Wednesday 1 November 2023

Music buzz | Reviews (Nov/Dec 2023)ª

Re-Potted Jonathan Scales Fourchestra 


The angular harmonies and rhythms of modern jazz fusion present a rare context for the steelpan to interact, to play to its potential, to exist. Jonathan Scales is an American musician and composer recently transplanted to Brooklyn, New York. And in his hands, the instrument — in the company of his trio’s sublime bass and poly-rhythmic drums — heralds another way to engage with one’s soul outside a Carnivalesque celebration. On this, his eighth album of steelpan jazz, he explores “what it means to ‘uproot and replant’ into a more expansive yet more challenging environment”. How that translates on the instrument is a heady mix of musical modes, melodic adventures, and varying soundscapes — rap, wordless vocals, found-object percussion, strings and horns — where challenging rhythmic changes make for a focus on how this juxtaposition of instruments brings resolution to a journey. Steelpan, “the audacity of Creole imagination”, has evolved beyond the islands.

Live in San Francisco, vol. 1 Etienne Charles

(Culture Shock Music)

Prolific recording artist and composer Etienne Charles is taking his Caribbean jazz trumpet to important venues to play to audiences everywhere the music gleaned from the wanderings of his Creole soul. The Black Cat, “in the historic jazz district of Tenderloin in beautiful San Francisco”, is the setting for the recording of a live album that excerpts his Carnival opus; charts the arc of Caribbean composers Lord Kitchener, Bob Marley, Winifred Atwell, and Juan Tizol; and incorporates his new composition, “Greenwood”, which elucidates a monumental episode in American history. “Greenwood” musically translates the violence, chaos, angst, and pathos of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre against African-Americans in “Black Wall Street”. The wilful attempt by others to erase this history is countered here by transcendent musicianship and sound recording clarity that enlivens excavated histories and recalled stories from survivors. One can’t wait for Vol 2.

Album available exclusively from the Etienne Charles website

Mango Hugh Masekela & Siparia Deltones (Single)

(Monk Music/Gallo Record Company)

Sitting under a fruit tree has been inspirational — for centuries. The story of Isaac Newton under an apple tree coming up with the theory of gravity is apocryphal. For Trinidadian jazz musician Carlton “Zanda” Alexander, a mango tree was the key to a composition that celebrates tropical idyll. Sitting under de mango tree / Watching baby mangoes fall / Making room for more to come, with tiny stems and all / Suddenly, I heard a song / Dancing through the leaves / A lonely mango fall. That song has taken a long journey to release. A decade in the making, a musical project (From Siparia to Soweto) among Zanda, the iconic South African flugelhornist “Bra” Hugh Masekela (1939–2018), pannist Akinola Sennon and his steelband Siparia Deltones in Trinidad was a major collaborative cultural event on the island. With its soothing, twee, island vibe, this lilting Caribbean ballad sung by Masekela is a hopeful entré into the long-awaited album’s release.

  1. These reviews appear in the November/December 2023 issue of Caribbean Beat Magazine.

© 2023, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday 28 September 2023

Island Jazz Chat: Episode 18 – Etienne Charles

Etienne Charles
is a creole soul. A Caribbean intellectual and sublime musician who positions the "native gaze" to reflect a new perspective to the wider Americas beyond a boundary. From Trinidad, with a trumpet in his hand and a rhythm in his veins, he has, over an 18-year recording career, observed and composed music that "re-charts the ruins," excavates supressed histories, and elevates island ideas over metropolitan ideals. Post-pandemic, he was busy with his "San Juan Hill: New York Story" commission from the NY Philharmonic, and the release of 2 limited edition albums: unique quartet music, Traces, and a live recording of his Creole Soul band in San Francisco where a new piece recalling the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre had its debut. With more recordings to come, the creole soul never sleeps. Thu, 28 Sep 2023
  • Programme Date: 28 September 2023
  • Programme Length: 00:58:56

Friday 1 September 2023

Music buzz | Reviews (Sep/Oct 2023)ª

The Lone Pilgrim Woods 


Trinidadian Wilfred Trevor Woodley — “Woods” to his friends and associates — was a prolific composer, and innovative jazz musician, whose oeuvre was disappointingly never professionally recorded before his death in 2010. His life was one of pioneering creativity, and unfortunate personal tragedy. Beginning with his calypso jazz innovations in the early 1960s UK, he was shunned by media there. And for his audacity to marry a white socialite, he was possibly framed for an uncommitted crime. Aptly titled The Lone Pilgrim, this new three-song EP begins the worthy task of bringing his unique compositions, possibly in the hundreds, to the world. These songs retain the magic of surprise that is a hallmark of jazz, and centres the impetus around an Afro-Caribbean base of rhythm and instrumentation; Jason Baptiste plays steelpan here. This is a heritage keepsake and the start to a promised tribute collection by this international band of devoted musicians.

