Caribbean Playlist (March/April 2017) | Music Reviews

This month’s listening picks

Bright EyesElementalNo OneFete You

Bright EyesVictor Provost (Paquito Records)

Virgin Island steelpan jazz virtuoso Victor Provost sets an optimistic tone with his second album, Bright Eyes, capturing the influence of the Caribbean more so than on his debut album two years ago. Bebop swagger gives way to a progressive jazz world fusion while still maintaining a deft touch that allows the tenor pan to ring true. On the eleven tunes on this album, Provost runs through a gamut of styles and select composers, to give the steelpan a context outside its calypso base. The obligatory homage to calypso legend Lord Kitchener is included — “Pan in Harmony” — but this album reflects Provost’s recent apprenticeship with Cuban saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and his wider exploration of improvised tropical music. Mazurka, baião, calypso, and funky Afro-Cuban jazz all have a presence here. Guest soloists — including the aforementioned D’Rivera, alongside Etienne Charles and Ron Blake, to name a few — flavour this Caribbean jazz gumbo which swings with enough intensity to keep your attention.

 

ElementalRuth Osman (self-released)

Trinidad-based Guyanese singer-songwriter Ruth Osman is a poet disguised as a songbird. Not so much a poet in the Dylanesque Nobel Prize echelon, but from the milieu of Caribbean poets who use metaphor and emotional narrative to imbue a sense of order into our scattered lives. The bookend opening and closing interludes of this ten-song album showcase her talent as poet who moves beyond mere lyricism. “Someone must, on bended knee / Mourn the death of a star and sing another into being.” The intervening eight songs showcase a singer who holds a tune with an elastic multi-octave voice that echoes a girlish timbre in contrast to the adult themes. Elemental, Osman’s second album, succeeds in its simple setting, where her debut wallowed in vapid excess, hiding the richness of her voice that makes her lyrics ring. With cover songs by Marley, Jobim, and Andre Tanker, this album also focuses Osman’s neo-folk Caribbean aesthetic accurately towards accomplishment and elation.

 

Single Spotlight

No OneTano & Kalpee (self-released)

Right off the bat, on their new single “No One”, Trinidadian producer Michael Montano and singer Christian Kalpee introduce an earworm that has been a hallmark of much popular hit music in 2016: the flutelike squiggle called the “dolphin.” EDM super-producers Skrillex and Diplo created this motif in the song “Where Are Ü Now”, where singer Justin Bieber’s “vocals are pinched into a dolphin call” at that song’s drop, using various distortion and equalisation effects. Tano & Kalpee have recreated this riff to maximum effect, making this laidback dance groove a choice between a regretful post-breakup song that successfully reflects a tropical house genre definition, or a lame imitation of a played-out hook. The former seems apt in this case, as Kalpee’s voice gives favour to a lyric and melody which signal a confident approach to hit songwriting and production that has global appeal. Our Caribbean reputation as dance music adventurers sustains here.

 

Fete YouR City (Precision Productions)

Brothers Timothy and Theron Thomas (R City) of St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands are working with Trinidadian producer Kasey Phillips (Precision Productions) on a number of songs that point to a new direction in island music, where the modern R&B influences are subtle enough not to obscure the Caribbean musical accent, but still distinctive. The opening synth chord progression signals a pulse that will make couples get closer on the dance floor, while the vocals overlaid hint at something provocative: “I just want to fete you / From night ’til a morning / I know that you want it.” Once the song gets grooving its zouk-flavoured backbeat and soca phrasing, the double entendre becomes clear. “Fete You” is a sexy demand for something more than a party. This is hedonism with a capital “F.” It’s also a catchy tune that works by supplying a wider Caribbean palette for soca to evolve.