Saturday 5 December 2015

A riff on Raf! (Expanded)

Raf Robertson, 1952 - 2015. Photo by Maria Nunes. All Rights Reserved.

It all started with the theme song for a radio programme on 610 Radio in the late 1990s. A mid-day current affairs talk show with a female hostess and call-in section. I can't remember the name, but it always piqued my interest, not solely because of the topics, but because of that damn theme song. It sounded local, but it sounded "foreign." Just an instrumental snippet about 30 seconds long that celebrated, what I later came to find out was the genius of Kitchener. The song snippet was from "Branches," the title track of Raf's second album recorded in Toronto by Eddie Bullen. That sound. That was a modern sound that signalled that we were on the right track to globalising our music; a catch-phrase still in use by government state enterprises looking to diversify the economy, which really means "to sound foreign enough to satisfy non-native ears," I am told. That album came out in 1994. Recorded with ex-pat Caribbean folks. We have come full circle.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Ah Comin’ Home!

Creole Christmas returns the native gaze to local audiences.

Derek Walcott in his Nobel lecture back in 1992 posited a view of how tourists see the Caribbean:
“Winter adds depth and darkness to life and literature and in the unending summer of the tropics not even poverty or poetry seems capable of being profound because the nature around it is so exultant, so resolutely ecstatic, like its music. A culture based on joy is bound to be shallow.” 
The tourist gaze has been described by some as the dominant way of observing or making sense of the world. Etienne Charles clearly is not going in that direction.

In his movements around the world, Charles has been a leader in situating the “native gaze” to his music by channelling the “new colours, new textures, and new motifs” of his creole soul, his Caribbean spirit into a collaboration with and celebration of the New World music called jazz. Tonight, we celebrate the reflection and return of the native gaze to local audiences in need of an antidote to artificial snow.

Charles has journeyed back home with his band of Yankees (no pejorative meaning implied) to do that necessary collaboration with island favourites, collaborations of culture, language, ethos that spark an improvisation of mood, spirit and music.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Jazz in the Islands Reviews: December 2015

Etienne Charles: Creole Christmas

(Culture Shock Music, 2015)

Christmas albums are described in the music industry as sure fire money-makers as they can be re-cycled annually to keep newer fans in the spirit. Etienne Charles, that creole soul as personified on his last album has crafted a New World reflection of the idea of Christmas and what the season of giving looks like from the perspective of that kind of fortunate traveller. On Creole Christmas, Charles re-imagines the European, American and Caribbean holiday songbooks with a cast of jazz and folk musicians from around the globe. Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Chocolate (Spanish Dance)” from the ballet, “The Nutcracker” are transformed into a jazz ensemble improv workout and a parang jam respectively. Calypsonian, Relator is placed in the context of live horns to recast his classics, “Make a New Friend For Christmas”, and "Christmas is Yours, Christmas is Mine” as potent responses to the canned background music for mall shoppers. A sure fire classic has arrived to balance the creole influence of here with the temperate seductions of there.

Rudy "Two Left" Smith: What pan did for me

(Caprice Records, 2015)

Rudy Smith is a pioneering musician who, in the early 1970s, put the steelpan front and centre in  jazz recordings before just about anybody else, and has never looked back since. A legend in this native Trinidad, and living in Denmark for many years now, Smith on this compilation album showcases the instrument as a subtle lead voice. Calypso, jazz and steel have forged music for listening. Veering towards bebop as the signifier of jazz, Smith used the steelpan to great acclaim in Scandinavia and throughout Europe, after migrating there in the 1960s. The answer to the question implied in the album’s title, What pan did for me, is that it provided a tool for a long music career for Smith and placed the instrument into the consciousness of European audiences of jazz, World music and popular music as more than an accompaniment for island ditties. This career-spanning collection is a great indication of his worth.

More reviews reviews appear in the December 2015 issue of Jazz in the Islands magazine.

© 2015, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Caribbean Beat Caribbean Playlist - September/October 2015ª

Spiritual Awakening Reginald Cyntje
(Self Released)

Trombonist Reginald Cyntje (pronounced SIN-chee), born in Dominica, raised in St. Thomas USVI, and now living in Washington DC released his fourth album as a leader, Spiritual Awakening as a continuation of his reflection on the abstractions of human existence via jazz music. The album has been described as one that “musically embodies humanity’s complex journey from introspection to a celebration of freedom.” With titles that evoke personal declarations that sometimes touch on the religious, “Atonement”, “Beatitudes”, “Prayer”, “Ritual”, this album of nine tunes should not be construed as instrumental gospel, but a refinement of the evolving journey of this Caribbean jazzman towards a sophisticated veneration. With the wordless singing by Christie Dashiell juxtaposing effectively, this album is also a spotlight for the instrumental brilliance of soloists Allyn Johnson on piano and Victor Provost on steelpan, and Cyntje himself, never completely abandoning that Caribbean-ness in the groove. Jazz in the islands has moved a step ahead.

