Music buzz (September/October 2007)

Jointpop’s new album The January Transfer Window may be their ticket out of obscurity

Cult Cargo. Photograph courtesy GBI Recordings

The January Transfer Window

jointpop (Anarchy on the Ave. Records)

When considering how studiously neglected jointpop, Trinidad’s best rock band, have been during their decade-long run, I usually take comfort in the fact that the Velvet Underground, recognised today as one of the greatest bands of all time—and a huge influence on Gary Hector, jointpop’s singer and songwriter—were virtually ignored during their lifetime. Now, though, that comfort is in danger of going cold. The January transfer Window, jointpop’s latest CD, is the band’s most assured and satisfying release to date, and it will be an outright tragedy if it proves anything less than a success.

The irony is that almost everything that’s great about The January Transfer Window—the quiet brilliance of the songwriting, the subtle melodies, the knowing, often abstruse lyrics—will militate against its finding favour locally. Raised largely on a radio diet of commercial US fare, Trinidadian rock fans find it difficult to accept that a Trinidadian band can compete with, let alone better, their metropolitan peers; they find it even harder to respond to any formula that doesn’t consider immediacy as everything.

Not that jointpop don’t know how to do the great hit song (“Let’s Pray for Rock and Roll”, anyone?). The January Transfer Window has two of them: the pure pop genius of “Monday Morning Love Situation” with its handclaps and irresistible “sha la la” chorus, and the rollicking “Spelling Bee”, the greatest Blondie song that Blondie never wrote.

The other nine songs that make up The January Transfer Window proper (the CD also contains three bonus tracks) are much more understated and ask for repeated listens to reveal their charms. From the gentle piano strains that start off the opening track “The Irony of It All”, through the sublime heights of “The Fool”, quite possibly the best song the band has ever done, to the back-porch acoustic shuffle of the closer “Mayaro Heartburn Blues”, this is a band who have never sounded more natural, more at ease.

Some long-standing fans might be disappointed here by the almost total lack of overt Trinidadianness that distinguished a lot of jointpop’s earlier work. That earned them the title of a “calypso-rock” band and provided some great individual moments, but tended to make CDs as a whole a little uneven. The January Transfer Window, more coherent than previous efforts, suffers no such personality disorder. And for the rockers who complain that it just doesn’t, well, rock hard enough, there are the bonus tracks: a couple of raucous, scuffed-up jointpop jams (“I Know” and “Quality Daydream Time”), plus a reverent cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Dancin’ in the Moonlight”, faithful right down to the finger snaps.

The question remains, however: will jointpop finally grab the brass ring of fame that has so far been out of their grasp? “We think we got what it takes,” is Gary Hector’s own tongue-in-cheek opinion, on the aforementioned “Mayaro Heartburn Blues”. I know that they do. Whatever happens, The January Transfer Window is an unqualified triumph.

Jonathan Ali

 


 

Mind Control Stephen Marley

Tuff Gong/Universal Republic

It’s hard being a Marley. No matter how funky the clothes that sons Damian, Stephen and Ziggy dress their music in, it’s the voice of their famous father Bob that come out of their mouths when they sing.

Proof of this can be found on Mind Control, the current outing of Stephen Marley. Produced by Marley, the 11-track album opens with the funky and soulful title track and meanders happily into some fresh musical waters (nothing like you’re hearing on the radio) on songs like the intoxicating “Hey Baby”, which teams him up with actor Mos Def, and “Iron Bars”.

The track “Traffic Jam”, which features Marley’s even more successful brother Damian “Jr Gong”, has a flavour of dub.

Of course, Marley being the son of the King of Reggae, it is a given that there would be a few traditional-style reggae tunes on this CD. And thankfully Stephen doesn’t disappoint on tracks like “Chase Them”, which seems to share a bassline with his father’s “Roots Rock Reggae”; “Lonely Avenue” and the guitar and flute-driven “Fed Up”.

Mind Control is a solid solo effort that’s lyrically and musically sound. It’s one that even Bob would have been proud of.

Essiba Small

 


 

Wejouvaynation

Elan Parlé Parlemusik

Releasing six albums in any other genre but soca/calypso music in Trinidad and Tobago is something to be proud of.

What’s more, in the case of Elan Parlé, the jazz band led by music-making machine “Ming” Low Chee Tung, the music just seems to be getting better.

Since making its debut with Tribal Voices five years ago, Elan Parlé has been steadily building a fan base for its own exclusive sound.

Wejouvaynation, a play on the word “rejuvenation”, is nine tracks deep and was produced and recorded by Low Chee Tung.

“Pebbles and Seashells” is the album’s opener, a song where piano and the flute come together for a Brazilian jazz explosion, while the set closes with “Wejouvaynation”, a breakaway calypso jazz that utilises well the F-jam progression that is synonymous with calypso.

Some impressive tracks include “Mango Passion”, a refreshing salsa excursion; “Sun Seekers”, on which the organ takes centre stage for this radio-friendly song; and “Pantana”, the lone pan-jazz song, which Low Chee Tung in his liner notes says is simply his take on how guitar maestro Carlos Santana would sound playing pan jazz.

The group’s treatment of Sparrow’s “Mr Walker” is a treat. It starts in much the same way as the original kaiso, but then journeys down a jazz path to a sweet surprise for the listener.

Chalk Wejouvaynation up as another reason why Elan Parlé remains so musically relevant.

ES


 

Grand Bahama Goombay

Cult Cargo

The Cult Cargo series seeks to expose hidden musical gems of the 1970s, recorded around the Caribbean and elsewhere in the developing world. First came Belize Boil Up, an electrifying compilation of obscure delights from that nation. The latest instalment, Grand Bahama Goombay, focuses on another unexpected musical hotspot, highlighting a specific point of Caribbean musical evolution.

Locals and discerning travellers of a certain age may already be aware of the thriving funk scene of 1970s Freeport, but for the rest of us, Grand Bahama Goombay is a minor revelation, as the songs gathered here mix equal parts of the funk and soul styles of the American south with the island’s predominant Goombay rhythm to yield something strikingly unique.

The liner notes detail this music’s creation, noting that mainstay Jay Mitchell worked with Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding before recording compelling originals such as “I Am The Man For You Baby” and “Goombay Bump,” while fellow “Bush Music” pioneer Frank Penn got the whole ball rolling by literally building the island’s premier nightclub in the early 1960s, before launching a career as a singer, bandleader and record producer who opened Grand Bahama’s sole recording studio.

Much of the music presented here evidences the stirrings of pride that came from The Bahamas’ independence from Britain in 1973, most obviously heard on Cyril Ferguson’s “Gonna Build A Nation”. There are also Goombay adaptations of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and Isaac Hayes’ “Shaft”, as well as Sylvia Hall’s risqué “Don’t Touch That Thing” and the Gospel Chandeliers’ sermonising “Honesty Is The Best Policy”.

This intriguing musical document shows The Bahamas searching for a sound all its own. Unlike much American funk, the music here is raw and unpolished throughout. Grand Bahama Goombay is an excellent package, well worth investigating.

David Katz