Caribbean Playlist (January/February 2017) | Music Reviews

This month’s listening picks

  • Double Take
  • Family Tree
  • What Can We Do Again?
  • “All Because You Love Me”

Double TakeElan Trotman’s Tropicality
(Island Muzik Productions)

“First impressions are the most lasting” is a popular proverb that makes the case for a grand debut to cement a perfect memory. Well, certainly not this time, as Barbadian saxophonist Elan Trotman has recast a number of his previously released songs from his many years as a recording artist, and given them a second look — a double take, if you will. He’s refreshed the sound and arrangements of his Caribbean-rhythm-infused smooth jazz to make them shine through — to Caribbean ears at least — with the positioning of the steelpan in a more forward position. His vocals on Bill Withers’s classic “Lovely Day” are direct, and make you smile at the simple charm of this song. “Tradewinds” is the antithesis to a dull day in the tropics: lilting and easy to dance to. His band of fellow Berklee College of Music alumni, Tropicality, has the musical chops to make this new impression far from diminished.


Family TreeGrégory Privat Trio
(ACT Music)

In his new album, Martiniquan pianist Grégory Privat reveals the subtle links between the Caribbean trove of rhythms and melodies and the grand vocabulary of jazz. Supported this time by bassist Linley Marthe, originally from Mauritius, and fellow Martiniquan Tilo Bertholo on drums, Privat with his fluid playing centres the idea that the roots of jazz are firmly planted in the Caribbean creole culture that was present at its genesis. The music finds inspiration in the beguine, bèlè, and gwoka of his native Martinique and Guadeloupe. Bassist and drummer Marthe and Bertholo, despite their creole backgrounds, evince the African DNA of the New World rhythms that a Caribbean perspective has produced. Privat is a fine musician with solid classical and jazz training, who on this album finds the core impulse of a iconoclast to dynamically paint anew the heritage and beauty of jazz that is found in these Antilles.


Single Spotlight

What Can We Do Again?John John, featuring a_phake

Trinidadian neo-soul singer John John has successfully taken on one challenge for a number of Caribbean musicians: to write and sing a song that addresses issues that are larger than our Caribbean space, including the wider Americas, but still remaining relevant to our instant circumstance. The question asked in the title of this powerful single — “What Can We Do Again?” — is made after observation of the desperation of black souls in the Americas. “We prayed for all these years / We wasted all these tears,” is a lament of keen scrutiny from an impatient generation. The song asks a hard question, and gives one solution: unify. Co-producer and co-writer a_phake (Ravi Maharaj) strips down the song with bare accompaniment on a guitar passing through an echo reverb, to add a haunting dimension to the lyric. It challenges past actions and questions current biases that have plagued people of colour in the Americas for some time, one in need of answers.


All Because You Love MeStephen John

Love songs don’t get more universal than this. Universal in the sense that this praise song addresses more than feelings of love between people, but speaks to that relationship with God that has John and his collaborators “walking, smiling, dancing, singing.” A funky bass ostinato creates a hypnotic groove that carries John’s velvety voice — so reminiscent of R&B crooner Maxwell — along on a even pace, so that the message is not hidden by the rhythmic effervescence so popular in modern praise and worship music. The production is modern, and looks to an audience that understands less is sometimes more. Spoken-word verses and a fabulous bridge vocal by Derron Sandy, Diamonique Roy, and Faith Otey address the subject of love in terms that speak to Caribbean people, and in the timbre and accent that suggest this single can bridge regions and can make plain the non-discriminatory way we love, we walk, we dance, and we sing.

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