Live Mario Canonge Trio

(Aztec Music)

This live album by Martiniquan master pianist Mario Canonge and his fellow high-accolade Antillean musicians — Michel Alibo on bass and Arnaud Dolmen on drums — is a record of possibilities to make the Creole universal. Canonge is a singular icon in jazz circles here in the Caribbean and in France (where he is now based), who has the ability to incorporate the French Antillean rhythms and melodies into a jazz setting that is admirably effective in bringing the region’s music onto a global stage. This new album, his 17th, brings these talented, individual musicians into a collaboration that emphasises their ability to subtly make zouk, gwo ka, bélé, and other French-Caribbean grooves and genres a base for improvisation. Tackling some of his previous compositions alongside new ones in this trio format demands individual talent to shine, yet makes space for sublime musical conversation. One hour’s worth of Caribbean elegance.

Kula Wroko Kibri Fra Fra Sound

(Pramisi Records)

Fra Fra Sound is an instrumental jazz big band — born in Suriname more than 40 years ago and now resident in the Netherlands — which utilises the native genre kaseko (a complex fusion of styles derived from Africa, Europe, and the Americas) to make its music a tangible tribute to the ethos of Caribbean celebration. The marketing blurb tells us that the album’s title “stands for the process of navigating, creating, documenting and continuation.” Effectively, this new album touches on the musical range of the band over its history, and signifies that the music is still evolving, and still moving people here and there to dance. Songs sung in Surinamese Creole (Sranan Tongo) invite new listeners to discover the richness of Caribbean culture and language. At a deeper level, this album’s music, we are told, is a contemplation of 150 years since the abolition of slavery in Suriname and the Netherland Antilles and, inspiringly, a reflection of another Caribbean.

  1. These reviews appear in the September/October 2023 issue of Caribbean Beat Magazine.

© 2023, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Monday 31 July 2023

Freedom Jazz Jam, a review²

An edited version of this review first appeared in the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday as “Vaughnette Bigford jazzes up the Bowl” on 30 July 2023.

As the unending post-Carnival 2023 jazz season overlaps with the 2024 Carnival band launch season, the Naparima Bowl became an all-encompassing sold-out space for live music magic and fashion statement making. Vaughnette Bigford, the Creole Chanteuse, on Saturday, July 22 continued her evolution from “jazz singer” to producer of live music experiences that go beyond the stage to touch and encourage audiences to show their true colours. Freedom Jazz Jam was described by her as a “celebration of us,” and on the weekend before the Emancipation Day festivities the Jam manifested in a real creative industry mix of music and fashion, pride and pulchritude. 

An hour before the showtime was a pre-concert reception in the Bowl’s courtyard that showcased more than fan appreciation for this southern songbird, but a manifestation of local fashion design and couture celebration, and a display of individual attachment to heritage in all the colours under an African sun. Local designer names were spoken: Prindela Fashions, Kimo, Diane Carlton Caribbean, Rack.PDH plus, Nadroj, and others that put into perspective that real commercial synergy of sectors in the creative industries at this event. 

Saturday 1 July 2023

Music buzz | Reviews (Jul/Aug 2023)ª

Caribbean Beat Jul/Aug 2023

47 On Strand  Élan Parlē


The album title references an address in Cape Town, South Africa, and a point of reflection and unique perspective for a Trinidadian wanderer there. In this instance, that explorer is the architect of 21st century kaisojazz (calypso jazz): Michael Low Chew Tung, élan parlē, himself. From his vantage point, literally in a hotel across the street, he mined the influences gained from seeing, hearing, and being there. The energy of the street, the vista of Table Mountain in the distance, the percussion and sounds of a distant Africa move his compositions towards a new centre for musical innovation. Continuing the exercise of expanding the vocabulary of kaisojazz — begun in his 2013 album, I Am Élan Parlē — the music here occupies a contemporary jazz profile. Tunes like “Load Shedding” and the title track don’t burden the listener with complex solos, but marry the sonic aesthetic of island elegance with a modern African presence for expanded possibilities.

