Jazz Standards in the Tambrin Sauce
John Arnold (self-released)
The tambrin drum — a kind of frame drum similar to the Irish bodhrán and the Brazilian pandeiro — is indigenous to Tobago, and acts as that island’s sonic identification, as does the steelpan for Trinidad. On this new album, Tobago-born musician and keeper of the cultural flame John Arnold seeks a rhythmic basis and bedrock for the tambrin drum family, the cutter (high pitch), roller (rhythm), and boom (bass), outside of the island’s traditional festival and ceremonial dances. Six popular jazz standards are performed here, to find a new interpretation of how songs can swing when imbued with rhythms born in the islands. The indigenous reel and jig beat is used to give “Fly Me to the Moon” the “feel of the folk style.” This kind of attempted amalgamation of genres and sounds has a presence in jazz, and this experiment in fusion has merit. The conversation between cultures — jazz and tambrin — expands the possibilities of world music.
Theon Cross (New Soil/Marathon)
Caribbean heritage remains strong in a newer generation of British-born musicians at the forward edge of recent jazz in the UK. Theon Cross — Jamaican dad and St Lucian mum — is a boundary-pushing tuba player who is evolving the role of that instrument and, critically, reinforcing the cultural legacy of the islands as a lynchpin for a modern jazz that moves away from the blues as the music’s foundation. With that knowledge and ancestry, he improvises and fuses jazz with dub, dancehall, soca, UK hiphop, grime, and “other sounds connected to the Afro-Caribbean diaspora.” Sound system culture exudes from the sonic profiles of the ten songs on this album. The extended Caribbean, beyond Windrush, brings island ideas to global audiences. While the tuba is not generally the first instrument one thinks of as a lead, Cross has found a way to move the sound and musicality beyond comedic artifice towards ethereal reinvention.
Dancing the Ska
Various Artists (Studio One Records)
The blurb for this compilation record of some of the greatest ska music recordings notes that “Studio One is the label that discovered, and in many cases, helped create legacies for artists who became international legends.” Among those legends are the Wailers, predating Bob Marley and the Wailers’ global superstardom, as well as Rita Marley and Don Drummond. Ska, the precursor to reggae, was the popular music in late 1950s to early 60s Jamaica, moving with migration and gaining traction in the UK and influencing the creation of popular genres there like 2 Tone. This compilation, produced by the legendary Clement “Coxsone” Dodd — the king of the formative sound system scene in Jamaica — and culled from the culturally rich and plentiful vaults of Studio One, shines a light on the genre and the singers who gave it legs here and in the diaspora. Sixteen gems from that era re-released for a new generation are gold. Dancing to ska never ages.
Love Has Found Its Way
Tigana Thomas (self-released)
In 1982, the Crown Prince of Reggae, the late Dennis Brown, released the lovers rock/R&B smooth groove “Love Has Found Its Way” to moderate success in the US and UK. The song has a staying power, however, that proves you can’t keep a good song quiet. Guitarist Tigana Thomas from Trinidad explores the song’s potential to remain a danceable tune, whether falsetto vocals or full-bodied jazzy guitar strums take the lead. In this case, singer Jolene Romain sings the verse while Mya Scott sings the chorus refrain. The interplay between voice and guitar adds a layer of alternating sonic elements that are interesting enough to make this new cover of a classic song listenable beyond a few bars. The Caribbean “romantic getaway” aesthetic evoked by this recording reinforces a popular notion of what is sought after in these isles by tourists. If this song is part of the soundtrack of visitor engagement, that’s not a bad thing at all.