VS Naipaul implied that we are a country of mimic men, but our geographic location in the world, our social history makes the pull of myriad sonic and rhythmic influences inevitable. Adan Hagley on his debut album project, Insomnia, has made those connections from his wide listening palette. He cites Michel Camillo and Snarky Puppy, but one hears Ray Holman’s melodic template, Élan Parlē’s early harmonic experiments and the late Raf Robertson’s bold fusion ideas as sonic references that have all contributed to an impressive recording career launch in this music space. The local is not eschewed for the foreign as a model for jazz fusion access and success, and this is a good thing in our context as a region adding to the burgeoning jazz canon.
Adan Hagley returned to Trinidad in 2013 with an undergraduate degree from the important Berklee College of Music, and it shows in his use of an elevated music language and vocabulary that is necessary for serious jazz conversations among soloists and the harmonic ideas that generate that musical interplay.
Hagley on keyboards along with his tight rhythm section of Dareem Chandler on drums, Rodney Alexander of bass, Miguel Charles on guitar and Sheena Richardson on percussion, create a space for effective soloing mainly by Daniel Ryan on saxophones and Mikhail Salcedo on tenor pan, but the give and take, the call and response of the members of this band make for an album experience that does not disappoint, even for ears that have heard the evolution of kaisojazz towards wider Caribbean rhythms and pulses over the years.
The music on Insomnia, mainly originals, is more than calypso jazz in the 21st century, it is an amalgam of the wider Latin jazz influences and a funk aesthetic that is modern and accessible. The opening track, “Snarkyish” follows the pattern of the big band funk jazz arrangement of its namesake, Grammy winners Snarky Puppy. Ryan’s blistering tenor sax solo clears the way for Salcedo’s and later Hagley’s accelerating solos.
The Latin jazz-themed title track has Chandler and Ryan layering their instruments that reminds one of Steely Dan’s “Aja” — with Steve Gadd and Wayne Shorter in similar respective roles — in its effective crescendo towards the sublime without the chaos of mingling timbres. “Shadow Dance” is very reminiscent of the calypso jazz that was the basis for a local renaissance of the genre a couple decades ago with its impulse to make one dance and its sonic heartbeat reflective of a soca rhythm. A hint of Andy Narell’s melodic ideas with pan can also be heard here.
Anthony Woodroffe Jr.’s (Tony Paul’s) flute anchors the laid-back vibe of “Run Away”, a kind of soundscape that implores one to escape to the islands. His solo also underscores the attitude that adventure is part of escape here. “Gregory Street” is a nod to the music of Élan Parlē and a soloist’s paradise with effective solos from Salcedo, Hagley and Ryan.
The last two tracks on the album are covers, jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” and soca star Voice’s “Cheers To Life”. Closing the album with these two songs would, in retrospect, satisfy two audiences, and older jazz one and a younger soca one. Importantly, it is the consideration of the idea that Hagley has on this debut made the right choices in his introduction to a buying public that craves the familiar but selectively admires the audacious in doses.
“Oleo” tries to retain a modern groove for Alexander to “fly.” The tightness that was admired in the other tracks veers towards the eccentric and mars an otherwise great solo. Where this track plays with our emotions in retaining a metropolitan viewpoint while in the Caribbean, “Cheers To Life” is just joy represented with élan and grace. With a horn section that has Latin jazz written all over it, the song’s tempo is slowed down just enough for Hagley to make the melodic statement on his piano where we not just sing along but identify with the musical nuances that are evident in its composition. Salcedo’s improvised tenor pan solo with his matched scatting bleeding through on the microphone gives an idea of the elation of musicians at play. A descarga (a Cuban-based jam session) gives way to the coda that has Ryan burning through the chord changes with hard bop madness. Magic.
All in all, this album is a critical debut for a promising voice in the music landscape of Trinidad and Tobago. Insomnia implies sleeplessness. Adan Hagley may be new on the scene but don’t sleep on him; you could miss the makings of a young lion in jazz.
- This review appeared on October 10, 2019 in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspaper on page B11.
© 2019, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights reserved.