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Etienne Charles: Folklore

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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There appears to be a trend developing—and a positive one, whereby young jazz artists drive the future of their—and ultimately our—music by reviving the musical heritage of the past. And, by exploring and leveraging the fundamental power and beauty of that music, they create new and vibrant musical art. Certainly the most widely known of these retro-explorers is Wynton Marsalis. With Folklore, an offering of both compositional and instrumental brilliance, trumpeter/composer Etienne Charles admirably solidifies his place as an explorer, a true griot and visionary.

Using the thematic structure of a suite of original compositions all based upon the mythologies and mythological characters of his Trinidadian/Afro-Caribbean heritage, Charles delivers in Folklore an old and new "testament" to the roots and future of his birthplace's native music. The selections, incorporating both instrumental and vocal forms, magnificently display the rich, diverse heritage of Afro-Caribbean music and culture.

Charles, a fourth-generation Trinidadian musician and winner of the 2006 National Trumpet Competition and other honors, performs brilliantly throughout. His playing is intelligent, emotionally charged, and flavored with the fire and spice that emanated from African roots, to the Caribbean and, ultimately, to the womb of jazz, New Orleans. Blessedly talented and highly sensitive to this music, Charles and his players all display a respect and restraint that is admirable and mature.

Rhythmic nuance, tonal diversity and intensity are the names of the games here. From the percussive and Yoruba chant entrances of the title cut through the infectiously playful calypso, "Douens," the intense "Soucouyant," pan-featured "Santimanite," and throughout the entire session, textures and pulses throb.

Charles' gorgeous, lyrical sound ("Dance with la Diablesse," "Mama Malade," "Mysterieuse") and inventive solo excursions beautifully integrate into the entire concept. There's a maturity here that belies this trumpeter's youth. Guadeloupian saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart, glides, pulls and evokes fire in all his solos. Pianist Milan Milanovic solos and comps impressively, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Obed Calvaire, aided by guest percussionists Ralph MacDonald, D' Achee, and Ray Charles and tenor pan performer Len "Boogsie" Sharpe, are wonderfully essential elements to this mix. The recording and production values here are outstanding.

What truly distinguishes Folklore is the fact that this music is not by any means a paled or half-assed attempt at revival of "old" music. Charles' compositional approach feeds off the genre and content brilliantly. The jazz overtones provide a peek at where that genre might be headed. The music is literally visionary, so much so that, like the aforementioned Pulitzer-winning Marsalis, Charles could eventually take his bag of compositional genius into film, theatrical or operatic worlds.

Folklore is a significant musical achievement. Jazz purists might bark that there is not enough straight-ahead bopping. However, they might be cautioned that some of the interesting mythological characters alluded to in Folklore might show up unannounced to offer a pleasant, enlightened peek at the once and future jazz. As for Etienne Charles' music, based on Folklore—that future is nothing but brilliantly sunlit.

Track Listing: Folklore; Douens; Dance with la Diablesse; Laja who?; Mama Malade; Soucouyant; Mysterieuse; Mama d'lo; Santimanite; Papa Bois; Folklore (story).

Personnel: Etienne Charles: trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion, vocals, double seconds, cuatro; Jacques Schwarz-Bart: tenor, soprano saxophones; Milan Milanovic: piano; Luques Curtis, bass; Obed Calvaire: drums; Ralph MacDonald: percussion (2, 5, 9); Len "Boogsie" Sharpe tenor pan (9); D'Achee: percussion (1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11); Ray Charles: percussion (1, 2, 4, 8, 10, 11); Keith "Designer" Prescott: vocals (1, 11); Wendell Manwarten: vocals (1, 11), narrative (11); Roger Roberts: vocals (1, 11).

Title: Folklore | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Self Produced

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