Playlist (Mar/Apr 2018) | Music reviews

This month’s listening picks, with reviews of the latest by David Bertrand; Jimmy October; Major Lazer; and Beres Hammond

  • Palmyra & Other Places
  • Vacation
  • Major Lazer Presents: Give Me Future
  • My Kinda Girl

Palmyra and Other Places

David Bertrand (Blujazz Productions)

The flute, in jazz music, has a less prominent place than the saxophone or trumpet, but in this new album New York-based Trinidadian flautist David Bertrand makes a sincere attempt to expand the repertoire of the instrument. Seven of the eight tracks of sublime quartet playing are new compositions by Bertrand: the listener is given an opportunity also to revel in the studied application of jazz language to the inherent native vernacular of Trinidadian rhythm and tone. The titles of the tunes also suggest the idea that this is a subliminal musical autobiography: “Palmyra”, “Claude’s Nariva” and “Wood Slave” recalling Bertrand’s home island’s habitat and fauna; “Lexington and 63rd” and “245 South 1st” offering a survey of his New York present. The result is testament to the continued strides made by musical émigrés from the Caribbean to an American diaspora, inspiring art that takes no prisoners.


Vacation

Jimmy October (OverDose Music Group)

Young Caribbean musicians are taking the lead in placing their innovative native rhythms and the cadence of their accented voices at the centre of the new pop music, rather than just being mimic men. With this new five-track EP, Trinidad’s Jimmy October articulates over the myriad rhythms of the modern Caribbean to identify his brand of pop in a world hearing island beats as the new normal. These songs — four of them collaborations of unselfish musical partnership — also point to the trend of locating subjects as maudlin as love at first sight and titillating them to excess as paeans of what will happen when two get together. “Girl, you got the waist, like a merry-go-round / Looking at your face make the time slow down / Girl, I can’t wait, I need to know now / If you gonna let me be with you.” It works! Hip, singable hooks and mid-tempo dance beats with a Caribbean DNA make for a short set of easy listening — and an urgent wish for more of this kind of sly island pop.

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Major Lazer Presents: Give Me Future

Various artists (Mad Decent)

EDM trio Major Lazer’s frontman Diplo has been described as the “coloniser du jour” for his perceived cultural appropriation of black music, including Caribbean music; his fellow members, Trinidadian Jillionaire and Jamaican Walshy Fire, may laugh at that characterisation. An unsettling indictment, since in this soundtrack to the behind-the-scenes documentary about the group’s groundbreaking 2016 Cuban mega-concert for 400,000 people, half of the twenty-three performers are Caribbeans from Trinidad, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. There’s no denying the impact Major Lazer has had in taking tropical rhythms and voices to areas of commercial music importance hitherto uncharted. On this album, new Latin rhythms and digital reggae vibes mix with Lazer’s trademark dance music, replete with its distorted electronic squeaks and island beats, via a number of collaborations that explore the nexus of Afrobeat, soca, dancehall, and other diaspora music, to suggest that one person’s colonisation could be another’s diffusion of global pop.


Single Spotlight

My Kinda Girl

Beres Hammond (VPAL Music)

Jamaican reggae icon Beres Hammond is the king of lovers rock, and this new single embodies the kind of romantic longings that typify the sub-genre: “I see the look in all the brothers’ eyes / As if they are waiting for you to despise / But when you hug me in front of everyone / I know you are stating this is where you belong / You’re my kinda girl.” Hammond is steeped in the American R&B tradition, and the husky timbre of his voice has the smooth crooner stamping a “kinda” elder statesman vibe on the sexiness. This groovy rocker has a charm that can make couples smile when dancing close. This is grown folks’ music, without any snub of a younger audience in search of templates for a great song that can carry beyond the fleeting attention span of modern pop or dancehall. The young producer of the single, Kury Riley, says it was a privilege working with the “musical vocal god of decades.” It is our privilege to continue listening to Beres Hammond.

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