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.