From Trinidad . . . With Love
jointpop (Northern Range Records)
The renegades of Caribbean rock and roll after two decades are still telling stories from their Trinidad and Tobago perch above the din of the annual Carnival music. Gary Hector and the jointpop boys have fine-tuned the aesthetic of the jam band into a raucous sing-along of pleasant ditties that eschew the angst of their earlier Clash impersonation for a melding with the kind of singable melodies that Oasis would suggest. Rock music in the Caribbean is not an incongruity, but a signal to the many elements that musicians have at their fingertips to translate local life stories, observations, and obsessions into universally known soundscapes with access to many. The dry witticisms of singer Hector replete with simple rhyming couplets give the listener an idea of how we tackle controversies here, with mordant commentary honed by a keen eye towards the ironies of island life — calypso-style lyricism refined. This is love, Trinidad style.
Kellie Cadogan (self-released)
Bajan songstress Kellie Cadogan oozes charm on this album, with songs that flirt with the sonic qualities of soul-jazz and gospel. This long-in-gestation project includes half of the ten-song album composed by Cadogan, who, with these tunes, displays an ear for contemporary popular songcraft. You can make a range of comparisons: from the sound of a reborn Anita Baker to an intimate acoustic Ella Fitzgerald duet. Songwriting and performance aside, Believe acts as a calling card for a performer who can thrill with a voice that signifies more than just a tropical hotel lounge entertainer, but a singer in touch with a wider palette of sounds. The title tune hangs on a set of lyrics that reflect a positivity and faith that act as a kind of spiritual testimony. The juxtaposition of these original songs — uplifting odes all — and twentieth-century jazz standards makes this album an interesting listen, and a pleasant reminder that Caribbean singers stride many worlds effortlessly.
John Arnold (self-released)
Tobagonian pianist John Arnold has a knack for writing music that finds its resonance in the heartbeat of Caribbean life. Songcraft more than execution is highlighted here on this nine-song album, with tunes running the gamut from modern piano jazz to contemporary jazz-influenced hip-hop. A longtime pinnacle of Tobago’s music scene and its jazz experience, Arnold continues with his approach of self-sufficiency in creating music that is an extension of the idea of the real Caribbean. Tobago sells itself as a laid-back paradise, the yin to Trinidad’s yang. That counterpoint to the energy of Trinidad’s music is reflected in the soft ostinato grooves of Arnold’s tunes — a repetition that isn’t boring, but that forces the ear to hear what is played on top of the groove. Funky piano and saxophone riffs help the listener discover the intended goal of the album: to define a cool Tobago sound in a sea of smooth jazz.
Got a Light?
Jeremy Ledbetter Trio (Alma Records)
Canadian keyboardist Jeremy Ledbetter is no stranger to island ears and aesthetics, having helmed the successful Caribbean Latin jazz ensemble CaneFire since 2005. With his new trio, featuring Larnell Lewis on drums and Rich Brown on bass — of Kittitian and Jamaican heritage, respectively — the West Indian cred is solid. Any fleeting ideas that Canada is a wasteland devoid of multiculturalism’s ethos of integration is abandoned on a first listen to this new album, featuring Ledbetter’s supple performance sharing space with that solid rhythm section. Lewis’s drums play inside and outside time signatures and showcase rhythm unhinged from the metronome-like quality of drum machines. It has to be so, as the nine tunes here echo the beat and harmonic sense of a rediscovered Caribbean transformed by virtuosity. The sound is hushed yet potent, the mood is languid yet dynamic. “Her New Wings”, sung by Eliana Cuevas, is perfection. This album is a revelation of possibilities.