Friday, 25 March 2016

That Happened last night: Vaughnette Bigford at Kaiso Blues

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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. 

Last night at Vaughnette Bigford in The Listening Room, Kaiso Blues Café was graced with the appearance and performance of Vaughnette that was an act of defiance to the idea that the jazz songbook is an exclusively American creation devoid of the lyrics and melodies of these isles. This was an act of transcendence that made a large production appear so intimate, and so easily dismissed the notion that our music and arrangers should not be on the same stage at the same time as those deemed stars in the jazz pantheon.

In my first review of a Vaughnette performance in 2011, I wrote:
A suggested course would be to eschew the American jazz songbook for a palette of Caribbean song. Her ventures into the world of Billie [Holliday], Ella [Fitzgerald] and Nancy [Wilson], and even into the Latin American songbooks had less impact with her Naparima Bowl audience than her interpretations of the songs of Ray Holman and Ras Shorty I (Garfield Blackman), masterfully arranged by Ming and Theron Shaw with Vaughnette respectively. While some connoisseurs would wince at the removal of almost every ounce of calypso from the latter two songs, the exposure of the local canon to the rigours of jazz improvisation showcases a new breed of song and songwriter to the world. While I would not want to thrust the ‘ambassador for local music’ title on Vaughnette's shoulders, this path could offer enough differentiation from the plethora of jazz chanteuses graduating annually from music colleges and conservatories in the United States, yet who still can't make a dent in the music industry beyond small gigs that pay the bills, and furthermore, not make the statement that Caribbean musicians and artistes are wont to do. (That was a long sentence!)
I have not changed my mind yet. Last night, she moved closer to my wish.

A Night of Trini Love indeed. A set comprising almost exclusively of the local songbook—Dennis Brown's How Could I Leave completed a Caribbean songbook—gave majesty to the lyrics of the calypsos by Shadow, Merchant, Valentino, Shorty I, King Austin via Winsford 'Joker' DeVine, and to the melodies of 20th century Trinidad pop music from Carol Addison, Mavis John, Kalyan, Junior Byron and others. The lament of Ella Andall in her Missing Generation was given breadth by the augmentation of a “choir” of angelic voices— Aneesa Ebony Paul, Sade Sealey, Genisa St Hilaire—giving praise and testimony. (Ella herself uses multiple voices to enhance the chant. Vaughnette used it sparingly but effectively in other songs.) Her interpretation of KMC's Soul on Fire made the mediocre magnificent. Ray Holman's Memory of your Smile had tears flowing freely from fellow SONGBIRDS in the audience as she dedicated that song to the recently passed Caribbean jazz pioneer “Raf"Robertson. An apt tribute. Rodney Alexander and Vaughnette duetted on Junior Byron's Crying's Easy. Bass and voice; in my estimation, the song of the night. I remember in 2009 at her SONGBIRDS performance, Dougie Redon did a similar duet there, and later at her concert at SAPA in 2014, Ron Reid did the duty of juxtaposing a solo voice against a pizzicato melodic bass.

From a business perspective, local copyrights were exploited almost exclusively for about 2 hours of songs outside the standard fall back genre bracketing, giving prima facie evidence to the boast of creative industry diversification. That happened last night. We are beyond “good” and “bad” when reviewing performances of professionals and artists of merit. It's easy to see bad. It's a little more difficult for some to acknowledge good or toast better without hyperbole and chauvinism that becomes treacly excess. Sustained applause. Enthusiastic sing-along. Tears and joy. These are hallmarks of a performance that exceeds. That, too, happened last night.

© 2016, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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