Home Reviews Etienne Charles, Carnival: The Sound of a People

Etienne Charles, Carnival: The Sound of a People


Etienne Charles has added an important opus to the literature of contemporary music with the release of Carnival – The Sound of a People Vol. 1; and apparently, he is only raising the curtain on the magical festivities to come for this is only the first part of what is likely to come. It is important because the music advances the art of polyphonic and polyrhythmic that began a long time ago. In terms of the contribution of African-American and African-Caribbean musicians the art of polyrhythms leapt to its phenomenal ascendency in the hands of the great Jazz musician Elvin Jones, and while the Caribbean – part of the fabled geography that included Haiti, Santo Domingo, Cuba, San Juan and New Orleans – brought a glorious preponderance of calypso and (later) reggae rhythmic patterns to add to the backbeat of Jazz and Cuban clave, in reality things tempi on the Caribbean islands are actually infinitely more sophisticated.

This is what Mr. Charles shows us with aplomb on this glorious disc. Although he plays mainly trumpet, and he embodies the essence of “the cool” as he plays his instrument albeit with gentle irony and biting humor, his playing is shadowed by thunderous percussive elements led by the incomparable young drummer Obed Calvaire and many platoons of other percussion colourists – pan players, and other tamboo bamboo drummers – who play individually or in ensemble. A kind of glacial temperance is maintained throughout by woodwinds that also reference the same “cool” that Mr. Charles creates throughout and this magical aura is redolent of celestial-like keyboards played by young Turks: James Francies, Sullivan Fortner, and Christian Sands. The glue holding all of this swinging and sashaying together is the intricate single note lines and angular harmonies provided by Alex Wintz’s guitar.

But if this makes it all sound like an overcooked mélange, it is anything but… rather the music is a masterpiece of subtlety and it owes everything to the conception and execution led by Mr. Charles. He brings his magical African-Trinidadian heritage to bear on music that mixes the traditional with the modern – both in terms of conception to the manner in which he executes individual pieces. This is beautifully evidenced in all of the work from the vivid rawboned portraits “Jab Molassie” and elegance of “Dame Lorraine” to the monumental centerpiece – Mr. Charles’ five-part “Black Echo Suite”. Here we are treated to a celebration of the elements of music in an enchanted, vivid manner as hardly ever heard before even in Afro-Caribbean music.

Mr. Charles’ spacey trumpet is infinitely less than conventional here and sees him summoning woodwind-like tones from the instrument which floats benignly over the thundering, jabbering rhythms from the bamboo drums, the pans and other percussion wonders that echo throughout the suite. The ensemble is aglow as it is enhanced with these percussionists and in its turn adds a rich and not entirely predictable harmonic foundation to the music. The surprises, when they come, are effective but discreet ringing changes are played by the pans as pizzicato harmonics as they develop in the open secrecy of the carnival from biscuit tins to tamboo, bamboo, iron, and steel. Elsewhere a delicate curlicue of a bass line underpins the dusty shuffle of marchers in a carnival, while throughout close-knit ensemble passages develop from a single phrase blown by Mr. Charles. Throughout there is the constant roar of the happy fire of the carnival. The recorded sound balances detail and warmth, which together with this joyous music, makes this disc easily one of the most memorable in a very long time.

Tracklist – 1: Jab Molassie; 2: Dame Lorraine; 3: Moko Jumble; 4: Bois; 5: One for Senor; 6: Black Echo I – Ordinance; 7: Black Echo II – Tamboo; 8: Black Echo III – Bamboo; 9: Black Echo IV – Iron; 10: Black Echo V – Steel; 11: Lullaby; 12: Freedom

Personnel – Etienne Charles: trumpet (1 – 12), congas (2, 5), djembé (4), keg drum (4, 6), duddup, bongos and shakers (5), cowbell, iron (10), cajón (12); Brian Hogans: alto saxophone (1 – 7, 11, 12); Godwin Louis: alto saxophone (4, 9); David Sanchez: tenor saxophone (2, 5, 6, 11); Jacques Schwarz-Bart: tenor saxophone (8, 10); Corey Wilcox: trombone (12); James Francies: piano and Fender Rhodes (1, 3, 7, 12), Hammond B3 organ (3, 12); Sullivan Fortner: Fender Rhodes (2, 5, 6, 11) and piano (5, 6); Christian Sands: Fender Rhodes (4, 9); Alex Wintz: guitar (1 – 7, 9, 11, 12); Ben Williams: bass (1, 3, 7, 12); Luques Curtis: bass (2, 5, 6, 11); Jonathan Michel: bass (4), electric bass (9); Russell Hall: bass (8); Obed Calvaire: drums (1 – 7, 9, 11, 12); KJ Marcelle: drums (10); D’Achee: congas (1, 3, 7, 10); 2001 Jab Molassie – Steffano Marcano, Jeron Pierre, Jermain Constantine, Gregory Isadore, Andrew Nicholas, Anton St. Hillaire, Dwight Harerah, Ashton Fournillier & Yellows: biscuit pan and vocals (1); Claxton Bay: Tamboo Bamboo (8); Bertrand ‘Bud’ Toby: chantuelle (8); Sherwin Toby, Bertrand Toby, Curtis Toby, Ray Toby, Kizzy Toby, Judyann Toby, Merrick Toby, Kelvin Barclay, Anton Barclay, Angela Barclay, Garth Gomez, Barbara Cummings, Kepton Forbes & McQueen Forbes: Tamboo Bamboo (8); Trevor McDonald, Colin Mitchell, Oba Kiteme, Evan ‘Crabbie’ Edwards, Ormand Morgan, Filex Alexander, Keron Mitchell, Kelvin Serrette, William Douglas, Anthony Joseph, Roniel Peters, Keon Lewis, Shakeel Parsons, Tarriq Morgan, Koro Hills:Laventille rhythm section (9); Earl Brooks, Iman Pascall, Tristan Japsi, Jahani Roberts: tenor pan (10); Andre White (solo 2), Kareem Thompson (solo 1): double second pan (10); Kuent Rose, Anthony Sharpe: guitar pan (10); Etienne Charles:trumpet (1); Edward Clarke Jr. (solo 3), Aviel John: bass pan (10); Pascual Landeau:marac (10); Everald ‘Redman’ Watson: djembé (12); Wayne ‘Lion’ Osuna: djembé (12).

Released – 2018
Label – Culture Shock Music (EC007)
Runtime – 1:07:21

Raul da Gama
Canadian writer. Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a musician and an accomplished writer whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.


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