Playlist (Sept/Oct 2018) | Music reviews

This month’s listening picks, with reviews of the latest by Freetown; Larnell Lewis; Kabaka Pyramid; and Jah9

  • Born In Darkness
  • In The Moment
  • Kontraband
  • Field Trip

Born in Darkness

Freetown (Damascus Media)

From lyrically drenched acoustic Caribbean folk music to island pop songs with metaphorical gravitas, the evolution of Freetown has been a revelation of the idea of crossing over. Making it into a global music market without “selling out” has been the mission of Caribbean musicians and singers for decades. Born in Darkness has the aesthetic merit to breach the consciousness of audiences anywhere right now. A balance between seven full-length songs and four powerful interludes that have hit potential proves that producer Keron “Sheriff” Thompson of Differentology fame understands how to juxtapose these odes into popular soundscapes where Caribbean ideas can become universally relevant. Muhammad Muwakil and Lou Lyons, as crafty songwriters, show how personal angst can become cathartic — “Dem cyah understand this / Thought you could keep me down and sick / Underground, I’m volcanic / And I’m not dormant, no!” — to shine a light on our collective island importance. A winner.


In the Moment 

Larnell Lewis (self-released)

Toronto can seem a multicultural paradise, more so for a number of artists and a second generation from the islands. Drummer Larnell Lewis, of Kittitian heritage, is the premier drummer in the city, landing a job with Grammy winners Snarky Puppy and collecting a couple of statuettes for himself. On his debut album, he calls on his Caribbean diaspora friends and his Snarky Puppy bandmates to add to this novel referencing of jazz from the perspective of a black North American jazz musician who is not African-American, freed from conjecture and the obligations of jazz heritage. That freedom allows Lewis to explore rhythms and harmonies that suggest New Orleans (“Beignets”), gospel jazz (“Rejoice”), Latin jazz (“Coconuts”), fusion (“Change your Mind”), bebop — the solo on “No Access” is a drum masterclass — and tropical World Music (“Essence of Joy”). Memories and moments of Lewis’s life are freed to inspire this joyous set of ten sparkling tunes. 


Kontraband

Kabaka Pyramid (Bebble Rock Music)

Kabaka Pyramid belongs to a new generation of Jamaican reggae artists who are part of a noticeable renaissance in conscious music and roots reggae sounds that harkens back to the days of Bob Marley’s global domination. It’s not surprising, since this new album was executive-produced by Bob’s sons, Junior Gong and Steven. That genetic heritage has guided this sixteen-track album towards a reckoning of social lyrics that address longstanding concerns, but with a sonic profile grounded in the twenty-first century. Sarcastic jibes on the song “Well Done” — “Well done, well done, Mr Politician Man / You’ve done a wonderful job of tearing down the country, Mr Demolition Man” — point to a growing cynicism and exasperation among the younger generation of Caribbeans. Whether politics, global concerns about refugees, or the efficacy of “herb,” a topical menu of subjects is assayed effectively with a few star collaborations to give this album impact.


Field Trip

Jah9 (VP Records)

Jah9 delivers her songs with a diction and enunciation that could make one forget Jamaican patois is the de facto language of reggae. This delivery further cements her identification with what she calls “Jazz in Dub . . . a rich imaginative blend of vocal clarity and complexity.” A well-articulated melody swings around an Afro-beat groove reminiscent of Fela Kuti to set this song on another level. Of the title, Jah9 explains that “the real field trip is within. That is the final frontier, and if we do this we will find new elements of our self,” giving a philosophical hook to a jam that does not stop throbbing. The musicianship on this single also reflects an improvised blues ambience, certainly when the tenor saxophone solo comes in near the end, reminding us that the jazz sensibility is not lost in production. Taken together, these elements point to a new World Beat feeling where the reggae is subsumed, but the beat just keeps grooving — like you will.