Music buzz | Reviews (Sep/Oct 2023)

This month’s listening picks from the Caribbean — featuring reviews by Nigel A Campbell of new music by Woods; Mario Canonge Trio; Fra Fra Sound; and Sterling Gittens

  • Woods: The Lone Pilgrim
  • Mario Canonge Trio
  • Fra Fra Sound: Kula Wroko Kibri
  • Sterling Gittens: Can’t get enough of you


The Lone Pilgrim (Jamwax)

Trinidadian Wilfred Trevor Woodley — “Woods” to his friends and associates — was a prolific composer, and innovative jazz musician, whose oeuvre was disappointingly never professionally recorded before his death in 2010. His life was one of pioneering creativity, and unfortunate personal tragedy. Beginning with his calypso jazz innovations in the early 1960s UK, he was shunned by media there. And for his audacity to marry a white socialite, he was possibly framed for an uncommited crime. Aptly titled The Lone Pilgrim, this new three-song EP begins the worthy task of bringing his unique compositions, possibly in the hundreds, to the world. These songs retain the magic of surprise that is a hallmark of jazz, and centres the impetus around an Afro-Caribbean base of rhythm and instrumentation; Jason Baptiste plays steelpan here. This is a heritage keepsake and the start to a promised tribute collection by this international band of devoted musicians.

Mario Canonge Trio

Live (AZTEC Musique)

This live album by Martiniquan master pianist Mario Canonge and his fellow high-accolade Antillean musicians — Michel Alibo on bass and Arnaud Dolmen on drums — is a record of possibilities to make the Creole universal. Canonge is a singular icon in jazz circles here in the Caribbean and in France (where he is now based), who has the ability to incorporate the French Antillean rhythms and melodies into a jazz setting that is admirably effective in bringing the region’s music onto a global stage. This new album, his 17th, brings these talented, individual musicians into a collaboration that emphasises their ability to subtly make zouk, gwo ka, bélé, and other French-Caribbean grooves and genres a base for improvisation. Tackling some of his previous compositions alongside new ones in this trio format demands individual talent to shine, yet makes space for sublime musical conversation. One hour’s worth of Caribbean elegance.

Fra Fra Sound

Kula Wroko Kibri (Pramisi Records)

Fra Fra Sound is an instrumental jazz big band — born in Suriname more than 40 years ago and now resident in the Netherlands — which utilises the native genre kaseko (a complex fusion of styles derived from Africa, Europe, and the Americas) to make its music a tangible tribute to the ethos of Caribbean celebration. The marketing blurb tells us that the album’s title “stands for the process of navigating, creating, documenting and continuation”. Effectively, this new album touches on the musical range of the band over its history, and signifies that the music is still evolving, and still moving people here and there to dance. Songs sung in Surinamese Creole (Sranan Tongo) invite new listeners to discover the richness of Caribbean culture and language. At a deeper level, this album’s music, we are told, is a contemplation of 150 years since the abolition of slavery in Suriname and the Netherland Antilles and, inspiringly, a reflection of another Caribbean.

Sterling Gittens

Can’t Get Enough of You (self-released) • Single

Trinidad-born singer-songwriter Sterling Gittens, for a long time “ex-isled” in the US, has made a return to the music business after many years away. His new song signifies a spiritual return, and a kind of completion — the metaphorical circle of life and family — while overcoming obstacles. The opening stanza gives notice that gratitude is paramount after a recognition that, in the end, it was all worth it: Looking at back at what you have done / And how you turned my world around / In spite of my circumstances, my heart is full of second chances / You’ve always been around. He is unashamedly talking to God. The bounce of the modern reggae beat centres Gittens in the Caribbean, while the contemporary production value places this song high among a plethora of praise songs from island souls everywhere. His voice commands and has a resonance that, with his more than 40-year career, is still a powerful tool. Hallelujah, indeed.

Funding provided by the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Direct Support Grants Programme.
The views expressed on this website are those of the the authors and do not reflect those of the Direct Support Grants Programme.