Rhythm roundup (November/December 2006)

New albums celebrate the best in Jamaican roots reggae and a Kittitian jazz performer puts his spin on an old artform


Queen-Sugar

Jazzique (DanceBEAT Records)

Jazzique Chiverton, generally regarded as the ranking king of keyboards on the vibrant St Kitts and Nevis music scene, has been a professional musician for fifteen years. As arranger and accompanist, he’s been the studio backbone of acclaimed CDs by reggae stars Crucial Bankie and Masud Sadiki, and as leader of Caribbean Roots, house band at the Four Seasons Resort in Nevis, he’s played with some of the biggest names in the business, among them Beyonce and Whitney Houston.

Now, with his debut CD Queen-Sugar, Jazzique has been given the opportunity to step into the spotlight. And he’s seized it comprehensively. A seductive potpourri of reggae-jazz and straight-ahead jazz with decidedly island nuances, with an airy reading of a Mozart classic thrown in, Queen-Sugar is as laid-back and relaxed as the off-the-beaten-track twin islands themselves.

From the opening notes of “Island Morning”, a catchy wake-up call in which Jazzique’s piano shares lead duties with Santoy Barrette’s authoritative trombone, Queen-Sugar takes listeners on a leisurely musical tour, with reggae-esque pit stops at Sunshine’s beach bar in Nevis and Turtle Beach in St Kitts.

Jazzique’s playful interpretation of the Rondo Alla Turca from Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11 is a never-less-than-respectful tribute to a beloved melody, but the CD’s highlight is “Liamigua-Border Line”, a very, very tasty reggae-jazz interpretation of Crucial Bankie’s roots hit of two or three years back. Chiverton’s fluid piano and Crucial’s addictive melodies are a combination that works remarkably well, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed it’s one that will yield an entire CD before too long. How about it, guys?

Garry Steckles


 

One Love: Bob Marley and the Wailers at Studio One (Heartbeat Records)
The Best of Studio One (Heartbeat Records)
Full Up: More Hits from Studio One (Heartbeat Records)
Downbeat the Ruler: Killer Instrumentals from Studio One (Heartbeat Records)
Studio One Presents: Version Dread (Heartbeat Records)
Studio One Presents John Holt: Eighteen Greatest Hits (Heartbeat Records)
Delroy Wilson: The Best of . . . Original Eighteen (Heartbeat Records)

When the late Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd opened his first recording studio in Kingston in 1963, he was already a legend in the fledgling Jamaican music scene. Dodd, who started his long and distinguished career as a pioneering sound system operator and record producer in the mid and late 1950s, was instrumental in the creation of ska, the Jamaican sound that in turn gave birth to rocksteady and reggae.

He played a key role in the early careers of a who’s-who of Jamaican musicians, including an unknown youngster called Robert Nesta Marley, who recorded his first hit single, “Simmer Down”, at Dodd’s Studio One as lead singer with an upstart young group known as the Wailers. Dodd’s music-making production line was so efficient, “Simmer Down” was playing at his Downbeat sound system the same day it was recorded, and among the other now legendary artists who passed through Studio One in its early days were Jackie Mittoo, Ernest Ranglin, Don Drummond, Culture, Roland Alphonso, Tommy McCook, Toots and the Maytals, Marcia Griffiths, the Heptones, the Ethiopians, Burning Spear, Slim Smith, the Wailing Souls, Delroy Wilson, John Holt, the Abyssinians, Augustus Pablo, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Sugar Minnott, Alton Ellis, Denis Alcapone, Willie Williams, Freddie McGregor, Ken Boothe, Horace Andy, Derrick Harriot, and Dennis Brown.

Heartbeat Records, the Massachusetts-based label that’s long been a beacon of culture for roots reggae fans in the dancehall era, has just released its latest batches of Dodd gems: two compilation CDs of inspired vocal roots reggae, one instrumental CD featuring classic Studio One riddims, a two-CD set of some of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ earliest recordings, a compilation CD of riddim versions, and two CDs featuring Delroy Wilson and John Holt tracks culled from Dodd’s copious vaults.

The vocal tracks on Full Up and The Best of Studio One cover the gamut from impassioned love songs by singers like John Holt, Ken Boothe, Marcia Griffiths, and Bob Andy, to timeless roots reggae classics from groups like Culture, the Royals, the Ethiopians, and Burning Spear (for the benefit of younger reggae fans, Burning Spear, a solo performer for the past two or three decades, was a trio, fronted by Winston Rodney, in those early days).

The instrumental CD, Downbeat the Ruler, is equally compelling, featuring the greatest studio musicians of the 60s and 70s in starring rather than backing roles.

The Bob Marley and the Wailers double CD set is crammed with early Wailers gems, 41 in all, and delivers an intriguing early look at genius in the making. In addition to “Simmer Down” and the Wailers’ earliest recording of the great “One Love”, it includes rude boy anthems like “Hooligan Ska”, “Rude Boy”, “Bend Down Low”, and “Put It On”, as well as intriguing cover versions of 60s pop hits like Dion and the Belmonts’ “Teenager in Love”, the Beatles’ “And I Love Her”, and Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”.

It’s a sheer delight, not only for Wailers aficionados, but also for casual reggae fans who may not be familiar with the group’s huge body of work, dating back to 1964, before Bob Marley became the Third World’s first superstar in the 70s.

The Delroy Wilson and John Holt offerings are less successful — they include a handful of hard-to-find gems by the two legendary vocalists, to be sure, but most of the tracks sound as though there’s a good reason they’ve been languishing in the vaults. Version Dread also has a mix of winners and losers, with the winners, excellent though they are, on the wrong side of my personal scorecard.

Garry Steckles

 

Now hear disc

On Ray Holman’s Changing Time, the UWI Festival Steel Ensemble does fair justice to six characteristically laid-back Holman originals in the calypso and easy-listening jazz modes. A second CD includes musical scores in three different formats.
• The 11 tracks on John Arnold’s Smooth Jazzy FeelingsPassport to Germany commemorative DVD offers a musical tribute to Trinidad and Tobago’s World Cup contenders against a montage of Trinidad and Tobago and Soca Warriors footage.
• And a four-disc DVD edition of the first season of Westwood Park, Trinidad and Tobago’s hit soap opera, will be out in time for Christmas. are easy on the ears, as long as you don’t mind your music sounding a bit heavy on the synthesisers, which make the pan and guitar solos by Anthony Williams and Theron Shaw stand out even more.
• The Trinidad All Stars Soca Warriors

Kim Youngblood