Caribbean Heritage Month: Dion Parson at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola

Nick Catalano BY

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From its inception, one of the goals of this column has been to record the impact that jazz has made on the myriad musical traditions of our planet. Since I started writing about this subject a couple of decades ago, the amount of international folk music, dance forms, vocal stylings, variant scales, and other often spurious localisms that jazz has impacted has increased exponentially. The sheer number of these traditions was dramatically illustrated in June with the appearance of Dion Parson and his 21 Century Band at Dizzy's in New York City.

Such a plethora of jazz-inspired international music has descended on Gotham this season that it is often impossible to catch all or even most of it; in other words, I was frustrated at not being able to catch the Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars, whose music I had briefly recently heard. Faced with this daunting situation, I chose to view Parson's group because it has presented more Central American and Caribbean forms than any I knew of including: calypso, soca, reggae, mento, quelbe ( the official music of the Virgin Islands), rara, ska, zouk, steel pan, bouyon, gombay, salsa, chutney, compas, tambu, spouge and merengue. These musics come from Haiti, Dominica, Trinidad, Aruba, and Senegal, as well as the more well-known (to Americans) centers in Cuba and Puerto Rico.

As the group performed at Dizzy's , I was taken on a unique tour of more Caribbean forms than I imagined ever existed—and one was more intriguing than the next . Parson is a Virgin island native with a music degree from Rutgers and so has had a unique opportunity to introduce the aforementioned forms to American audiences. In addition, it seems that the Virgin Islands have been the principal funnel through which these traditions have reached our shores.

The 21 Century Band was well-equipped to handle the multi-musical challenge it set for itself at Dizzy's. Initially, the band members were introduced as their Senegalese percussionist Alioune Faye beat out the Aciko rhythm pattern of the opening tune "Appointment"—a composition from saxophonist Ron Blake. Following this Blake and steel panist Victor Provost led the band through Parson's "Quelbe Song"—a sort of Virgin Islands national anthem. Provost's improvs and his concomitant intonation on the difficult surface of his instrument were notable here as was the distinctive pulsation of the Quelbe form. Veteran Lincoln Center Jazz trumpeter Marcus Printup led the soloing in a Miles Davis blues with a US/VI rhythm motif. Davis seems to lead the parade of mainstream American jazzers whose work has been adapted farthest and widest. Saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa's recent Indian interpretation immediately comes to mind. The band next probed deeper into American pop standards with "Someday My Prince Will Come" featuring some striking soloing from pianist Carlton Holmes, while Faye lightly percussed with a small elbow drum.

The emergence of steel pans as important instruments in the jazz presentations of these Caribbean musics (Paquito D'Rivera has featured them in his recent groups), as well as the unique rhythmings of all of these little known forms are treats that Dizzy's patrons can look forward to hearing. Todd Barkan and his producers continue to search out and present this new and exciting repertoire.

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