Caribbean Playlist (September/October 2015)

New releases to get you in the groove

Spiritual AwakeningSteppin RazorQuicksandThe Cynic and the Dreamer

Spiritual Awakening — Reginald Cyntje

Trombonist Reginald Cyntje (pronounced SIN-chee) — born in Dominica, raised in St Thomas, USVI, and now living in Washington, DC — has released his fourth album, Spiritual Awakening, as a continuation of his reflection on the abstractions of human existence via jazz music. The album has been described as one that “musically embodies humanity’s complex journey from introspection to a celebration of freedom.” With titles that evoke personal declarations and sometimes touch on the religious — “Atonement”, “Beatitudes”, “Prayer”, “Ritual” — these nine tunes should not be construed as instrumental gospel, but as a refinement of the evolving journey of this Caribbean jazzman towards a sophisticated veneration. With wordless singing by Christie Dashiell juxtaposing effectively, Spiritual Awakening is also a spotlight for the instrumental brilliance of soloists Allyn Johnson on piano and Victor Provost on steel pan, and Cyntje himself, never completely abandoning that Caribbean-ness in the groove. Jazz in the islands has moved a step ahead.

 

Steppin Razor — Christopher Martin

A steppin’ razor is defined as a “dangerous person that is not to be messed with, referring to the fact that they are quick to fight.” Fighting aside, former Jamaican Digicel Rising Star Christopher Martin shouldn’t be messed with, since his voice has a purity that gets to the heartstrings of many, and to do otherwise would be to chance fan anarchy. His five-song digital-only release on VP Records “balances sweetness, swagger, and sex appeal, and showcases Chris’s versatility and vocal excellence.” Marketing blurbs aside, this short showcase is fuel for a deserved conceit: “they get addicted to my vibe, I make them feel so good inside, intoxicated by my smile, these girls fall in no time” sings Martin. He’s not telling untruths. This music and this artist challenge our notions of what dancehall heroes sound like, and position this EP among the leaders in the new generation.

 

Quicksand — jointpop

Trinidad and Tobago is a country that, while varied in its musical menu, can be a hard place to endure a music career. Mavericks and local rock heroes jointpop have released their sixth full-length album Quicksand to acclaim — rightfully so, as the band, led by the droll and charismatic Gary Hector, continues to prove the critics wrong while at the same time obstinately and artfully rejuvenating their two-decade career despite the sneer of the cynics. With thirteen songs that run the gamut from punk bravado à la The Clash to Beatles-inspired harmonies, the album displays an economy of production that conversely flaunts the elements of taut song-writing, and forces one to listen and get their point. “Reality and T” and “Simply Beautiful” shine as examples of sterling songcraft. Derek Walcott writing on Trinidadian art noted that it “originated in imitation, and ended in invention.” jointpop aren’t mimic men, they’re damn island originals. This album too.

 

The Cynic and the Dreamer — Sheriff

A cynic can sometimes be likened to a pessimist while a dreamer can be seen as an optimist: thus the title of this new album by super-producer Sheriff of soca hit “Differentology” fame plays with the duality inherent in all of us. Sheriff asks himself in the debut single “Two Souls”: “If two souls are on different paths, which one is the better half?” Immediately, we’re toying with bigger ideas. The Cynic and the Dreamer is described as a “concept album” incorporating a common lyrical theme of the balancing act we call life. That theme sustains in the dozen songs that veer away from music for the soca fete towards music that has to be “listened to.” That’s not to say these pop anthems aren’t catchy, but in the effort to move Trinidadian popular music out of the restrictive Carnival cycle, we sometimes have to keep still — and dream. Idealists and realists rejoice!

Reviews by Nigel A. Campbell