CD reviews (January/February 2009)

Reviews of some new Caribbean CDs

  • Puerto Rico-born David Sanchez. Photograph courtesy Concord/Universal Records
  • 'Right Here Right Now', the latest production by guitarist Theron Shaw

Right Here Right Now

Theron Shaw

The speed at which jazz artistes in Trinidad and Tobago are releasing albums is heartening. On the heels of Clifford Charles’ album and that of Elan Parle comes Right Here Right Now, the latest production by guitarist Theron Shaw.

The 12-track album, co-produced by Ming—leader of Elan Parlé and producer of Charles’ album—boasts a cadre of well known musicians in the local jazz industry. Among the luminaries are Ron Reid, Douglas Redon, Tamba Gwindi, Sean Thomas and Etienne Charles.

Apart from Shaw’s original songs, like the enjoyable Emancipate, Right Here Right Now and Not This Time, listen for his treatment of kaiso classics Lorraine by Explainer, Sparrow’s Rose and Kitchener’s Pan in Harmony, a song that many jazz musicians enjoy interpreting.

In his liner notes, Shaw says the album seeks to explore the beauty and strengths of a small fraction of the local archive of melodies.

“The decision to delve into this music answers my own call to do what I must, Right Here Right Now.”


Guinness Cavaliers Panorama Winning Selections & Other Tunes Classical Gems by Guinness Cavaliers (double CD)

Once you acknowledge that the tunes on these CDs were originally recorded more than 30 years ago, it is easy to ignore the poor audio quality and appreciate these rare and precious steelband gems.

One part of a two-disc set released by the Cavaliers, Guinness Cavaliers Panorama Winning Selections & Other Tunes disc features the band’s winning Panorama competition selections from 1964–1972. Mas in Brooklyn (Panorama 1969), My Brother, Your Sister (Panorama 1966) and St Thomas Girl are among the 18 tracks featured, arranged by Lennox “Bobby” Mohammed.

The songs on the band’s second disc, Classical Gems, fare better. The 19 tracks here were recorded between 1964 and 1973. Titles include Swan Lake, Eternally, Nocturne in E Flat, Carmen, Blue Danube, Theme from Exodus and Mohammed’s composition Gallopade.

Essiba Small

CDs courtesy Cleve’s One Stop Shop, Frederick Street, Port of Spain, Trinidad


Island Voices: from St Christopher & the Barracudas, introduced by Emmanuel “Fish Head” De Freitas, Chief of Police (Rtd)

CRS Studios Barbados, 2008

Emmanuel “Fish head” De Freitas is given the task of vetting recordings presenting Caribbean people to those outside the region.

“They need to know we are more than sun and sand and cricket pitches,” says the Prime Minister of the fictional St Christopher and the Barracudas.

Island Voices is an ironic, occasionally laugh-out-loud-funny look at how the Caribbean is experienced by its people, whether in the region or the diaspora.  Besides big questions about the multifaceted meaning of independence for West Indians today (“Yuh born in one time and yuh live in dat time”), it deals with more humdrum but equally important matters, such as the everyday art of cutting coconuts (“Is not anybody who can chop nut”).

If there are echoes of Anthony Winkler and Paul Keens-Douglas (or Leonard Cohen), this is very much author Philip Nanton’s show, ably directed by Rob Leyshon.

Nanton is the editor of Remembering the Sea, an anthology of essays on Frank Collymore, and a regular contributor to Caribbean Beat. Born in St Vincent, he lives in Barbados.

The few monologues that fall a little flat, like the librarian’s telephone conversation or Mrs Maynard’s gossip, do so because of the actors’ delivery rather than flaws in the script. Some of the actors’ accents are not entirely convincing, and a couple early tracks trail off like public service announcements. Fish Head is fittingly irascible, though his censorious commentary grows predictable. Music, used sparingly, might have done a more engaging job of linking the voices.

Nanton’s monologues—or one-sided dialogues—are the real strength of Island Voices. Shake Kean’s shakedown and the hurricane coverage pieces are poetic and aggressive. But the views offered by a former nightclub owner whose conversation is recorded by a friendly visitor are typically amusing and abusing: “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. I not talking into no blasted microphone. Write this down. I talkin’ and you listenin’, yuh wutless son of a bitch.”

Robert Edison Sandiford


The joys of sax

As their most recent recordings demonstrate, Luther Francois, Jacques Schwarz-Bart and David Sanchez stand out as the tenor saxophone giants in the region.

With Castries Underground, Luther Francois has delivered a highly compelling disc. The premier St Lucian instrumentalist shares tenor saxophone with American academic Dr William E Smith, and is aided and abetted by Vincentian keyboardist Dr Frankie McIntosh, Trinidadian drummer Sean Thomas, Guadeloupean percussionist Charly Chomereau-Lamotte, and American acoustic bassist Corcoran Holt. Together, they carry the listener on a tour d’horizon of imaginative jazz improvisation, refracted through the prism of West Indian rhythms. From the gently-loping biguine gait of the short opening piece (simply entitled Opening) to the Afro-Latin strains of Charly’s Groove, and on to the dramatic tension-and-release/call-and-response of the title track, there is little doubt that Francois has produced something of a masterpiece.

Guadeloupean tenor saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart is a Renaissance man, not only a Paris-trained lawyer, but also a fine composer and multi-instrumentalist who performs on the highly competitive New York jazz scene. Abyss, his most recent recording, is a follow-up to last year’s well-received Sone Ka La, giving listeners a tasty second helping of his island’s hypnotic Gwo-Ka rhythms interspersed with Brazilian and other world-music influences. The recording is also a tribute to Jacques’s recently-departed father, the writer André Schwarz-Bart. Schwarz-Bart fils channels the distinctive sonorities of tenor titans John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter into the myth-spirit space of Caribbean folk legend. Pan Ga To describes the life of Ti Jean, while Dlo Pann (or “suspended waters,” from the Guadeloupean Creole), points to an altogether more exalted melodic conception. Abyss is a remarkable contribution to the Caribbean jazz aesthetic.

Equally at home with Afro-Hispanic music and the bebop lingua franca of mainstream jazz, Puerto Rico-born David Sanchez comes well recommended, a protégé of jazz innovator Dizzy Gillespie. Sanchez’s most recent offering is a landmark recording. The CD, Cultural Survival, is inspired by a poem written by his sister about Caribbean slavery. The magnum opus, La Leyenda del Canaveral, is a whopper of a composition at 20 minutes long and contains some of the most impassioned and explosive tenor saxophone playing ever recorded. The Forgotten Ones is an eloquent musical commentary, dedicated to the residents of New Orleans, which brings his accompanist Lage Lund’s subtly insistent guitar chords to the fore.

John Stevenson