Playlist (Jan/Feb 2021) | Music reviews

This month’s listening picks, with reviews of the latest by Jesse Ryan; Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Aymée Nuviola; and Teddyson John

  • Bridges
  • Tender Touch Riddim
  • Viento y Tiempo
  • Caribbean Moscato


Jesse Ryan (Fwé Culture)

As world fusion in jazz continually moves one away from the primary centre defined by the blues and swing, global musicians take up the challenge of improvisation over a sonic bed of native and ethnic rhythms and melodies. Jesse Ryan, a Trinidad-born saxophonist now based in Canada, joins a group of Caribbean musicians seeking ways to successfully commercialise the “West Indian accent in jazz.” On half of Bridges, his debut album, he explores the rhythmic pulse of Tobago’s native tambrin band music. Modern jazz interpolation with the sound of the tambourine drum creates a soundscape for another interpretation of New World African music. With a subdued sound mix, sublime conversations between guitar, piano, sax, and percussion become epic in intention, effective in interpretation. This brilliant album, three years in the making, is an opening statement of a new jazz artist in the diaspora reconnecting with his roots to seal the idea of Caribbean music beyond a dance accompaniment.

Tender Touch Riddim 

Various Artists (Fox Fuse)

2020 saw the decimation of Caribbean Carnivals, and this trend is set to continue at least through the first half of 2021. Trinidad and Tobago’s annual Carnival is signalled to become virtual, but the music that drives live revellers on stage and on the road continues to be produced. The shift in the experience so far has brought a greater inclusion of global beats and rhythms that mark an evolution in the rhythmic template for this music called soca. Afrobeats, now popular worldwide, infuses this new six-track EP of songs produced by Advokit with input from music aggregator Julianspromos, with a bounce that makes hips roll, DNA be damned. How many ways can one sing about love? Sacred, romantic, lusty, cheeky, and devout: it’s all here with contributions, respectively, from Melly Rose with Nigerian rapper Skales, Patrice Roberts, Nailah Blackman, Hey Choppi, and Olatunji. Soca music’s conversion to popular world music can be aided by this new riddim.

Viento y Tiempo: Live at Blue Note Tokyo 

Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Aymée Nuviola (Top Stop Music)

Cuba is an enigma for many travellers in the Americas. Its music salvages its imposed reputation as an outlier. Performance and its recording in global cities fortify a notion, widely recognised in the Caribbean, of the supremacy of the canon and artistry of Cuban musicians. Afro-Cuban jazz pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and singer Aymée Nuviola, “La Sonera del Mundo” — both Grammy winners — performing before an audience in Japan, offer “a tribute to the music that flows through the streets of Havana which we grew up with.” Rumba and jazz, classic son montunos and danzonetes, boleros and ballads, and other tropical rhythms are mixed with call and response singing, jazz improvisation, percussive breaks, and dynamic piano playing to recorded elation from a Tokyo crowd. The collaboration of these childhood friends, and others, suggests Cuba’s musical history is manifestly rich.

Caribbean Moscato 

The Teddyson John Project (238 Square Miles)

St Lucian singer Teddyson John has introduced on this recording an innovative twist to island soca. With a crack band of island musicians, he delivers an acoustic live recording of his soca hits that does not miss the energy of these party anthems, but suffuses the tunes with the sophisticated aura of an elegant island R&B groove that is easy on the ears of listeners elsewhere. Nylon string guitar, bass, piano, and congas are all that are needed to transform a party jam to a smooth crooned ballad. In this time of Carnival tabanca (that melancholy brought on by COVID-19 restrictions), as noted by John himself, the melody is pleasantly brought to the forefront, instead of the energy of the festival road march. His 2016 hit “Allez” is metamorphosed to a seductive sing-along with female background harmonies that work. “Crème de la crème”, wow! Acoustic soca sans the Carnival jump and wave instructional barking puts John in a league of his own as island festivals pivot. Romantic revelry represented.

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