With his simple declaration, "sound is my art...I just try to create," Trinidadian jazz trumpeter Etienne Charles puts into context his role of creator and producer in relation to his latest recording Creole Soul, out now. This new chart-topping album, previewed earlier this year in Tobago at Jazz on the Beach at Mt Irvine reveals an evolution of his art.The fourth studio album from this US-based musician and teacher bristles with a kind of energy that comes from the realisation that one has gone beyond; beyond the usual expectations of a Caribbean existence, beyond the boundary of the usual sonic influences that have paved the way for this jazz lion. Thematically, this should come as no surprise.Charles has said the vision of this album is the showcasing of the influences of all this music in the African diaspora, a melting pot of sounds that shape and determine who he is as a musician and who we are as a people. We are all creole.
Deciphering an arc in the themes of his four albums to date, one sees in Culture Shock (2006), a musical diary of the newly-minted artist in his New World of America. Folklore (2009), the suite based on local legends and Kaiso (2011); going back to the source of inspiration. Now, with Creole Soul, which currently sits atop the Jazzweek album charts, he takes flight. On this recording, there are two distinctive threads, the original compositions and the covers. On the original compositions, we can hear the rhythmic melange that defines a creole soul. Haitian mascaron dance groove meets bomba rhythms and jazz syncopation on Midnight (an ode to the end of day), The Folks (a dedication to this parents) incorporating calypso's syncopated bass with rhythm and blues, and Doin' The Thing featuring jump blues and calypso, all majestically anchored by Grammy award-winning bassist Ben Williams and drummer Obed Calvaire.
Charles strategically makes use of the covers: Bob Marley's Turn the Lights Down Low and the Dawn Penn popularised You Don't Love Me (No No No), position this CD to be heard in the right places by the right ears. Reggae/dancehall music is embedded into mainstream consciousness to a greater extent than calypso. The reverential cover of Winsford "Joker" Devine's Memories and the bouncy cover of Thelonius Monk's Green Chimneys (with the "distinctive calypso lope to the beat" that relocates Monk in the old San Juan Hill district of Caribbean New York) completes this West Indian quartet of memorable melodies and artist legacies that are easily saleable.Creole Soul may also be considered as Charles' electric album. Landmark distinctions in popular music have been made by pioneers: Miles Davis' In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew in 1969/70 transformed jazz by utilising electric instruments. Charles introduces listeners to the sounds of the electric guitar marking a shift in the sound, previously all acoustic. The album opener Creole (a reflection on his first Haitian sojourn in 2012), featuring the Haitian singer and Houngan Erol Josu� combines the kongo drum rhythm of northern Haiti with the urgent funky electric guitar of Alex Wintz that forces one to get up and dance. This is spirit moving feet. This is jazz in the Caribbean. This is improvised joy.
Kris Bowers' meandering Fender Rhodes on The Folks signals that the intention is to keep the arrangements modern. The electric guitar and piano is again repeated on Roots (an ode to his family roots featuring the Martiniquan belair rhythm); the French Caribbean rhythms seem to lend a place for the electric ascendence of Charles.This is a exceptional record by an artist who has grown technically in both his playing and improvisation. An artist/ producer subliminally makes commercial decisions that affects aesthetic outcomes but Charles disagrees with this, however."I didn't really think about business when I was writing the music or choosing the tunes. Business happens after the music is made."The sum of these songs say otherwise. That said, this CD can have an impact on the consideration of music from these islands.Creole Soul is in that mould of trendsetter.
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