sound, not necessarily the rhythms. He composed four of the five tunes on this collection himself, and the superlative interplay between jazz guitar or saxophone and the effectively anchored rhythm section suggests that as a producer he is not selfish, and his gifts lie in creating environments for musicians to run free without bombast. This EP is a great launching pad for a stellar international career.

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  1. More Caribbean Playlist reviews appear in theMay/June 2016 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.
© 2016, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, 25 March 2016

That Happened last night: Vaughnette Bigford at Kaiso Blues



It happened last night. I have known Vaughnette Bigford for a while now as a superb singer in the style of those smoky voiced songstresses from a bygone jazz era reborn in the 21st century. Abbey Lincoln “reborn” as Cassandra Wilson. Nina Simone, however, is the template I see when I see Vaughnette. Another is Miriam Makeba. Them two born she! VOH'net! Our Vaughnette is the modern creole chanteuse, the New World African queen. Not a diva, but the real thing imbuing a Trinidadian ethos missing from many young interlopers singing jazz here. Vaughnette has been a star for many years. A star who has her own in-demand splendid concerts in the south, Shades of Vaughnette. I have written about her three Shades concerts over the years. (I, II, III) I had hosted her at Jazz Artists on the Greens in 2009 before she made her live debut as a SONGBIRD in that series later that year at Aura Restaurant (now Town on Cipriani Blvd.). I recognise her worth. I know that when Vaughnette sings, an audience expectation of a fulfilling experience will be met and exceeded. I know that she will deliver at a level of professionalism that supersedes even stars in other genres. 

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Caribbean Beat Caribbean Playlist - March/April 2016ª

Spice Island Eddie Bullen

Smooth jazz is a music genre that purists love to hate, but in the Caribbean, it is increasingly becoming the pleasing soundtrack of resort life for fortunate travellers in search of sun, sand and sea. Purity be damned when there is a market for the slick and increasingly popular sound in these isles. Toronto-based Grenadian keyboardist and music producer Eddie Bullen, says that this album “is a musical reflection of [his] life as a teenager growing up on the ‘spice island’ of Grenada,” but it can also be seen as a catalogue of all the smooth jazz tropes that have marked the music for either fame or disdain. Piano trills, ubiquitous programmed synths, chill vibes, funky motifs; they are all there. Spice Island is a metaphor for an idealised Caribbean vacation. Sure handed production values that augur well for this album to be a call card for jazz cruises makes this a listenable treat.

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For One To Love Cécile McLorin Salvant

Haitian pride remains intact despite generations of miscegenation and migration. Jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant notes that with pride: “I was not at all raised in an African-American family culture. My dad is Haitian, mom is French-Guadeloupean, and in Miami [where she was born], on top of that, we had more of a Caribbean vibe.” Heritage and identity are touchstones for conversations among others, but the music on this third album by Salvant speaks to an all-encompassing American heritage: jazz. Depending on your perspective, this album can either challenge expectations or satisfy the soul as she continues her efforts at mining the early songs of the genre to create new impressions for new audiences. Five originals balance this set of veritable unheralded standards from a bygone era cementing this album as a new recipe for jazz singing. Recasting love songs and imbuing new meaning to a jaded lyric is Salvant’s goal. Well played.

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  1. More Caribbean Playlist reviews appear in theMarch/April 2016 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.
© 2016, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Caribbean Beat Caribbean Playlist - January/ February 2016ª


Guilty Pleasure Alexis Baro

(G-Three Records)

Toronto-based Cuban trumpeter Alexis Baro has released a ten-track album of jazz music that has the chill vibe in effect, but also focuses on the idea that you can take an islander to the city, but his island-ness is a hard thing to shake off. Laid-back sensuality is an apt phrase to describe the mood of the album, but Afro-Cuban sentiments and rhythms creep in seductively, giving the impression that one is listening to a duality of ambition. On “Eres”, fellow Toronto-based Cuban rapper Telmary (Díaz) provides a spoken-word juxtaposition to Baro’s muted horn; hot hiphop à la Habana. On “African Prince”, Baro blows frenetically and on point over conga drums as a segue to a languid piano solo that serves as a lesson in Latin jazz. Canadian spoken word artist Dwayne Morgan smoothly defines what his guilty pleasures are on the title track. Consuming this album could be yours.

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  1. More Caribbean Playlist reviews appear in the January/ February 2016 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.
© 2016, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.