Upbeat

New music from the Caribbean

A Christmas Album from The Marionette ChoraleBob Marley and the WailersPanazz

CHRISTMAS

Wrap It Up

Panazz (BBLN 1999)

If the title of Panazz Players’ latest CD seems unsubtle (wrap this CD up and give it as a gift to your nearest and dearest), both the music and advice are sound. Panazz came to prominence in 1995 as three-time successive winners of Trinidad’s Pan Ramajay competition for small steelbands. Now, four CDs later, their infectious, good-humoured, improvisational approach and immaculate technique have wowed audiences from Boston to Japan. Their Christmas gift starts with two tracks featuring the Barbadian saxophonist Arturo Tappin, another meteor of Caribbean music, whose live performance collaboration with Panazz has proved incendiary. Tappin gives a hot Latin edge to Feliz Navidad, before segueing into a pure calypso jazz idiom, perfectly complemented by the pans. Hark The Herald Angels, featuring the Youth Pulse Gospel choir, does not work as well, the choir’s peculiarly ponderous phrasing incongruous against the flow of steel. But with the addition of Wayne Bruno on mellifluous guitar, Panazz get right back on track in mellow jazz mode for Christmas Song, an upbeat medley of lightning references to seasonal standards (Drink A Rum, 12 Days Of Christmas) and a raucous Backyard Jam which recalls Tappin. Natasha Joseph concludes with a wonderfully relaxing double seconds solo on Have Yourself A Very Merry Christmas. This is definitely music for mulling over with a ponche de crème during the season’s festivities. Wrap it up! (GP)

A Christmas Album

The Marionettes Chorale (Sanch CD 9804)

Christmas music has an unfair advantage — even when it’s not brilliantly rendered, listeners are usually moved enough by the music’s pleasant associations to overlook the flaws. Not even a musical Scrooge, however, will find much fault with the 21 selections on this CD. A mix of standards and some less well-known pieces, with a bias towards the hymnal, what all have in common are elegant vocal and instrumental arrangements and the polished delivery which those familiar with the Trinidad’s Marionettes Chorale have come to take for granted. Get this CD, though, if only for the three lovely selections on which the group is joined by the Amoco Renegades Steel Orchestra, and for David Fanshawe’s African Sanctus, with a modern choral arrangement of the Lord’s Prayer performed with the Marionettes Youth Chorale. My one reservation is that I would have liked a better recording — at times the instruments and voices seem a little distant. Perhaps this album’s greatest virtue is helping those who’ve never heard the group live understand why The Marionettes’ Christmas concerts have become as integral to the Christmas season in Trinidad as pastelles and black cake. (GP)

REGGAE

Wailers And Friends

Bob Marley and The Wailers (Heartbeat 11661-7701-2)

This is a collector’s item even before you get to the music. The cover of the accompanying booklet has a priceless retouched photo of the Wailers, sans locks, dressed in natty mid-60s Rudebwoy styling. The future king of reggae, young Bob looking all of 15 (although he must have been 20), already has the mystical gaze of his later holy herb days, and the cute little Soulette is one Rita Anderson, soon to become Mrs Marley. Disregarding the Wailers hype, the CD captures a crucial period in Jamaican recording history: the genesis of ska, reggae’s prototype. All the tracks come from Coxone Dodd’s legendary Studio One, where the Wailers recorded from 1964 to 1966 and sang back-up harmonies for other house artists. Besides ska classics like Bob Andy’s I’ve Got To Go Back Home, Ken Boothe’s The Train Is Coming and young Bob’s Rudeboy, we get to hear the R&B and soul influence which ska began by imitating, on tracks like Rita Marley’s That Aint Right and the smouldering A Time To Cry from the gifted Barbadian Jackie Opel, who would return home to create Spouge music. The legendary session musicians include guitarist Ernie Ranglin, who provides the characteristic upbeat chugging rhythm, fellow Skatalites saxman Roland Alphonso and the great crazy trombonist Don Drummond. Among the many excellent tracks is one which can only be described as skalypso — Where’s Sammy Gone from the Trinidadian calypsonian Lord Bryner. (SL)

Cobra Style: Productions from the Wailers’ Musical Director/ Familyman In Dub

Aston “Familyman” Barrett (Heartbeat 11661-7657-2; 11661-7659-2)

These two CDs may only appeal to a small audience: dedicated followers of the Wailers and those interested in the early history of reggae, specifically the classic Roots period of the early 70s. Aston “Familyman” Barrett is a seminal reggae figure. He on bass and brother Carlton on drums provided the rhythms for Bob Marley and the Wailers to launch an unknown Jamaican popular music on the world. Besides holding down bass for the Honourable Bob, “Familyman” was also musical director and arranger for the Wailers, and mentor for aspiring bassmaster Robbie Shakespeare, who may since have eclipsed his teacher. One of the most interesting tracks on Cobra Style (if not musically then historically) is Distant Drums, which may be Robbie’s first recording. The cacophony of hand drums in the background is no less than Bob, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. While it is delightful to hear the origins of the bubbling bass style which powered such major albums as Catch A Fire — and even to hear the young Brinsley Forde who would go on to co-found Aswad, England’s leading reggae band — there are too many unremarkable tracks. It might not be cynical to suggest that Cobra Style, and more especially the entirely instrumental Familyman in Dub, may be an attempt to cash in on Wailers nostalgia and Familyman’s unreleased recordings.

CALYPSO

Roosevelt In Trinidad: Calypsos Of Events, Places And Personalities 1933-39

Various Artists (Rounder CD 1142)

Calypso aficionados and those with an interest in Caribbean social history will cherish this Rounder release. Everybody else will be greatly entertained and highly amused. How is it possible to keep a straight face listening to the Lionel Belasco Orchestra’s version of Lord Beginner’s The Treasury Fire? In his account of the 1933 conflagration, Beginner shows true Trini perspective, concentrating on the destruction of 365,000 gallons of rum stored in a government warehouse:

Rum drinkers from every place

Lamented over that wanton waste

Gumbo Lai Lai hadn’t a pan

He used for a dipper both of his hands

Loretta put her mouth to the ground

Drank, got drunk that she tumble down

Joe Laughter had so much fun

He laughed so loud that his pants fell down.

These Golden Era calypsos conclusively demonstrate the Trinidadian genius for “running lyrics” on any topic: whether it’s an inter-colonial cricket match (from Atilla the Hun, past master of the nasal delivery), a panegyric on the British Royal family (from the late great Roaring Lion, who died earlier this year), a barefoot marathon runner, the history of a Port-of-Spain suburb, Roosevelt’s visit or female rapaciousness. No subject was beyond these masters, who not only entertained, but provided an invaluable island news service for those unable to read.

Reviews by Simon Lee and Georgia Popplewell