Caribbean Playlist (November/December 2014)

New releases to get you in the groove — from jazz to roots reggae

#LiveAndUncutDangerously RootsPursuit of HappinessBurning Up

#LiveAndUncut  Elan Trotman Group

On his eighth album #LiveAndUncut (“Live and Uncut”, for the Twitter hashtag-averse), Barbadian saxophonist Elan Trotman serves up a tropical feel defining the elements of smooth jazz that have a legion of fans reaching for a rum punch and the resort menu. Combining catchy hooks and warm melodies with the purposeful blending of danceable calypso and reggae rhythms is a strategy that separates Trotman from the rest of the pack of smooth jazz saxophonists. The lead single, “Smooth ‘n’ Saxy”, aptly describes the mood of the album, which introduces the listening audience to the steel pan sound as an ambience enhancer. The track “Simon Paul” slyly mimics the melodic charm of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” to cheerful results, finding the Caribbean jam where there was a hint before. “Bop & Run” is a calypso reinvented, while “Funkalypso” is a jazz soloist’s paradise. This album should be a must-have on any jazz or Caribbean playlist.

 

Dangerously Roots  Duane Stephenson

To release an album of roots reggae in 2014 might seem like releasing an album of early delta blues today: there are some genres that are beyond being passé. Duane Stephenson’s new album Dangerously Roots revels in the origins of the music that bubbled up from Jamaica in the 1970s during economic transition. Lyrics that were read as conscious in the evocation of the struggles of the “small man” and plaintive in the proud legacy of the spoken and written words of this island predominated. This is the sound of reggae before it morphed into the pop-infused melange that signalled the rise of the dancehall artist. The album’s first single, “Cool Runnings”, paradoxically makes the case that “dancehall nice again,” in words that hover over a riddim straight from the 1970s golden era of reggae. That is the constant surprise of an album that switches eras and sounds yet remains ital.

 

Pursuit of Happiness  Im4rio

When classically trained pianist Im4rio (a.k.a. Mario Callender) temporarily steps away from his role as keyboardist for a top soca artist in Trinidad to pursue a solo project, this is what you get. Pursuit of Happiness realises how easy it is to make “local music” exportable. In the era when EDM pioneer Daft Punk is a Grammy darling and EDM is a global phenomenon, the allure of this music is obvious, more so in a Trinidad that never shuns the popular and the varied. On this five-track EP, Im4rio delivers a sound that is enough to make you dance like no one is watching. The harmonic impulse feeds the emotional undercurrent of the songs here. “All my troubles, we’re gonna make it better with the beauty of our minds,” is a lyric that encapsulates what Im4rio is about: slamming music that will be an elixir for happiness.

 

Single Spotlight


Burning Up
  Lil Bitts

By the time you read this, the 2015 Trinidad soca season will be in full swing, with new tracks released daily. Lil Bitts may have got the jump on her peers by releasing her new tune “Burning Up” in September 2014. This tiny beauty has defied the odds on Trinidad’s performing circuit by sustaining her popularity. With this track, Bitts has also defied the trend of multiple artists “riding the riddim” early in the soca song cycle, with an individual track that plays to our sense of partying. Produced by prolific soca hit-makers Precision Productions, the groove is infectious and the message is clear: this is wining time! Lyrics like “Right now, I hot, too hot to handle / Careful, your back might get dismantle” might suggest you’re in for the time of your life (or worse) — but this leader of the pack forecasts a hot Carnival 2015.