Rasanbleman (Red Moon)
Paul Beaubrun (Ropeadope LLC)
New York–based Paul Beaubrun is the son of Haitian music icons and Boukman Eksperyans founders Lòlò and Manzè. On his new album, the artist’s statement is succinct: “Rasanbleman [Kreyòl for ‘a large gathering’] is a project that was recorded LIVE at the Artists Institute in Haiti and includes many notable artists.” But that does not get to the heart of what the listener hears: a cornucopia of sounds from the New World African. Jamaican ska, Haitian kongo, rara, and rasin, African blues, jazz, and rock and more are all channelled into a recording that addresses the challenge of moving the representation of modern Haitian music towards a new standard. The album’s ten songs mindfully celebrate our Caribbeanness. Acknowledging the irony of releasing an album about gathering people together during a pandemic that demands social distancing, Beaubrunsays, “Music can help you with finding yourself . . . at this moment. You can get together spiritually.” Yes!
Soné Ka-La 2 Odyssey
Jacques Schwarz-Bart (Enja Records)
“As long as I can remember, there was always gwoka and jazz music in my life,” says Guadeloupean saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart. Gwoka drums are the basis of that island’s folk music, and on his new album Schwarz-Bart has fused the language of jazz with those native rhythms to forge a new aesthetic for the Antillean musician. This sequel to his original 2005 album updates that initial intent of making gwoka jazz a defining moment, and completes the journey of discovery that happens after fifteen years of travelling and playing music all over the world, and knowing one’s place in it. Voice (Malika Tirolien) and sax juxtapose to shine melodically over gwoka drum rhythms and harmonic dissonances provided by premier fellow Antillean jazz stars Grégory Privat, Arnaud Dolmen, Sonny Troupé, and American bassist Reggie Washington. Improvisation in the context of an Afro-Caribbean pulse long eschewed in modern jazz is a refreshing return to the centre.
Rai (Whatsername Records)
Looking at music created in the Caribbean outside of indigenous genres, one searches for clues to an exceptional character. Song lyrics sometimes provide hints for a new context to love, to awakening, to maturity. Rai’s debut five-song EP Alive, however, proves the universality and commonality of innocent emotions. As a young woman now living in Trinidad, she infuses familiar tropes that suggest modern perspectives devoid of the tried-and-true. Guitar-driven pop-rock songs catalogue a life where desire, angst, and heartache reign. “My love is like a service station / Always helping all the time. / Your heart is like a bad reflection / Always yours but never mine.” With a local production that sparkles in its freshness, this short peek into a young life has the likelihood of becoming a template for the alternative rocker situated in an island life. It’s what’s in the heart that matters, not the surroundings.
Beautiful in June
Robert “Dubwise” Brown (Electrifying Grooves Records)
Instrumental smooth jazz has become a kind of soundtrack to the idea of escape to the Caribbean. Jamaican guitarist Robert “Dubwise” Browne has taken up the challenge of adding to the canon of earworms that define this sybaritic idyll. A slinky electric guitar with just enough echo recalls the signature sound of easy listening accompaniment to vacation and luxe exile. With a repeated lyric that says, “Beautiful in June / Like a summer afternoon,” one recognises that the island native who experiences no summer in these tropics is not the primary target for this song. The musical statement of instrumental verse and sung chorus featuring Brownie Bunch is repeated three times as if to desperately cement the idea of here being “a place to flee . . . that seriousness that comes only out of culture with four seasons.” The reggae bounce, the bubbling bass loop, the organ tone underneath are known to us here, and celebrate our islands effectively.