Saturday 2 June 2012

Bass'd on Drums: Love & Music: A Review

David Richards, a young Wynton Marsallis look-a-like, made a precocious start to his career as a headliner and producer in the live context. His recent production Bass'd on Drums; Love & Music showcased his arranging, composing and performing skills to maximum effect and proved to this jaded reviewer that he is also a fine entertainer. I had written an earlier appreciation on David, specifically on his arranging skills, so to repeat that he is a skilled arranger would be superfluous, but it needs to be said, that we are at a point in the musical history of instrumental music in Trinidad, where young players are stepping up to the proverbial podium and taking the mantle of leadership from a weakened New School generation that all but squandered the goodwill at a time when their prolific output should have made a name for itself. David, who almost quit the music business last year, walked proudly among giants. This was, in effect, a coming of age debut by a young lion; an imperfect production, but a musical masterpiece...

Sunday 29 April 2012

The Saints go marching in! The new recordings of Reginald Cyntje and Victor Provost, in context.

Trombonist Reginald Cyntje (pronounced sin-chee) and pannist Victor Provost represent, to me, an opportunity to understand the connection between Caribbean jazz and the USVI as a locus of the New World African music from a social and critical perspective. Both these musicians were raised in the US Virgin Islands, before migrating to the mainland US for music training and careers in jazz. That early influence, without the distance of "independence" that other Caribbean jazzists have, marks a point of reference to understand the recent output of these two Washington, DC based musicians.

Music scholar Warren R. Pinckney Jr. investigated the interrelationship between the mainland and the Virgin Islands jazz scenes in his 1992 essay "Jazz in The U.S. Virgin Islands", and he observed that:
After purchasing the islands in 1917, the United States set out to "Americanize the people of the Virgin Islands," primarily by introducing American-style public education. An indirect outcome of this Americanization, coupled with influences from various Caribbean islands such as Cuba, Trinidad, and Puerto Rico, was the discouragement of native Virgin Islands culture...The Virgin Islands and mainland United States jazz scenes have a fundamental mutual relationship: the American jazz scene provides the models upon which local players base their performance styles,and the Virgin Islands jazz scene provides new performance venues for American players.
—Pinkney Jr., Warren R. "Jazz in the U.S. Virgin Islands." American Music, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Winter, 1992), pp. 441-467. Web. 9 Sep. 2010

Sunday 18 March 2012

Pan Jazz Picnic

I was recently re-animated about the possibilities of programming 24 hours of steelpan jazz and its variants for online radio, when I had to do a little research into the output of this sub-genre of our Caribbean jazz fusion experiment. Some hard realities; we had a proliferation of CDs during the 1990s, both in Trinidad and Tobago and abroad, mainly North America. A smattering of offerings out of the UK and Europe did not hold much sway as we entered the 21st century. As a programming niche, there is a thin line between repetition and redundancy.

There is a sort of renaissance in music recording now from the US, by non-Trinidadians as well as diasporic citizens, but the quality varies with level of music academic qualifications. Two names stick out, Phil Hawkins and Gary Gibson, both offering two and four CDs respectively in the 2000s, leaning to what Andy Narell, among others, has termed "progressive steelpan jazz": jazz-based, harmonically intricate music. To quote a review for one of Gibson's CDs: "Speaking a language of harmonic depth not previously explored within the steelpan community in recorded music, Gibson's compositions provide an excellent springboard for improvisations." Both these West-coast musicians attempt to be innovators of music for steelpan. On the east coast of the US, ex-pats Liam Teague and Leon Foster Thomas are creating variety, Victor Provost recently premiered with bebop stylings, while JAOTG alumnus Jonathan Scales released his third CD of musically complex and outside the box compositions. One critic noted, "the music on Jonathan Scales' [three CDs] defies the conventional parameters of jazz or even "pan-jazz" and pushes composition to unprecedented levels of complexity and sophistication."

Local steelpan recordings seem to revolve around ensemble performance by a whole band, with few offerings by our greats: Boogsie, Professor, Ray. Robbie Greenidge, with his collaborations with Michael Utley of Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefers Band, has about over a half-dozen CDs, now and then veering towards his boss' carefree tropical blend devoid of the native rhythms that inform Caribbean jazz. I look and listen with keen interest at young Kyle Noel's upcoming offerings. This Trinidad southerner, far from the madding crowd has interesting musical and sonic ideas, and it would be an excellent fillip for the inventors of the PHI to get that instrument into his hands.

Hoping and believing that quantity and quality are what drive a music industry, I look, and wait with bated breath for the day when we get our act together here in the Caribbean, to make that statement that we made years ago when Caribbean people challenged the idea that there was music other than rock 'n' roll that was chart-worthy in the US. Belafonte was a catalyst then, but not a sustainer. It is said that Andy Narell is the equivalent catalyst for the steelpan. Only excellent output will sustain.

Phil Hawkins
Livin Right

Jason Baptiste

Victor Provost
Her Favorite Shade of Yellow

Annise Hadeed

Jaco Pastorius
Good Morning Annya

From Whence We Came

Richard Bailey
Sande Grande Plains

Kyle Noel
The Black Whole

WDR Big Band Köln
Pan Woman

Phil Hawkins
The Big Idea

The Breakfast Band

Hugh Huggins Jr.

Leon "Foster" Thomas
No Looking Back

Ken Professor Philmore
Hibiscus Drive

Gary Gibson
A Little Poem For You

Little Bell

Garvin Blake
Belle Eau Road Blues

Ron Reid's Sunsteel
Dis J'ouvert

Othello Molineaux
Hannibal's Return

Lennard Jack
What's On Your Mind

Andy Narell

Trini Style

Ralph MacDonald
Samba 4-2

Ray Holman
Charlotte Street

Wednesday 11 January 2012

De Riddim of Tings! A 2012 Overview

A tiny number of ideas can go a long way, as we've seen. And the Internet makes that more and more likely. What's happening is that we might, in fact, be at a time in our history where we're being domesticated by these great big societal things, such as Facebook and the Internet. We're being domesticated by them, because fewer and fewer and fewer of us have to be innovators to get by. And so, in the cold calculus of evolution by natural selection, at no greater time in history than ever before, copiers are probably doing better than innovators. Because innovation is extraordinarily hard. My worry is that we could be moving in that direction, towards becoming more and more sort of docile copiers.
"Infinite Stupidity: A Talk With Mark Pagel." Retrieved 15 December, 2011.
To say that riddim is king in soca 2012 would be partly true. All the breakout hits in the first week of parties and significantly on the radio have been riddim-based. But history has shown that the big winners of Carnival 2011 and before have been those unique soca compositions not shared with other artistes: Wotless (Kes The Band) and Advantage (Machel Montano), to name a couple. That's not to say that Benjai, hot off his "Give Away" riddim driven Ah Trini did not have an extended bumper 2011 with Wine to the Side on the "Honeycomb" riddim shared with Machel Montano and Lil Bitts. Riddim is it, and if you look sharp, a handful of riddims could dominate a TT Carnival season.