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Jazzing things up

Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Vaugnette Bigford, centre, leads The Trini Jazz Project in their performance of Valentino’s Birds Flying High at the Little Carib Theatre on Thursday night.

It was the start of something, to be sure, and the crowds that filled the Little Carib Theatre last Thursday were keen to witness it. 


It’s rare for a local jazz concert to claim standing room only status, but the musicians of the TriniJazz Project earned it for their first public outing performing at the launch of their eponymous new album. 


The concert started promptly with bassist Rodney Alexander at centre stage for his composition Musiq. Right from the start it was clear this wasn’t going to be a straight reading of the album, and the call and response passage by Alexander’s bass and Anthony Woodroffe’s saxophone felt sharper and more passionate than it was on the recording. 


Woodroffe’s song, I’m into you, followed with a lot more verve and lilt infusing the live version of the beat backing the composer’s delicate flute lead. A slashing percussion solo by Modupe Onilu pushed the song along even harder, coaxing the flautist to jam even harder when he returned to lead the song. 


There was a delightful moment as guitarist Dean Williams leaned in close on the tips of his toes during a roaring jam to listen to Woodroffe’s playing as they eased off the soloing to rejoin the melody. 


Dean Williams’ Li Jwe Gita (He plays guitar) followed with far more fire than he recorded for the album. Williams showed some fascinating strumming technique on the number, pushing outward from the ghetto of beat embellishment to which rhythm guitarists have been consigned for most of the soca era. The result was a guitar lead that started like just that sort of playing before pushing outward with layered multi-chordal strumming and a deft fingering technique that sometimes felt like just a little too much fireworks for the melody. 


Following the track list of the CD closely, Modupe Onilu’s Awon Omo Ti O Ti came next, the percussionist offering a theatrical introduction to the song with his array of music and effects generating gear before leading the song on a small xylophone, the first I’ve seen in a T&T concert since the days when Andre Tanker used one for his sets at the Hilton. 


An inspired trading of riffs between Williams and Woodroffe took the Onilu’s song soaring before the guitarist’s dense barrage of notes took it to escape velocity. 


Every serious singer should have a song that they own, and Vaugnette Bigford has found hers with her reading of Merchant’s One Superpower for this album. When she took the stage with her backup singers a respectful hush descended on the rowdy boys who had been romping on the stage just moments before. 


The live performance was even more contained than it was on the album, backed by a lush, gently swooping music bed led by a sustained chorale by her backup singers and Low Chew Tung’s synthesised organ. 


Bigford would also perform Memory of your smile, lifted somewhat by a gentle bass solo from Alexander that suggested pulsing heartbeats and would return for the second to last song of the set with a lagniappe number, a surprisingly tentative version of Valentino’s Birds Flying High. 


Woodroofe’s Yeah, No, Maybe got an energised makeover from a band emboldened an overwhelmingly strong response from the audience and a growing comfort with their confident interplay. 


Rodney Alexander starts the wildness off with a Hendrix-style solo played with his teeth, surprising Dean Williams who moved quickly to take up the challenge. 


The two traded fierce solo runs before Woodroffe parted the two like a smooth sax peacemaker, which then brought Onilu running to the fray with a really tiny drum from which he coaxed some gentle moans. 


“These guys just won’t behave,” laughed Woodroffe after the number, “and it’s my song!” 


Dean Williams introduced his second song A Woman’s Sweetness, declining with a sheepish smile to explain the song’s inspiration. While the song starts well, Williams began to overplay it, losing the delicacy of the recorded version of the number in a shimmering cascade of effects and solo jam smarts. 


The concert ended as it began, bookended by a Rodney Alexander composition, Country. By then the TriniJazz Project was sounding less like an artful collaboration of like-minded players and more like an all-star band. 


Alexander’s song offers many opportunities for soloing and interplay, and they were enthusiastically mined by capable players whose comfort with each other’s abilities filled the room with deft playing and confident vamping on the sweet, laid back beat.



• Many hands make light work


The TriniJazz Project


Parlemusic Productions


Album review by Mark Lyndersay 

The TriniJazz Project is several things all happening together on a single CD.


Producer Michael Low Chew Tung, better known in the community of jazz musicians as Ming, gathered a group of young jazz musicians who had never recorded before to make an album.


The result is a collection of eight original instrumental works and two covers that push gently at the boundaries of the easy listening jazz that finds the largest audiences in T&T.


Each of the participating musicians is represented by two songs on the disc, providing a small but intriguing insight into the creative thinking of bassist Rodney Alexander, guitarist Dean Williams, saxophonist Anthony Woodroffe, percussionist Modupe Onilu and vocalist Vaugnette Bigford.


Mikhail Salcedo guests on tenor pan, drummer Richard Joseph does double duty as the album’s designer while Ming plays keyboards and runs the show.


The standout number on the album is Bigford’s sepulchral reading of Merchant’s One Superpower, an arrangement that turns the song into an sombre indictment of man’s ambitions and hubris.


Compared to that tour de force work, her next song, a straightforward reading of Ray Holman’s Memory of your smile falters. It simply isn’t in the same class of performance opportunity. 


Bassist Rodney Alexander emerges as the album’s strongest songwriter, his bass driven songs Musiq and Country providing expansive landscapes for the group’s proclivity for soloing and engaging in all too brief, though fiery exchanges. 


These are also the songs that feel deepest rooted in a calypso style of composing, Country in particular feeling like a lost lavway from the fifties while Musiq reaches back to the funk-calypso experiments of the 60’s and 70’s that predated the formalising of the soca beat and so strongly influenced the compositions of Ralph McDonald. 


Which isn’t to dismiss the work of the other musicians at all. Onilu’s work, Awon Omo Ti O Ti, spends its first full minute exploring the musician’s collection of percussion based effects to create a persuasively primal atmosphere before racing into a nimble number led by his xylophone playing. 


On Questions Unanswered, the music swirls intriguingly without finding dramatic resolution. But there was no such uncertainty on Dean Williams’A Woman’s Sweetness, which lopes along like swing of a woman’s hips, flush with the confidence of its attractiveness. On Li Jwe Gita, the fretwork is flashier but elegant, layered over a bouncy beat that flirts with both samba and the Laventille Rhythm Section.


Anthony Woodroffe’s songs, I’m into you and Yeah, No, Maybe both play to his strengths on the flute and saxophone but neither feels fully formed on the album. Even his colleagues play politely and respectfully and not even the usually incendiary presence of Mikhail Salcedo on Yeah, No, Maybe can rouse the song from its polite pacing.


Collectively, the album is a strong and eminently listenable collection of local music. Hardcore jazz buffs won’t find much to surprise them here, but the far larger audience of music lovers will find a lot to enjoy in this accomplished collection of local additions to the T&T songbook.


Ming has done a remarkable job of planting seeds on this album, recording five very promising musicians early in their careers and giving them a chance to explore the evolution of this album together.


This is definitely one of those “stick a pin here” recordings and it’s going to be interesting to see where these musicians go from here.



The TriniJazz Project


Vaugnette Bigford - Vocals


Anthony Woodroffe - Saxophone, flute


Dean Williams - Guitar


Rodney Alexander - Bass


Modupe Onilu - Percussion


Additional musicians 


Michael Low Chew Tung - Keyboards


Richard Joseph - Drums


Afiya Althill - Vocals


Mikhail Salcedo - Tenor pan


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