Friday 9 December 2011

Jesse Ryan: A New Jazz "Superstar"

Jesse Ryan © 2010, Jade Slinger
Jesse Ryan is humble to a fault, but his talent, even at his young age and admittedly juvenile academic level is profound, enticing the ears of those who listen with the phrasing and improvisatory ideas of an old soul. I had the pleasure of hearing this student of jazz—a Berklee undergraduate intermittently returning to the college as funds would allow—at La Casa de Ibiza at a Karl Doyle produced event last year and was immediately making comparisons in terms of long-term potential with the young lion colossus, Etienne Charles who single handedly reaffirmed my belief that one must sojourn in the centres of academe abroad to make sense and add sensibility to our native music and it's variations. Jesse's technique is there. His improvising skill is growing. His composition skill is ambitious and set for taking Caribbean jazz out of its niche of ethnic fusion to a mainsteram acceptance based on skill, talent and precedence.

This generation of jazz musicians born after the oil boom years is making a space for itself after the prolific New School generation of Ming, Theron Shaw, Sean Thomas, Clifford Charles, Sean Friday. It is my belief that this thing that Scofield Pilgrim codified as Kaiso Jazz, calypso jazz, call it what you may, was given life by Clive Zanda's generation—"Two Left", Ralph Davies, "Buddy" Williams—and enhanced by the generation of Raf Roberson, the Boothman Brothers, the late Dave Marcellin, Anise Hadeed, "Boogsie". The New School had the chops but frustratingly got the business model wrong, laying a path for the young lions of Etienne, Jesse, Tony Woodroofe Jr, Mikhail Salcedo to play and, critically, to compose and play their originals to a growing audience of discerning listeners who get this thing called jazz.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

David Richards: A Musical Director with a difference propels Gerelle Forbes to new heights

I had the pleasure on the evening of Saturday, December 3 to hear a performance by singer Gerelle Forbes in a Christmas concert at Fiesta Plaza, Movie Towne. What popped out to me as a producer of the series™, was the overall linked theme of the production that lent an air of professionalism and contemporary grace not seen in many performances by young singers these days. Kudos to her and her team, which included, for me, the star of the show, musical director David Richards. Gerelle, a natural performer at ease in front of an audience charmed, if only for as long as she, admittedly, could hold her voice at a level and intensity that speaks to me as a producer. At 60 minutes, the power was reduced noticeably. This one letdown in an otherwise superb production opened my eyes and ears to the possibilities of the female voice in Trinidad and Tobago outside of the narrow range of soca.

Fortunately, for the production, a lynchpin to perfection was musical director David Richard's arrangements of the song choices of the star singer. After a couple contemporary hits by Beyonce and others, the music segued seamlessly into a medley of Christmas-themed songs, even cheerfully transforming the Jackson 5 popularised "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause" into an a cappella barbershop quartet with her background vocalists, Elena Rawlins, Jeuelle Archer, and the magnificent Janine Charles-Farray. It worked, and well. Similarly, as the show seemed to veer into images of Christmas north of the Tropic of Cancer, these four ladies did a medley of parang soca interpolated with Kitch's perennial  "Drink a Rum and a Ponche Crema" that made the audience sing and dance. Acknowledgement of David Richards' input by the star led me to investigate what his motivation was.

Tuesday 29 November 2011


Listen here:

Or Read Here:

Liner notes for Len "Boogsie" Sharpe's new CD, A Tribute To the Mighty Sparrow: Len ”Boogsie” Sharpe on the PHI

Len “Boogsie” Sharpe has reached a point in his career where accolades are superficial. He is that temperamental genius who can compose in his head without the enhanced skill of an academy-trained musician, the scores for up to eight mini-symphonies for large steelpan orchestras in one short Carnival season. In Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean diaspora and the world, "Boogsie" is an icon of steelpan, that self-sufficient and brilliant musician who can do it all. In that sometimes erratic mind of his, “Boogsie” can cajole melodies and improvisations from any steelpan family member, making the familiar new, and the new, unforgettable. His new instrument, the PHI is an evolution of the acoustic steelpan into the digital age, and in the hands of this master, we can bear witness to some firsts.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Shades of Vaughnette: A Review

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OR Read here

Vaughnette Bigford, forever in my mind, a SONGBIRD, delivered a magnum opus with her sold-out production "Shades of Vaughnette: The concert experience" at the Naparima Bowl in San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago that can serve as a template for singers and performers here in these islands. Her song list touched Nat 'King' Cole and Bob Marley, and ranged from torch songs and jazz standards made popular by Nancy Wilson (An Older Man Is Like An Elegant Wine), Abbey Lincoln (Long as You're Living) to international hits originally sung by Miriam Makeba (Soweto Blues) and Tania Maria (Yatra Ta), and included enough local compositions by Andre Tanker, 'Nappy' Meyers and Ras Shorty I to make this reviewer happy. But I err on the side of caution when I sit in an audience of fans, happily, whose body language suggests that we need to listen to a lot more music from any and all genres.

