In the cover notes of Radio Jumbo, Cameron Pierre’s most recent French-Caribbean-inspired CD, the Dominican-born, UK-based jazz guitarist humorously refers to himself as an “English explorer”. Indeed, the uniqueness of Radio Jumbo is that it delves into Dominica’s wealth of folk music. When Pierre plays banjo on a piece like “Traditional”, you are transported to somewhere near Roseau, attending a quadrille dance with the full panoply of the lete, latrinitez, lapoul and pastouwel. Ditto the title track, which conjures up images of Dominican beauties dressed to the nines in their equally attractive Wob Dwiyet.
His musical adventures, accompanied by redoubtable Martiniquan jazz pianist Mario Canonge, also extend to the striking updating of Stevie Wonder’s “Another Star”, sung by Michele Henderson against a driving kompas riddim – replete with uplifting string section.
One is also taken aback by the sheer intensity of Pierre’s guitar solo both on that track and wherever his solo spots illuminate this very alluring collection. The excellent string accompaniment is also featured on the lovely bossa-nova-drenched interpretation of Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes”.
“Big Foot” and “If Only”, with their deceptively tricky chord changes (despite easygoing Antillean lopes), provide ample evidence of both Pierre’s and Canonge’s prowess as masterful Caribbean-born jazz musicians.
Special mention should also be made of Kyron Akal’s delightful pan solo on “If Only”.
Ten tracks long, the disc opens with Ras Shorty I’s “Endless Vibrations”, a song that really translates well into jazz. Musically, this song is one of those that can be taken to a number of different places and Raf isn’t afraid to go there.
“Margie – the Confrontation” is Robertson’s cleverly composed prelude to the Kitchener song “Margie”. The Trinidad-born musician also featured this song on “Branches”, albeit a far different version.
A cameo from calypso veteran Valentino on his own classic “Life is a Stage” is a pleasant surprise. But there was no need for the oohing, aahing and shooby-dooby-doo-ing from the background singers. I understand the need to make this classic fresh, but pairing Valentino’s vocals with Robertson’s piano playing would have been enough – less is more.
Listen out for “Fancy Sailor”, a Clive Zanda original, and Roger George’s unmistakable voice on the bouncy “Culture”, an ode to the pan.