  1. This review appears in the July/August 2023 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.
© 2023, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Friday 26 May 2023

Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival 2023 – a review series²

Saint Lucia Jazz 2023

Once again, the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority invited me and facilitated my coverage of its signature festival tourism event, the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival, for the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday. Old friendships rekindled and new adventures encountered as this mammoth event has grown, and approaches its optimal dimensions. As far as Caribbean music festivals go, Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival is defining what is possible regionally, and settling in among the top global music festivals, jazz and otherwise. Here are the articles:

Monday 1 May 2023

Playlist (May/June 2023) | Music Buzzª

Traces  Etienne Charles

(Culture Shock Music)

One result of migration, forced and voluntary, is a blossoming of new music cultures. On his new album Traces — a limited edition in both vinyl and CD — Trinidadian jazz musician Etienne Charles continues his exposition of “New World” stories through music genres born where disparate peoples meet. Charles finds catalysts for composition in his colleagues’ origins. Performed here by a stellar quartet — each member with a different birthplace — playing cello, cuatro, double bass and trumpet, this album’s music reflects their individual cultures and traditions. Antillean waltzes and biguine from the Caribbean, festejo, merengue, joropo and choro from South America all provide sonic connections to tales, tributes and the legacies that define an expansive Creole soul. Charles the musician is the fortunate traveller who gloriously and majestically adds to his oeuvre by mining his African sojourns, his Latin American expeditions, and his Caribbean recollections and discoveries.

• Vinyl copies of this album are available exclusively here.
• CD copies of this album are avalable exclusively here.

  1. This review appears in the May/June 2023 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.
© 2023, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday 1 March 2023

After COVID, a return to island jazz

This article appears in the March/April 2023 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine as “A return to Island jazz.”

The COVID-19 pandemic over the last three years wreaked havoc on island tourism and decimated the live music industry worldwide. A nexus for live music and tourism in the islands is the enduring island jazz festival, set for a reintroduction, a rebound and a reset in 2023. 

In the Spring 1993 issue of Caribbean Beat, writer BC Pires noted that there are “more than 30 jazz festivalse very year in the Caribbean and most Caribbean people have never been to one … And there is a good reason for this: most people in the Caribbean don’t really need jazz — they’ve got perfectly good music of their own, thank you.”

However, 30 years beyond Pires’ declaration, perpetual in-the-red economics, ageing demographics, and changing tastes have diminished the faddish-ness of the island jazz fest as a dreamed-of getaway — whittling down the “more than 30 jazz festivals” to fewer than a dozen.

Monday 16 January 2023

Island Jazz Chat: Episode 17 - Jacques Schwarz-Bart

Jacques Schwarz-Bart, from Guadeloupe, can be considered a Caribbean jazz explorer who is mining musical histories and creating new experiences based on tradition, heritage, spirituality, and a full understanding of the Caribbean legacy of being at the centre of many cultural moments in the Americas. His dual Afro-Caribbean and Jewish heritage has allowed him to make bold musical statements, both live and on record, that re-chart the ruins, and to place in the wider public consciousness the music of Haitian Vodou, Guadeloupean gwo ka rhythms, Hebrew liturgical chants, and other creole spiritual conversations all resonating with a jazz vocabulary. From neo-soul and jazz to introspective takes on the spectrum of African diasporic music and retentions, Schwarz-Bart continues to expand the Caribbean Jazz footprint globally with tours, recordings and teaching. Tue, 10 Jan 2023
  • Programme Date: 10 January 2023
  • Programme Length: 01:31:32

Monday 9 January 2023

Island Jazz Chat: Episode 16 - Leon 'Foster' Thomas

Leon 'Foster' Thomas, contemporary steelpan jazz musician and composer from Trinidad, and at present, Caribbean Jazz researcher now based in the UK, chats on his career and the continuing journey to move the steelpan to the front of the jazz bandstand with his recordings and performances. His compositions, what he calls his "book of stories", position the instrument as a transcriber of emotions that allows for a dynamic range of sensitive touch and dexterity. His new album, Calasanitus due in March 2023, explores a range of topics that get to the heart of what Thomas sees as lives lived and the fates of people moving among the Americas. Mon, 9 Jan 2023
  • Programme Date: 09 January 2023
  • Programme Length: 01:35:39

Sunday 1 January 2023

Playlist (January/February 2023) | Music Buzzª

Calasanitus  Leon Foster Thomas

(Krossover Jazz)

The steelpan, as an instrument to translate emotion into sound, does not get the high-profile notice that, say, a violin or piano gets. With a history of not yet 100 years, that may be inevitable — but in the hands of a master, one can hear the expressive potential of the instrument. Thomas’ rapid-fire dexterity takes a back seat to his improvisational elan on this, his fourth album, to let his compositions breathe and his guest soloists fly. The album is a tribute to his late mother and her imparted life lessons, and its songs follow a range of ideas and moods — from heartache to joy, contemplation to memory. Steelpan, piano, saxophone and trumpet dramatically converse with each other to tell stories: a parent’s sacrifice, an immigrant’s dream, the migrant’s challenges, a happy evocation of childhood, a meditation on the end of Caribbean life, and more. This mature reflection — both good and sad, all well played — makes this album a keeper.

  1. This review appears in the January/February 2023 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.
© 2023, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.