Metamorphosis Leon Foster Thomas
Caribbean musicians are increasingly moving to the metropolitan commercial centres of the music business world to spread the rhythms and sounds created in these islands. Leon Foster Thomas, a Trinidadian steeplan virtuoso, is resident in Miami, Florida and is relying on that connection to a larger market to spread the sound of the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago. Metaporphosis, Thomas’ third album, is his debut on important jazz label Ropeadope Records, and signals a critical and commercial blossoming beyond his early funky steelpan jazz beginnings into a standout quartet leader; a metamorphosis if you will. Ten tracks of progressive jazz fusion that highlights the intelligent interplay between steelpan and other instruments without losing the idea that Caribbean music can be improvised and swing. World fusion is in effect. Haitian-born, New York-bred trumpeter Jean Caze and master Latin jazz percussionist, Sammy Figueroa guest on the album.
Pollen Yoser Rodriguez
Cuban bass player and singer, Yoser Rodriguez, debuts with an album that is a joy to listen to. Described by his record label as “a rich and winding fusion of Brazilian, African, Trinidadian, Cuban and American pop influences,” the mood of the album fluctuates between elation and what the Brazilians call saudade, a kind of melancholy and longing. Marketing blurbs aside, Rodriguez delivers ten tracks that pique interest and inspire the will to listen repeatedly. Sung mainly in Spanish, we are also told that the “songs on the album explore the immigrant experience in Canada, environmental issues, love and friendship.” Language is no barrier to great songwriting. Piano, strings and Latin horns create the tropical ambience for the unembellished voice of Rodriguez to directly weave his messages. Solid musicianship that shines a light on the growing Cuban influence and presence in the Toronto, where Rodriguez is based now, is another hallmark of this solid debut.
Precious Metals Ron Reid
(Mud Hut Music)
Ron Reid is a Berklee College of Music associate professor, and as such the expectation on this, his third album is high, more for the continuing exploration of Afro-Caribbean rhythms in the context of jazz in the Americas. Superb musicianship by a host of Berklee alumnae give this album a finish that is as assured as it is consummate. Reid plays bass and arranges all the music on the album that features jazz, samba, Afro-pop, and calypso rhythms among others, and segues between lyrical playing and evocative compositions that suggest varied moods. This Precious Metals project finds collaboration between and continuity with music that reflect Afro-Caribbean heritage, regardless of legacy. Melodies and rhythms are not static but celebratory. A balance of originals and covers of calypso and steelpan classics gives the album a leg up on the competition, since these songs have a sonic quality that positions the steelpan and Caribbean music for that matter, on a higher plane.
Cigarettes (Single) Nailah Blackman
Nailah Blackman is the grand-daughter of soca “originator” Ras Shorty I—like jazz, a single source is still debated—yet she has moved beyond her DNA to absorb pop influences that place this young singer among a crop of new talent looking to its future outside these islands of influence. Her new single, “Cigarettes” — lead single off a forthcoming album — tells the story as a first person narrative of a personal encounter gone wrong in a unique way. It begins as a reminiscence of that exciting first date with a new love then dissolves into an anti-smoking campaign chant: “Smoke? No cigarettes in my room, no smoking!” A funky programmed kick drum over beautiful acoustic guitar rhythm make you want to move. The rapid fire words sung by Blackman have a sound reminiscent of Gwen Stefani at her pop princess best. Poor guy, he did not know who he was up against! Love isn’t easy.
More Trumpet Kelley B & Hot Like Fire
Caribbean sounds, melodies and rhythms are all the rage among a new generation of music listeners trying to grab the new “feel good” sound that will keep people dancing, and hopefully buying music. In enclaves and towns along the east coast of the US, musicians, both from the Caribbean diaspora and natives, are getting their jam on too. Trumpeter Kelley Bolduc, a Berklee College alumna, has a 25-year love affair with reggae and soca, building her chops in Trinidad bands, and forming her band Hot Like Fire in Massachusetts. More Trumpet is her solo fully instrumental album and features what Kelley B calls, a dozen “groove based Caribbean tunes.” She has been described as a “sexy chick playin’ a mean horn and singin’ too,” but this diminishes her talent and her technical skill on her instrument. The music can and will make one dance to an island beat whether one is here in the Caribbean or anywhere in the world.
Sirocco Jeff Narell
Jeff Narell is the older brother of prolific steelpan recording artist Andy Narell, and together they were immersed into the world of the early steelbands—they participated in the Trinidad Music Festival on steelpans in 1966 as children—and have never looked back. Sirocco is Jeff Narell’s fourth album as a leader, and finds him investigating the confluence between African percussion instruments and the New World invention of the steelpan. More than a simple dialogue between sounds and rhythms, this album showcases the link that has been suggested by ethnomusicologists as part of the syncretism—the merging of different cultures—evident in Caribbean music. The tunes explore melodies and sonic influences from both ends of the middle passage that show the retention of the African sound. Talking drums, djembes, strings and chants are interwoven with melodies from the Caribbean to make this a useful album that showcases the steelpan in a different and important light.
- These reviews appear in the September/October 2016 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine.
© 2016, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.