XAVIER STRINGS: Sisters, Janine, left, and Janelle Xavier perform at the 2013 Jazz Artistes on the Greens, WASA compound, St Joseph on Saturday. They front a ensemble known as Xavier Strings, with the violin and viola being the lead instruments.

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Homegrown music delights at Jazz Artistes

By Wayne Bowman
By wayne.bowman@trinidadexpress.com

One would have to lean towards his side, in this issue at least, because on these two islands nearly every turn you take you encounter someone who is uniquely gifted in one sphere of the arts or another.

Douglas said his Ministry is embarking on a mission to secure international platforms for local culture and entertainment so artistes who struggle here now will have opportunities on the global arena. There are already opportunities and local artistes including soca acts, jazz musicians and dancers do find regular work out there.

But securing gigs, recording deals and other opportunities in the United States, Europe and elsewhere is hard and the number of artistes who do is very small in comparison to the many talented people with big dreams here. So hopefully Douglas and his team will be able to work some miracle soon because the world needs to experience what we have to offer and our artistes deserve to be seen on the world stage.

Underscoring this point was last Saturday’s Jazz Artistes on the Greens that took place on the WASA compound, St Joseph. Four acts were presented, two of them local and not just homegrown, but featuring skilled young musicians each of whom can stand their ground alongside any international artiste of merit. Now I’ve been knocked by people before for writing that local artistes delivered performances that were better than headlining foreign acts. I’ve been told that could not have been the case. Why not?

Anyway, let’s begin with the performance of Xavier Strings fronted by sisters, Janine and Janelle Xavier on violin and viola respectively. From the first couple bars of their performance the ladies and their accompanying musicians grabbed the audience’s attention as they opened with the, “Mission Impossible Theme” with other musical elements infused within. They then smoothly transitioned into, “Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson into which they subtly blended in a bit of his, “Billie Jean”.

Nearing the end of their set the ensemble got people singing and some even got up to dance as they performed a really interesting arrangement of, “Differentology”. It was not straight jazz per say, but an eclectic interpretation of what is already an avant guarde composition.

They then flowed into some Tobago reel music that morphed into David Rudder’s classic, “Calypso Music”. The audience continued to sing along, dance and cheer as the sisters wrapped up their presentation with “Bacchanalist”, and a really joyful version of “Leggo” from Blaxx.

Earlier in its set Xavier Strings created other memorable moments for example when Janelle sang, “Sweet Love” in a manner that would have made Anita Baker stand and salute had she been there. Janelle also sang, “Summertime”, hitting some impressive low notes as the band played in a light samba tempo. Janine got in on the vocal action when they did the duet thing on, “It’s All About The Money” by Jesse J. There was also an interesting arrangement of Adele’s, “Rolling In The Deep” done by the group’s keyboardist, Rodney Harris.

I can’t move on without kudos to David Richards for some wicked solos and runs especially on “Night in Tunasia”, while bassist, Kevon La Fleur delivered fantastic chords and rhythms on, “Every Time Ah Pass”, “Sayamanda”, “Ben Lion” and other songs throughout the set. Xavier Strings has performed internationally and even did some work for the BBC, but the world and you here at home deserve to experience their magic.

Opening the evening’s series of performances was rising young saxophonist, Jesse Ryan who had performed at JAOTG before, but as an accompanist. This time he was centre stage and would you believe enjoying the honour of being accompanied on keyboard by the great and iconic, Raf Robertson? I tell you, Ryan must have been feeling like a bite-up shilling. Anyway, he delivered one great performance in which he explored comtemporary jazz, gospel, jazz standards and a bit of kaiso.

Ryan’s interpretation of “PC” by John Coltrane was really good and the piano riffs from Robertson blended with some great fret-works by Theron Shaw on guitar complimented the saxophonist nicely. Ryan and company got the audience remiciscing when they played “Bring Back The Old Time Days”, by Nappy Mayers. The 20th anniversary of his passing is this coming December by the way, the 11th to be precise.

Ryan then got a bit introspective when he performed what he said was one of his favourite pieces, “Phillipians 4:13” by Tim Green. He ended his set with a nicely arranged interpretation of, “Never Ever Worry” by the late great, Lord Pretender. Ryan had opened with his own composition, “Don't Look Over Your Shoulder” and he also performed another of his own pieces, “Nearer”.

Coming in from Canada was Cuba-born trumpeter, Alexi Baro who captured hearts early in his performance when he declared that he loves coming to Trinidad to perform having first done so several years ago when he backed up David Rudder. Baro performed a mix of jazz standards and his own compositions some of which can be defined as contemporary jazz and he also blended in some Afro-Cuban music into a couple of his pieces.

Bringing the curtain down on JAOTG 2013 was internationally acclaimed pannist, Andy Narell who delivered an enjoyable set accompanied by a mix of local and foreign musicians who came down with him for the event. Narell’s set included his 2013 Panorama offering, “The Last Word” and “Long Time Band” by David Rudder.

Nigel Campbell of Production One Limited, producers of JAOTG told the Express that in spite of the challenges, especially the financial woes that present themselves, they will continue to do all in their power to keep the event alive. This was the 11th edition of the event and although it was scaled down somewhat, it still proved to be a resounding success in the way of attendance and the praises from the patrons.

Campbell said they hope that in the near future JAOTG will become a two-day event and even grow further from there. This is, however, hinged on Production One coming up with the finances to do so successfully. That means securing greater corporate investment into the event, which by extension will be an investment into the jazz art form in Trinidad and Tobago. Judging from what JAOTG presented this year and in previous editions, it will be an investment well worth it.

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