Sunday 18 September 2016

The pot bubbling: Cousoumeh by Akinola Sennon – a Review¹

Steelpan player and Siparia Deltones musical director, Akinola Sennon has released a new album of pan jazz on the independent Ropeadope Records label. The album, Cousoumeh, is a mix of effective songwriting and performance and a daring leap into a new way of hearing improvised music from the Caribbean.

Ropeadope Records—an increasingly important record label in the US that is home to jazz pannists Leon Foster Thomas and Jonathan Scales—remarks openly that the record, “is an interpretation of jazz where the heritage of the island [Trinidad] and the full sense of the African diaspora collide, sometimes in a polished way and sometimes with a raw undercurrent.” In recognising that simultaneous pattern of up and down production value, one is effectively exposed to two sides of the musical adventure that Sennon has pursued in the making of this album.

On the one hand, Sennon along with percussionist Tambi Gwindi works with four young Boston-based musicians, drummer Shane Dahler, pianist Chris McCarthy, bassist Cole Davis and trumpeter Alonzo Demetrius Ryan Jr. on half the tunes on the eight-song album. Americans all, this aggregation approaches the idea of the Caribbean and Sennon's music with adroit solos and converses musically in a language that speaks to a proficiency of jazz improvisation while still searching for the Afro-Caribbean aesthetic.

Thursday 1 September 2016

Caribbean Beat Caribbean Playlist - September/October 2016ª

Metamorphosis Leon Foster Thomas 

(Ropeadope Records)

Caribbean musicians are increasingly moving to the metropolitan commercial centres of the music business world to spread the rhythms and sounds created in these islands. Leon Foster Thomas, a Trinidadian steeplan virtuoso, is resident in Miami, Florida and is relying on that connection to a larger market to spread the sound of the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago. Metaporphosis, Thomas' third album, is his debut on important jazz label Ropeadope Records, and signals a critical and commercial blossoming beyond his early funky steelpan jazz beginnings into a standout quartet leader; a metamorphosis if you will. Ten tracks of progressive jazz fusion that highlights the intelligent interplay between steelpan and other instruments without losing the idea that Caribbean music can be improvised and swing. World fusion is in effect. Haitian-born, New York-bred trumpeter Jean Caze and master Latin jazz percussionist, Sammy Figueroa guest on the album.


Precious Metals Ron Reid 

(Mud Hut Music)

Ron Reid is a Berklee College of Music associate professor, and as such the expectation on this, his third album is high, more for the continuing exploration of Afro-Caribbean rhythms in the context of jazz in the Americas. Superb musicianship by a host of Berklee alumnae give this album a finish that is as assured as it is consummate. Reid plays bass and arranges all the music on the album that features jazz, samba, Afro-pop, and calypso rhythms among others, and segues between lyrical playing and evocative compositions that suggest varied moods. This Precious Metals project finds collaboration between and continuity with music that reflect Afro-Caribbean heritage, regardless of legacy. Melodies and rhythms are not static but celebratory. A balance of originals and covers of calypso and steelpan classics gives the album a leg up on the competition, since these songs have a sonic quality that positions the steelpan and Caribbean music for that matter, on a higher plane.

Sirocco Jeff Narell (Self Released)

Jeff Narell is the older brother of prolific steelpan recording artist Andy Narell, and together they were immersed into the world of the early steelbands—they participated in the Trinidad Music Festival on steelpans in 1966 as children—and have never looked back. Sirocco is Jeff Narell's fourth album as a leader, and finds him investigating the confluence between African percussion instruments and the New World invention of the steelpan. More than a simple dialogue between sounds and rhythms, this album showcases the link that has been suggested by ethnomusicologists as part of the syncretism—the merging of different cultures—evident in Caribbean music. The tunes explore melodies and sonic influences from both ends of the middle passage that show the retention of the African sound. Talking drums, djembes, strings and chants are interwoven with melodies from the Caribbean to make this a useful album that showcases the steelpan in a different and important light.


  1. More Caribbean Playlist reviews appear in the September/October 2016 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.
© 2016, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.