Audiences are hard to please, and the suspension of belief that an entertainer takes when confronting an audience that generally gravitates towards a handful of songs and memories of songs of others, makes song choice difficult. Very accessible music like Randy Crawford's "One Day I'll Fly Away" is a crowd-pleaser, but the more esoteric song choices like "Yatra Ta" by Tania Maria are applauded with respect at musicianship and obligation suggesting at not knowing how to react. I heard an audience member commenting, "when will she sing songs that I know?" To cringe at the indiscipline of the audience is faux elitism. I understand, but I refuse to pander to nostalgia and escapism. Behave and learn. However, to know one's place in an auditorium of folks looking to be entertained after restrictive curfew limitations have been recently lifted is to be part of the joy of sharing in great talent.

Saturday 29 October 2011

Etienne Charles say kaiso! Jazz and the West Indian Word.

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OR Read here:

In 3 days during March 2010, Etienne Charles and his group of young American musicians created a new masterpiece, a 70 minute ode to the majesty of Calypso and its music called kaiso. Artfully augmented by prolific Jamaican recording artist and pianist Monty Alexander and Trini-by-blood American percussionist Ralph MacDonald, Etienne produced a testament to the idea that Calypso music and the chantuelle's canon are ripe for the reinterpretation by jazz musicians worldwide. That we had to wait until July 2011 to officially hear this new CD is a tragedy of modern music business in which distribution and attribution are matters that are real, and our patience for new music after 2009's Folklore would not be sated until the product is ready.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Pan Hysteria? A Review of Innovation and Invention

I wrote the article cited below back in May 2002 when I was living abroad. It addressed the nervousness of some nationals in the diaspora to what was reported as the "conquest" of pan by foreigners. In light of my last Facebook note on the design of pan as a factor of optimizing dispersion, which generated heated debate on who did what and when for pan, I thought I would again "go backwards to go forward" with the conversation on pan by looking at existing patents and their utilization.

Nationals of Trinidad and Tobago let out a collective gasp at the Trinidad Expresss newspaper report by Terry Joseph last month entitled "Pan Shocker" detailing the successful patent by two Americans, Maryland-based George Whitmyre and Harvey J. Price of Delaware for the "Production of the Caribbean Steel Pan." Readers were then hurriedly corresponding with newspapers and opining on electronic media talk shows on the temerity of these two Yankees—read: white men— patenting we own t'ing. "The sweat of the Black man's brow has now been owned by these Americans who have the considerable backing of the US government against all challenges," was how one writer approached TanTan, "much like how they try to thief Lord Invader's Rum and Coca Cola."

The patent document, available online at the US Patent Office's website, outlines the applicants' claim for using a hydro-forming process to make a pan that is consistent and efficient to produce, along with modifications to facilitate transportation, storage and tuning. A few things are apparent from a cursory look at the document:

Thursday 10 March 2011

Pan gone backwards to go forward

The steel pan still fascinates me as a industrial musical instrument that has the potential to be as commonplace as the electric guitar or portable electronic keyboard. Portability, short learning curve relative to traditional music learning experience, and ease of manufacture seem to be the factors that make the two aforementioend so popular. Some recent innovations by local entrepreneurs are intersting: The PHI® by UWI-based engineers and the e-Pan™ by Toronto-based Salmon Cupid. Both are controllers for synthesizers as opposed to organic instruments, but innovation like this should be encouraged as the music instrument manufacturing industry in the US alone was worth at least US$2 billion in total domestic demand. Globally, the numbers can rival our budget, and the sky's the limit. Smarter persons than I would be needed to advise and move the process of exploitation further along.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Carnival is Money II, or The Commodification of Fun

Carnival done, or so it seems for the popular mas' bands. And it's not even midnight. Yet my black ass on a computer writing! Now that I am back from liming in Woodbrook and seeing the mas' from the roadside, I am in awe at the level of organization necessary to pull of that moving party called Island People Mas, and for that matter any large modern Carnival band that is in effect an all-inclusive travelling fete, with costumes.

The first part of this note dealt with the power of a promoter to change the focus of the conversation from who win to how come he win while laughing all the way to the bank. In that gayelle on that night, the order of things were upset by theories born of doubt of the success of this music called soca. The simple fact is the artistes named as the top four in each competition are the best performers in soca, period. The score weight placed on vocals versus crowd response matter not, or we would have had a winner from outside this bunch. If you want to successfully export soca as the next big thing from the Caribbean, this is the group you have to go with. And that's the next move for Monro.

Sunday 6 March 2011

Carnival is Money, or The Canonization of William Munro, the ultimate Soca Monarch.

