Shades of Life — Marvin Dolly (self-released)
New York–based Trinidadian guitarist Marvin Dolly surprises on this debut album, Shades of Life, with a quiet contemplation of trio-playing featuring just guitar, bass, and trumpet. In an intimate setting devoid of the thump of the drum, the soloists each have room to speak clearly and emotively in this conversation among acoustic instruments. Dolly, along with J.S. Williams on trumpet and John Gray on double bass, mainly, cruises through this set of subdued jazz tunes that harken back to the cool jazz ambience of 1950s West Coast America, contrasting with the bebop bombast of New York of the same era. The music, thankfully, does not wallow in the excess of a similar-sounding ambient lounge or minimalist new-age aesthetic. Dolly’s guitar finds its full voice on the tracks “Calypsonian Dream” and “Short Letters to Mother”, solo and duet guitar pieces, respectively, that make a solid opening gambit for a Caribbean instrumentalist’s voice in the diaspora.
Climb Queen — Ifrica (VP Records)
Jamaican singer and social activist Queen Ifrica has finally released a follow-up to her last full-length album, made in 2009. A compilation of some singles released in the interim and more than a dozen brand-new songs, this seventeen-track album is worth the wait. On Climb, we the listeners are blessed with the fervent messages of the Queen of the past, as she identifies with and illustrates the lives and times of the marginalised, hard-pressed and world-weary average Jamaicans “inna de yard.” “These songs come to me as I am watching the world,” she says. “I see myself as a social worker that uses music as my tool, because music is the greatest weapon to impact societal change, to help young people to understand themselves more.” With music that covers a number of reggae sub-genres — ska, lovers rock and dancehall, among others — the focus on the lyric is made easier here.
Sabiduría/Wisdom — Eddie Palmieri (Ropeadope Records)
The Caribbean is a trans-nation of expanded and connected diasporas. Puerto Rican heritage extends beyond its island space to include its famous diaspora citizens. Bronx-born Eddie Palmieri is a legendary Latin jazz pianist, who at the age of eighty may have delivered one of the most sonically and musically endearing albums in his career. Not that he “finally got the formula right,” but with those years of experience as a bandleader, composer, and arranger, and the “wisdom” — sabiduría in Spanish — that comes with that experience, Palmieri can pull together some of the finest talent, young and old, in jazz and salsa/Latin music to successfully and pleasingly blend the Afro-Caribbean rhythms of his Puerto Rican island “home” with the harmonically complex sounds of mainland jazz and bebop. The album also extends the fusion to include bossa nova on “Samba Do Suenho” and Cuban son on “Coast to Coast”.
Jump in da Line [DJ Buddha Remix] — Sammi Starr (Sony Entertainment US Latin)
Bahamian Junkanoo Carnival is described as a collection of events, parades, and concerts that pull from every aspect of Bahamian culture; an amalgam of native and regional Carnival celebrations. The music inspired by the celebration is a catch-all of festive rhythms that one can’t help but dance to. Sammi Starr, born Sammie Poitier, has made a remix of his Junkanoo Carnival hit of a couple years ago with Latin Grammy winner DJ Buddha, this time to act as a sonic accompaniment for a new tourism campaign. The result is an automatic invitation to jam. “I’m on my feet ’cause I can’t sit down / Don’t worry ’bout the heat cause tonight it’s going down / Popping bottles, raising cups, jump in da line and take over the dance floor.” Pop sensibilities and tempos in this remix have replaced the modern rake-and-scrape Junkanoo rhythms of the original for a hoped-for crossover to the world.