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  1. More Caribbean Playlist reviews appear in the September/October 2015 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.
© 2015, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Monday 6 July 2015

Caribbean Beat Reviews - July/August 2015ª

St. Thomas Dion Parson & 21st Century Band

Drummer Dion Parson from St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands has gathered a cadre of cohorts, fellow islanders now mostly based in New York, to re-chart the music of that island group and the wider Caribbean on their new album St Thomas. Jazz stars in their own right, bassist Reuben Rogers, pannist Victor Provost, trumpeter Rashawn Ross, and saxophonist Ron Blake (among others) join Parson in his 21st Century Band to cover a couple of island standards and define a new VI jazz sound. The title track, an old calypso made famous by island descendent Sonny Rollins, is given a new sheen with rhythms untested by the jazz master many years ago. Covering Bob Marley, Louis Armstrong, and Miles Davis, and providing some originals, the band uses native music forms like quelbe and broader reggae and calypso rhythms to transform the sound of Caribbean jazz into a fusion that points to a new direction.

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Groovy Love Thing Robert "Dubwise" Browne

Guitarist Robert Browne delivers on the traditional smooth jazz output of modern Caribbean musicians by putting his electric guitar front and centre to assay the landscape of easy listening options. His is a sound and tone that can easily make fans of diehard purists. As the title of his new album suggests, the groove is solid on this set of ten instrumental tracks. The range of moods on this album spans from upbeat to contemplative. A compilation of popular Jamaican reggae songs from the past decade — including fellow Jamaican Tessanne Chin’s hit “Hideaway” and Maxi Priest’s “Close To You”, among others — gives this album an appeal that is nurtured by solid musicianship and quality production. Browne, who was the guitarist for dancehall crossover star Shaggy for a number of years, recently branched out on his own to pursue a solo career. This debut is a feather in his cap.

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  1. More Caribbean Playlist reviews appear in theJuly/August 2015 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.
© 2015, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday 16 June 2015

Jazz in Trinidad and Tobago: An Improvised existence in the Islands

I was recently asked to present a paper at a panel on "History, Difference, and Resistance in Post-Colonial Musics" at the 40th Annual Conference of the Caribbean Studies Association in New Orleans, LA, May 25-29, 2015.


The native music of Trinidad and Tobago was first recorded on disc in 1912, some five years before jazz music was recorded. Over the next century, the fusion of ideas and the invasion of influences have morphed that local music into various genres like soca, but those musicians who steadfastly maintained that improvised music was the domain of the Americas have created a new sub-genre of calypso jazz that thrives tenuously in the economic space on the island and within the diaspora. This time line of the development and dispersion of the music catalogs its growth, its commercial appeal beyond the border and its true significance within the economic and cultural space of the Caribbean. 

Keywords: calypso, kaiso, jazz, Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago, jazz fusion, steelpan, calypso jazz, kaisojazz

Creative Commons Licence
Jazz in Trinidad and Tobago: An Improvised Existence in the Islands by Nigel A. Campbell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at

Friday 1 May 2015

Caribbean Beat Reviews – May/June 2015ª

Parallel Overtones Garvin Blake

Brooklyn-based steel pannist Garvin Blake at long last follows up his 1999 debut album Belle Eau Road Blues with his new paean to pan jazz music, Parallel Overtones. The album is described as exploring “the synergy between pan, calypso, and jazz,” which it does with sure-handed skill. Balancing a repertoire between jazz standards and calypsos, Blake stealthily makes the case for renewed efforts of Caribbean pannists to record new music for the instrument. Vincentian keyboard stalwart Frankie McIntosh shares co-production along with songwriting and arrangement credits, making this album a showcase for the art of the Caribbean piano, with a sense of swing found only in hot latitudes. Kaiso-jazz classic “Fancy Sailor” sashays along at the steady chip of a slow lavway, while “Body and Soul” waltzes effortlessly to ably feature Blake’s quintet of players as soloists. The steelpan jazz oeuvre, while notably small, is emboldened by the addition of this well-produced album.

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  1. More Caribbean Playlist reviews appear in the May/June 2015 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.

© 2015, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday 5 April 2015

"Jazz" is the new after-Carnival music option in Trinidad and Tobago

Jazz options in T&T
Trinidad and Tobago's music operates within a seasonal cycle that would intrigue music lovers or music business observers outside these islands. Christmas has it's music, obviously, as does Carnival, and those limits must not be breached out of tradition, or plainly, because the public's appetite is prescribed by habits not easily broken, despite some soca creep. The recent Carnival gives way to what is a wasteland for all other musics in this island to battle for the appreciation of the consumer and the fancy of the music programmer. Jazz, or more specifically jazz in the Caribbean, including pan jazz, seems to have the commercial and aesthetic appeal of a wide cross-section of the community.

Thursday 1 January 2015

Caribbean Beat Reviews – January/February 2015ª

Oui ma Chérie! Andy Narell

Trinidadians are notoriously protective of their national instrument, the steelpan, so much so that when iconoclastic American pannist Andy Narell releases a new CD, the chauvinistic hubris echoing among local voices can and does sting. Narell’s riposte in this instance is an album of five long musical interludes, a balance of originals and Trinidad song /calypso that defines broader genre options for the steelpan. Jazz dissonance and tropical rhythms that suggest the wider Caribbean outside of Trinidad move the body of music for the instrument several steps ahead. Narell single-handedly plays all the parts of a small steel orchestra to capture with near sonic perfection the timbre of the modern steelband, and blends it with solo guitar and trumpet to imagine newer possibilities. After 18 previous albums, it is clear that the sound born of “the audacity of the creole imagination” in Trinidad is now global, and this album is apt proof of Narell’s significance.


  1. More Caribbean Playlist reviews appear in the January/February 2015 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.

© 2015, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.