Parallel Overtones — Garvin Blake
Brooklyn-based steel pannist Garvin Blake at long last follows up his 1999 debut album Belle Eau Road Blues with his new paean to pan jazz music, Parallel Overtones. The album is described as exploring “the synergy between pan, calypso, and jazz,” which it does with sure-handed skill. Balancing a repertoire between jazz standards and calypsos, Blake stealthily makes the case for renewed efforts of Caribbean pannists to record new music for the instrument. Vincentian keyboard stalwart Frankie McIntosh shares co-production along with songwriting and arrangement credits, making this album a showcase for the art of the Caribbean piano, with a sense of swing found only in hot latitudes. Kaiso-jazz classic “Fancy Sailor” sashays along at the steady chip of a slow lavway, while “Body and Soul” waltzes effortlessly to ably feature Blake’s quintet of players as soloists. The steelpan jazz oeuvre, while notably small, is emboldened by the addition of this well-produced album.
Catharsis — David Rudder
David Rudder represents a key link between old-style calypso and modern soca in the twenty-first century. A contemporary master of both genres, Rudder showcases that bridge on his new album Catharsis with music that is modern and lyrics that “turn a woman’s body into jelly.” Calypso is a lyricist’s and singer’s art, and here Rudder proves that he is unparalleled in the art of the metaphor to bring relevance to any topic, whether local or international. In “Long Walk Home” he sings of “race and America” using Nelson Mandela’s autobiography title to effect a broader perspective. On “Brooklyn Retro” Rudder recounts the essential sights and sounds of Caribbean-American existence of yore in the New York City borough. The word “catharsis” is defined as a relieving of emotional tensions — through music, for example — and on this album one can sense joy and celebration, anger and displeasure, reflection and awe. Rudder’s emotional release is food for the listener’s pleasure.
Monk Monté — Machel Montano
At the end of the 2015 Trinidad Carnival season, Machel Montano — now in his thirty-third year as a professional soca artist — effectively “owned” the festival by winning both the Soca Monarch and Road March titles. “Like a Boss” was an apt name for his hit single, included here, as he channelled his energies beyond simply making songs for Carnival. It’s not just business as usual. Montano’s new mission is to win a Grammy award, and he’s also declared a new persona — the still young performer has re-invented himself and his brand as Monk Monté, thus supplying the title of this new album of a dozen songs that dominated Carnival 2015. Here he teams up with Grammy-winning songwriter Angela Hunte on “Party Done” to deliver the message that once you have this Montano/Monté album, all other considerations are, in effect, over. Modern soca music is transforming, and Monk Monté may be its new pacesetter.
Perfect — Natalie
Northern Caribbean islanders, our Leeward Island “cousins,” have their own perspective on the regional music scene. Anguillan Natalie (Richardson), born in the US Virgin Islands and now resident in Florida, epitomises the young “up-island” scene with the release of her debut single “Perfect”. She is part of the new cadre of island artists who live in the metropolitan diaspora seeking success there, yet have their identities planted firmly on island terra firma. Musically, this smooth R&B groover signals that the island vibe of native Caribbean music has given way to a more international influence. Lyrically, youthful admonitions dominate — “If this love can’t keep us together / Then tell me what I want to hear / Tell me that I’m perfect” — suggesting that the headspace young people occupy here in the islands is in need of emotional fulfilment.