Trinidad Calypso 1939-1959 – Various artists
Calypso conquered the world after Harry Belafonte’s 1956 Calypso album became an unprecedented success, but overseas fascination began far earlier, thanks to plentiful recording sessions that took place both in New York and Port of Spain. And many commentators agree that calypso’s “golden age” stretches from the late 1930s to the early 1960s, which is the era profiled on this double CD. Humour is naturally a big part of the proceedings, with Kitchener demanding that his girlfriend return ‘My Wife’s Nightie”, Terror fretting that “Chinese Children Calling Me Daddy’, and Houdini bemoaning a lack of “Gin and Coconut Water” in the United States. Of equal interest are intriguing calypso adaptations of traditional tunes, such as “Hol’ Em Joe” by Sparrow, the excellent “Kalenda March’ by Roaring Lion, and “River Den Come Down” by the obscure Island Champions.
There are many perennial favorites, including Invader’s “Rum and Coca Cola”, Sparrow’s “Russian Satellite”, and Kitchener’s “Kitch”, but the uncommon gems bring the compilation to a higher level. For instance, there is a superbly sultry adaptation of the ribald “Fire Down Below”, credited to Beauty and the Brute Force Steel Band, and the pairing of actress Enid Mosier with a Trinidadian steelband for a rendition of Lord Melody’s “Boys Days” is an uncommon delight, as is Young Tiger’s “Calypso Be-Bop”. This fine compilation thus has plenty of interest for a broad audience, from the seasoned calypso hand to those not overly familiar with the form.
Creole Soul – Etienne Charles
Born in Trinidad, and now an assistant professor of trumpet at the Michigan State University College of Music, Etienne Charles is fast becoming one of the biggest names in current jazz music. He opens his fourth album, Creole Soul, with voodoo priest Erol Josué chanting in Haitian Creole. Inspired by a trip to Haiti, the first track, “Creole”, has an outstanding performance by drummer Obed Calvaire as he kicks off a fiery backbeat with a scintillating kongo groove. The tone then slows down for the ballad “The Folks”, which includes two excellent solos from Charles along with his tenor saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart.
To go along with the originals there are also four excellent covers. Two standouts are Bob Marley’s classic “Turn Your Lights Down Low” — given the obvious reggae treatment, but also including a mesh of soul and calypso. “Green Chimneys” (originally by jazz legend Thelonious Monk) is also arranged to showcase the calypso root in the melody.
That chant at the beginning of the disc translates into “I’m bringing the news,” but what Charles brings us is a vibrant and exciting album that isn’t just jazz, but a mash-up of everything Caribbean.
My Allergy – Depressed Optimist
Since the inception of Irie Fire Studios in Antigua a couple of years ago, I’ve been keeping an ear open, keen to hear what they would come up with. With the recent release of “My Allergy” by Depressed Optimist, my optimism has been well rewarded. The band is fronted by the multi-talented Hani Hechme, who not also manages the studio but also composed, arranged, played guitar and bass, and sang the main vocals on the track, which features a plethora of young Antiguan musical talent. It begins with a moody monologue by Che Ferris on drums (if you are in Antigua you should see him live, playing with his other band, Monkey Tee-Lee), then bursts into superb guitar playing by Hechme. The backing vocals add to the moodiness of the sound, and the old-school record-scratching from DJ Quixx brings everything together. Their sound is very different to anything currently being played in the Caribbean. I’m eager to hear what else will come out of this exciting new addition to the Caribbean music scene.
Check them out at www.iriefirestudio.com.