Caribbean Playlist (March/April 2016)

This month’s listening picks

Spice IslandFor One to LoveJab to the FutureBody Talk

Spice IslandEddie Bullen
(Thunder Dome Sound)

Smooth jazz is a music genre purists love to hate, but in the Caribbean it is increasingly becoming the pleasing soundtrack of resort life for fortunate travellers in search of sun, sand, and sea. So purity be damned, when there is a market for the slick and increasingly popular sound in these isles. Toronto-based Grenadian keyboardist and music producer Eddie Bullen says this album “is a musical reflection of [his] life as a teenager growing up on the ‘spice island’ of Grenada,” but it can also be listened to as a catalogue of all the smooth jazz tropes that have marked the music for either fame or disdain. Piano trills, ubiquitous programmed synths, chill vibes, funky motifs — they’re all here. Spice Island is a metaphor for an idealised Caribbean vacation. The sure-handed production values that augur well for this album to be a calling card for jazz cruises also make it a listenable treat.

 

For One to LoveCécile McLorin Salvant
(Mack Avenue Records)

Haitian pride remains intact despite generations of miscegenation and migration. “I was not at all raised in an African-American family culture,” says jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant. “My dad is Haitian, mom is French-Guadeloupean, and in Miami [where she was born], on top of that, we had more of a Caribbean vibe.” Heritage and identity are touchstones for conversations among others, but the music on this third album by Salvant speaks to an all-encompassing American heritage: jazz. Depending on your perspective, this album can either challenge expectations or satisfy the soul as Salvant continues her efforts at mining the early songs of the genre to create new impressions for new audiences. Five originals balance this set of veritable unheralded standards from a bygone era, cementing this album as a new recipe for jazz singing. Recasting love songs and imbuing new meaning to a jaded lyric is Salvant’s goal. Well played.

 

Single Spotlight

Jab to the FutureThe Pew Pew Pews

The Pew Pew Pews is an experimental collaboration between electronic music producer Disko Pigg and artist Kit Joseph “to create a performance-based project which integrates illustrative art, music, and VJ elements at its root level.” Jab to the Future is their first single, and this pair of Trinidadians have placed into the  media landscape an amalgam of disco, rapso, J’Ouvert rhythms, funk, and soul — they call it nudisco — that situates the Caribbean as a cauldron for modern EDM creativity. Working with soul singer John John, rapso artist Curious Ringo, and electronic producer and singer Kattronique, this gem harks back to a sound that was in vogue in the 1970s, yet has a production value that says, “Hello, twenty-first century, I am alive and looking at the future.” Shifting tempos easily between the rhythm of the word and the rhythm of the disco, this tune has the effect of facing insights and freeing inhibitions.

 

Body TalkKES featuring Chris Hierro

KES (formerly Kes the Band) are musical shape-shifters who know how to adapt to changing times and circumstances. At one time a pop/rock quartet, then a popular soca band, they are now testing the waters as newly minted reggaeton hit-makers — and it sounds like they’re on the right track. On this cross-cultural collaboration with Dominican-American singer and producer Chris Hierro, KES takes the bull by the horns, and never lets go. With that pulsating rhythm that has dance floors filled in Latin America, Miami, and the Caribbean, language is no barrier for “having a time” at 130 beats per minute. Body Talk asks the proverbial question, “If I talk to you / Will you understand?” In Spanish and English, the answer is a resounding yes. Music is that universal language that drives action, and making bodies talk is the goal of this record. So far, so good.

Reviews by Nigel A. Campbell