Playlist (September/October 2019) | Music reviews

This month’s listening picks, with reviews of the latest by Godwin Louis; Stephen John; Jonathan Michel; and Josean Jacobo & Tumbao

  • Global
  • The Gospel of Romance
  • MDR
  • Cimarrón

Global

Godwin Louis (Blue Room Music)

When wanderlust coincides with discovery, great things can happen. When it is your job to travel to perform, it should be your duty to discover all that you are in the context of new vistas. Saxophone sideman to the stars Godwin Louis has travelled to over one hundred countries, and focused his discovery on the history of African and diaspora music across the world. His aptly titled debut album Global, a two-CD package, features “compositions that emerged out of research that he performed in Africa and Latin America on the music exported out of Africa, to the rest of the world via the transatlantic slave trade.” Audacious in scope, adept in execution, this Haitian-American has compiled a record featuring jazz syncopation that juxtaposes with African rhythm and Latin American voices and Antillean grooves, making this a testament to the idea of connectedness in modern music. By joining all the musical dots, Louis spiritually finds his way home.


The Gospel of Romance

Stephen John (self-released)

The idea of love in modern popular music oftentimes veers towards lust. Romance becomes raunch, with a funky beat as the rhythm for tales of “getting down.” Trinidadian contemporary gospel singer Stephen John has decided that romance must be the antithesis of that popular view, by making a thoroughly contemporary-sounding EP of love songs that play with the notion of love as altruistic, sacred, and uplifting. “Patient, kind, forgiving. / Sounds like love to me,” is a refrain repeated in his “Overture” before John thanks Jesus for his lady. And with that opening, we chart the many ways love can be expressed by mere mortals in awe of heavenly inspiration. With slick production values and vocals that may remind listeners of R&B crooner Maxwell, these songs have an appeal beyond an audience in search of divine reinforcement. With lyrics that juxtapose practical and joyous attraction with admonitions based on the Word, this EP resets the bar for love songs. Desire and doctrine are one.


MDR

Jonathan Michel (Imani Records)

Haitian-American bassist Jonathan Michel calls his debut album MDR “an entry into the world of music as me. I think it’s a great representation.” And with that declaration, Michel, along with drummer Jeremy Dutton and vibraphonist Joel Ross, plays trio-based jazz that becomes an extension of the live gig scene this musician has been a part of for much of his career. The album touches on a range of genres that identify with the Caribbean-born in the diaspora. Jazz, spirituals, Haitian folk songs, R&B are all distilled through that enhanced prism with small-unit playing; bass and drum anchor a space for the vibraphone to resonate. The bass is never far away, and we hear why Michel is the leader on this album, with the old Negro spiritual “Wade in the Water” taking a frenetic spin in tandem with the improvisations of the vibraphone. Fellow Haitian child-of-the-diaspora Melanie Charles adds her soul-inspired voice on the bookend tracks.


Cimarrón

Josean Jacobo & Tumbao (E7 Studios)

Pianist Josean Jacobo has been heralded as the “Ambassador of Afro-Dominican Jazz,” and with that understanding, the listener must negotiate a minefield of ideas and ideologies on “Dominicanness” and the image of the island as a tourist playground. On Cimarrón, Jacobo, along with the band Tumbao — a unique combo of two saxes, drums, and percussion — present a solid interface of music born in the American melting pot of New Orleans and traditional folkloric rhythms from African-descended natives of Hispaniola. His piano soars and floats on the ten songs here, while the polyrhythms of the hand drums and other percussion give credence to a history of solid representation of the music of African souls who have mingled and transformed Spanish-derived sounds to create what we today know as salve, congos, bachata, and more. The language of jazz has broadened in this context, and this album is a distinctive beginning for new listeners.