Upbeat (July/August 2000)

Recent music from the Caribbean, plus the editor's picks

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PICK OF THE MONTH: Calypsoldier

Ron Reid’s Sunsteel (Mud Hut Records, MH 901)

Style and substance meet on this accomplished debut release by pan-jazz sextet Ron Reid’s Sunsteel. Reid, a bassist and pannist and also a professor at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, began his professional career in Lord Kitchener’s Calypso Revue tent, and has recorded and performed with Trinidadian artists such as Shadow, Sparrow, David Rudder, Len “Boogsie” Sharpe and Andre Tanker, in addition to composing scores for television and theatrical productions. Internationally, he’s performed with jazz artists Chick Corea and Randy Weston. Calypsoldier’s nine tracks bear witness to the breadth of that experience, combining a jazz-inspired rigour with the down-home spontaneity of calypso – dare I call this thinking person’s pan-jazz? Calypsoldier breaks no moulds in the pan-jazz genre, but the album offers fine performances all round, compelling twists on a couple of familiar pieces (Blue Boy’s Ethel, for instance, is given a spirited gospel-flavoured treatment) and sparkling original numbers like Savannah Dance, In the Eye of the Beholder and Dis J’Ouvert. Pan In Yuh Life (vocals by Alvin Roberts) takes on the issue of the all-enveloping power of music and the male musician’s (in this case, a pannist’s) tendency to neglect his personal life: his advice to his wife – “put a pan in yuh life” – is at once heartfelt and flippant and bittersweet – one might say not unlike life itself. (GP)

CALYPSO/SOCA

Soca Matrix
Superblue (Rituals, C07000)

Was it the power of a name in this age of brands, or was it the undeniable charisma of Superblue (Austin Lyons) that won him the Road March again this year? Few had heard Pump Up before its unveiling the evening of the Soca Monarch competition three days before Carnival, but sure enough the song was on the turntable of every deejay on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. Pump Up and its “version” are joined by nine other tracks on Blue’s 2000 release Soca Matrix, which showcases the several moods of the man. These range from hyperactive (Pump Up, Fireworks) to meditative (R.I.P. (Tribute to Merchant)- though the better tribute is perhaps the Merchant-like The Prayer), to sweet-soca-man (Into Your Heaven). Add to that the pan piece Jump for Joy, and Superblue has all bases covered. (GP)

Greatest Hitz
Lord Nelson (Charlie’s, SCR 106)

Lord Nelson is one of the towering figures of 1970s calypso, one of the pioneers of the hybrid called soca and an innovator within the genre. (Any who might question the strength of Lord Nelson’s influence need only note that two new versions of Disco Daddy by younger artists have emerged in the past two years.) Like those of his contemporaries, Lord Shorty and Maestro, Nelson’s compositions were always witty and upbeat and wickedly infectious, full of the optimism and escapist light-heartedness of the disco era. This is music for good times, created, as it was, in the heady atmosphere of Trinidad and Tobago’s oil boom years. Greatest Hitz contains 11 of Nelson’s most popular tracks, including Disco Daddy, Hot Sweet and Jumps, and Bald Head Rasta. (GP)

Soca Divas 2000
Various artists (Rituals, C07200)

Calypso’s female powerhouses (Denyse Plummer, Singing Sandra, Allison Hinds, Denise Belfon, Sanell Dempster) team up with the up-and-coming (Candy Hoyte, Precious, Fate, Gailann, Michelle Sylvester) on Soca Divas 2000, a compilation celebrating the growing contribution of female front-line singers to the soca/calypso genre. (GP)

De Thing Now Start … 2000
Ronnie McIntosh (featuring S. W Storm and Curtis “Sponge” Oliver) (VP Records, VPCD 1578)

Fans of the Ronnie McIntosh brand of bob-and-wave soca might well get a kick out of this album, which counts the 2000 Carnival hit You Ain’t Going among its 18 tracks. S. W. Storm has his followers too, and he’s very much in evidence as well, on selections like the Latin-flavoured Doh Tie Me Down. Curtis “Sponge” Oliver has a KMC-like style, showcased on J’Ouvert Bacchanal and Something Going and Happen. Ronnie’s update of the popular folk song Every time is a pleasing mid-tempo number, but a few of the seven remixes/ instrumentals feel just a tad superfluous.
(GP)

REGGAE

Monty Alexander meets Sly and Robbie
Monty Alexander, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare (TELARC, CD-83494)

When we last met Monty, he was taking on Bob Marley on 1999’s masterly concept album Stir It Up–A Tribute to Bob Marley.