As I write this note in the hours before the madness of j'ouvert, the world wide web and global online commentary spaces are abuzz with analysis of:

I like it. Carnival is war. A war of words and ideas. Fuck that shit about "Carnival is Colour." There is finally a recognition that Carnival is MONEY. Big money, at that. In this global village where concepts like the "earth is flat" and "wikinomics" are fertile, Trinidad Carnival is making a space for itself. Streaming carnival shows online are now just mundane content delivery jobs, and opportunities to monetize everything Carnival are as pervasive as the branded bandana or tee-shirt. Text/SMS voting, while not new locally, is now part of the evolution of the net-generation's movement to make business decisions that count. Artiste branding, whether for white rum or cellphone providers, is de jure for international exposure. Only thing left is the performance vehicle to tip in favour of North American lenses and the Holy Grail of the US market as a given with recognition from peers there.

Friday 18 February 2011

The Emancipation of the Caucasian Mind or What Trinidad Carnival Become!

The genesis of this note came from a reading of the note by Phillip Edward Alexander, "The Abuse of Culture... (Who Say Advantage?)" and its respondent commentary. His thesis was the degradation of our Carnival culture as exemplified by the "quality" of a recently leaked soca tune by Machel, "Advantage". Phillip did not like it in the least, and lamented that this was a portent to the "dumbing down [of] our nation."

My comment to that note was as follows:

"Apt commentary. I, however, take a more holistic and historical look at road march and Machel's place in it. As you alluded to in the note, this is business, not cultural attachment: "if its drivel they want to a hook and a killer beat, by all means give them."

The year Machel won the road march with 'Big Truck' in 1997 was a cusp much like an earlier era when Sparrow won with 'Jean and Dinah.' Sparrow ushered in the era of music and tempo in the road march. In the decade prior to 1997, Pelham Goddard was arranging consecutive road marches for Superblue and Tambu. Tempo, melody with some sing-along lyrics. Machel's win signaled the tempo at all costs era with no-lyrics tuned to drive the hordes across the stages at Carnival and in the fetes. The mas took on a different look also. Poison rose while Minshall and Berkley were the last bastions of 'art.'

Thursday 20 January 2011

On Lionel Belasco, or The Politicization of Culture in Trinidad and Tobago

Attorney General, Sen. The Hon. Anand Ramlogan has shown his ignorance of Trinidad and Tobago culture. In making a claim that there was a misuse and abuse of public funds by the PNM via UTT in the purchase of 10 Bosendorfer grand pianos, including the Special Edition Johann Strauss model, (inspired by the instrument on which the great master wrote his compositions, and ultimately placed by former Prime Minister Manning at the Diplomatic Centre for recitals,) the following exchange of words were recorded by the Parliament Channel [
I await, like Colm Imbert to date, Hansard publication.Ed.: Link to Hansard.]:
Sen. The Hon. Anand Ramlogan: "...for those of us who are accustomed to the steel pan, the Dohlak and the Maghera and the “riddim” section; for those of us who are accustomed to listening local cultural music, the Bosendorfer Piano is the Rolls Royce among pianos in the world...My learned friend from Port of Spain North/St Ann's West [Patricia McIntosh, MP] is saying: “What is wrong with the piano?” I say nothing is wrong with the piano, but the day you could play a good calypso or chutney on it come back and talk to me...I want to see my learned friend take a piano and sit down and play a good chutney or a good kaiso on it...all we know 'bout it is ah lil' Bob Marley music, ah lil' kaiso, calypso and chutney. That is what we listen to, but this grand piano...We consider this to be a most shameful and disgraceful wastage of public funds...There was absolutely no need in a country that boasts of an indigenous culture that is proud of its calypso heritage and the steelpan. There is no need for a country like this to purchase 10 grand pianos." [My emphasis.]
—January 12, 2011. Anand Ramlogan, Attorney General. Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). (Port of Spain: House of Representatives): pages 382-384.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Etienne Charles & Folklore: Jazz…with a West Indian Accent

© 2010, Maria Nunes
“...Etienne Charles exhibits both an authentic preservation of the music of his native culture of Trinidad as a composer and bandleader, while broadening our scope of understanding through the collaborative sound of American jazz as it meets new colors, new textures, and new motifs across the world. It will certainly bring more of our public into the jazz audience”
Marcus Roberts, world-renowned jazz pianist and recording artist.
On a large stage in front of large crowd by a sandy beach, Etienne Charles delivered the first part of his prodigal return to Trinidad and Tobago. A hot night for hot jazz. The listener's mind is relaxed in the Tobago air, but alert enough to discern excellence at the "Experience." The posture says, "I come back home", the sound says, "I reachin'."

The attitude is there: the stingy brim fedora on his head, like the porkpie hat of Lester Young or the Sinatra fedora in the '50s, acts as a crown, a signpost and symbol of differing superiority, a trademark. He is jazz with a West Indian accent. Meanwhile, there exists a cabal of whiners claiming jazz in Trinidad and Tobago, musicians really, but only complaining. Periodic performances never in juxtaposition with excellence hence the stasis of the third world is their burden. Etienne is on another plane(t?) literally and figuratively.