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Jazz from the US Virgin Islands' new breed

Nigel Campbell By

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September 2017 was a horrible month for the US Virgin Islands (USVI). As the New York Times wrote, "In the Virgin Islands, Hurricane Maria Drowned What Irma Didn't Destroy." We should not forget that from these isles, a pool of talent has created music that has endured, survived, and influenced. Music writers and researchers have investigated the interrelationship between the mainland and the Virgin Islands jazz scenes to conclude that they have "a fundamental mutual relationship: the American jazz scene provides the models upon which local players base their performance styles, and the Virgin Islands jazz scene provides new performance venues for American players." The three musicians/bands reviewed here—Victor Provost, Reginald Cyntje, Dion Parson & The 21st Century Band—present "an opportunity to understand the connection between Caribbean jazz and the USVI as a locus of the New World African music from a social and critical perspective." All these musicians were raised in the US Virgin Islands, before migrating to the mainland US for music training and careers in jazz. The early native music influence, without the distance of "independence" that other Caribbean island jazz musician have, serves as point of reference and connectivity for this group. Steelpan musician Victor Provost also acts as a link, playing on all three albums. This is just a small taste of Caribbean jazz style.

Victor Provost
Bright Eyes
Paquito Records
2017

Virgin Island steelpan jazz virtuoso Victor Provost sets an optimistic tone with his second album, Bright Eyes, capturing the influence of the Caribbean more so than on his debut album six years ago. Bebop swagger gives way to a progressive jazz world fusion while still maintaining a deft touch that allows the tenor steelpan to ring true. On the eleven tunes on this album, Provost runs through a gamut of styles and select composers, to give the steelpan a context outside its calypso base. The obligatory homage to calypso legend Lord Kitchener is included—"Pan in Harmony"—but this album reflects Provost's recent apprenticeship with Cuban saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera and his wider exploration of improvised tropical music. Mazurka, baião, calypso, and funky Afro-Cuban jazz all have a presence here. Guest soloists—including the aforementioned D'Rivera, alongside Etienne Charles and Ron Blake, to name a few—flavour this Caribbean jazz gumbo which swings with enough intensity to keep your attention.

Reginald Cyntje
Spiritual Awakening
Self Produced
2015

Trombonist Reginald Cyntje (pronounced SIN-chee), born in Dominica, raised in St. Thomas USVI, and now living in Washington DC released his fourth album as a leader, Spiritual Awakening as a continuation of his reflection on the abstractions of human existence via jazz music. The album has been described as one that "musically embodies humanity's complex journey from introspection to a celebration of freedom." With titles that evoke personal declarations that sometimes touch on the religious, "Atonement," "Beatitudes," "Prayer," "Ritual," this album of nine tunes should not be construed as instrumental gospel, but a refinement of the evolving journey of this Caribbean jazzman towards a sophisticated veneration. With the wordless singing by Christie Dashiell juxtaposing effectively, this album is also a spotlight for the instrumental brilliance of soloists Allyn Johnson on piano and Victor Provost on steelpan, and Cyntje himself, never completely abandoning that Caribbean-ness in the groove. Jazz in the islands has moved a step ahead.

Dion Parson & 21st Century Band
St. Thomas
Self Produced
2015

Drummer Dion Parson from St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands has gathered a cadre of cohorts, fellow islanders now mostly based in New York, to re-chart the music of that island group and the wider Caribbean on their new album St. Thomas. Jazz stars in their own right, bassist Reuben Rogers, steelpan musician Victor Provost, trumpeter Rashawn Ross, and saxophonist Ron Blake (among others) join Parson in his 21st Century Band to cover a couple of island standards and define a new USVI jazz sound. The title track, an old calypso made famous by island descendant Sonny Rollins, is given a new sheen with rhythms untested by the jazz master many years ago. Covering Bob Marley, Louis Armstrong, and Miles Davis, and providing some originals, the band uses native music forms like quelbe and broader reggae and calypso rhythms to transform the sound of Caribbean jazz into a fusion that points to a new direction.

Tracks and Personnel

Bright Eyes

Tracks: Eastern Standard Time; Ella Nunca Tene Una Ventana; Fitt Street; Bright Eyes; Pan In Harmony; Homenaje; Fete Antillaise; Twenty; Intro For Chelle; Song For Chelle; La Casa De Fiesta.

Personnel: Victor Provost: steelpan; Alex Brown: piano; Zachary Brown: bass; Billy Williams, Jr. : drums; Paquito D'Rivera; alto saxophone; Joe Locke: vibraphone; Ron Blake: soprano saxophone; Etienne Charles: trumpet; Paulo Stagnaro: percussion; Tedd Baker: tenor saxophone; John Lee: guitar.

Spiritual Awakening

Tracks: Awakening; Spiritual; Atonement; Beatitudes; Compassion; Covenant; Prayer; Ritual; Rejoice.

Personnel: Reginald Cyntje: trombone; Victor Provost: steelpan; Kenny Rittenhouse: trumpet; Allyn Johnson: rhodes and acoustic piano; Amin Gumbs ; drums; Brian Settles: tenor saxophone; Carroll Dashiell III: drums; Christie Dashiell : vocals; Herman Burney: bass; Janelle Gill: piano.

St. Thomas

Tracks: St. Thomas; Calypso Bayou; What a Wonderful World; Minor Details; Ambergris Cay; Rockin' in Rhythm; All Blues; Come Now; Three Little Birds; 21st Century; Knights at the Round Table.

Personnel: Dion Parson: drums, percussion; Victor Provost: steelpan; Carlton Holmes: piano, keyboards; Alioune Faye: sabar drums, percussion; Rashawn Ross: trumpet; Reuben Rogers: bass; Ron Blake: tenor/soprano/baritone saxophones; Boo Reiners: banjo.

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