Clearly one for a challenge, the Jamaican jazz pianist joins forces this time with one of the world’s most respected rhythm sections – drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare, in an attempt to “pour new wine into old wineskins: classic tunes with enduring grooves.” The results are 10 jazzy, funky, dub-flavoured re-interpretations of R&B standards like Herbie Hancock’s Chameleon, the Stylistics’ People Make the World Go Round and Ramsey Lewis’s The In Crowd. (GP)

PAN/PAN-JAZZ

Fire in the Engine Room
Andy Narell (Heads Up 2000, HUCD 3056)

The title is a bit misleading. This is not a furious Panorama trip, driven by the wild percussion of the “engine room” in the middle of a big steel orchestra: it’s a cool, sophisticated collection in which Narell’s pans wander through jazz, Latin and Afro at the head of a small bunch of very polished players. It shows just how beautifully a virtuoso pannist can mesh – in this case, with what Narell calls his “green-card band: two guys from Martinique, one from Guadeloupe, one from Zimbabwe, one from Jamaica, two from Cuba, one from Argentina, one from Holland, one from Peru, and one from the USA”. The album – Narell’s tenth as a lead player – includes sound clips from earlier CDs, video footage and rehearsal pictures (there were three separate sessions, in Paris, New York and Los Angeles). Narell’s two Trinidad Panorama tunes for Hydro Agri Skiffle Bunch are included here, along with six other Narell compositions ranging from the biguine/ Afro Chakalaka to the haunting Stutter-Step. (JT)

Live @ Montpelier
David Boothman and CAJE (Caribbean Arts Central, CAC 011)

This CD by the four-year -old, seven-member CAJE (Caribbean Art Jazz Ensemble), recorded live at the Montpelier Cultural Arts Centre in Maryland, incorporates seven numbers by band leader David Boothman as well as selections by Miles Davis (All Blues) and Sonny Rollins (St Thomas– what else?) This is nevertheless a judicious mix of music, rendered by a tightly-knit group of performers. Kudos for a quality live recording as well. (GP)

LATIN

In The Mood
Roberto Perera (Heads Up, HUCD 3049)

Roberto Perera introduced the Paraguayan harp to the jazz world on 1990’s Erotica. On In The Mood, his seventh album, Perera yet again harnesses his unique performance technique and creative fusion of jazz, pop, Latin and Afro-Caribbean sounds to create a silky, contemporary jazz sound that’s altogether easy on the ear. Of the album’s 10 tracks, three are by Perera himself, with the remainder by guest performer/producers Tim Redfield on keyboards and guitarists Peter White and Marc Antoine. (For the computer-heads out there, this is also an enhanced CD.) (GP)

FOLK

The Signal Hill Alumni Choir In Concert
Signal Hill Alumni Choir (Sanch, CD 9901)

Tobago’s Signal Hill Alumni Choir, now 16 years old, is one of the country’s finest folk ensembles. This live recording offers 19 selections ranging from Caribbean and African folk to selections from contemporary artists like Miriam Makeba, Olatunji, Bob Marley, Buju Banton and David Rudder. The choir’s quality is showcased particularly well on vocally challenging pieces like South African folk number Tshotsholoza. (GP)

NARRATIVE

Once Upon a Caribbean Time: Children’s Folktales from Trinidad & Tobago
Sonja Dumas

Storyteller Sonja Dumas and veteran Trinidadian actor Albert Laveau plunge us deep into the world of Anansi, chikki chong kites, crab-and-dumpling and other elements of a traditional (and fragile, in this age of Pokemon and Play Station) Caribbean childhood, on this well-produced collection of stories written, Produced and performed by Dumas (Laveau narrates three of the 12 vignettes). Both actors deliver clear, lively performances which should appeal to non-Caribbean young people as well. With musical accompaniment by Ovid Alexis and Calliston Pantor. (GP)

Doin’ It Saf
Adisa Andwele (Ajeland Records/CRS Music, 4932)

This is Barbadian Adisa Andwele’s third recording project the rhythmic poetry genre, and this time he goes all out to unveil the vast potential of this unique music form. As a primary innovator the genre, Adisa vaults rhythm poetry forward, ably backed by the season and versatile band Jamari. On the bum’s 11 tracks Andwele addresses a host of topical issues, always delivering a reflective message of unity. On the title number, Adisa traces the history the region through musical/cultural elements which have brought Caribbean people where they are today – everthing from the drums of Africa to Ringbang. Other tracks tackle equally as provocative topics, yet the thread throughout remains restorative. There is a surprisingly laid back, almost soothing quality to this album, which incorporates musical styles ranging from blues to complex jazz rhythms. Adisa’s “chant” is often equally as soothing: he has clearly found an outlet that is pleasurable to both the ear and the mind. (RK)

Reviews by Roxan Kinas, Georgia Popplewell and Jeremy Taylor