Mama dis is Jazz

Jazz for yo Momma
A review of Mama dis is Jazz, originally published in the Trinidad Guardian on May 14, 2010.
Review and photography by Mark Lyndersay

Vaugnette Bigford performs at Mama dis is Jazz at UWI Senior Common Grounds on May 09

A jazz concert for Mother’s Day? How is this not going to be the kind of smooth jazz that slip slides into a turgid oblivion?
Mama dis is Jazz, a jazz concert on Mother’s Day, turned out to be a well-executed idea and this year’s edition was a lively show with a real commitment to some elemental principles of the music.

Mungal Patasar and Pantar surged into Dreadlocks with admirable enthusiasm. The song has morphed from the lilting lavway recorded on the band’s debut album, Nirvana, into a reggae churn reminiscent of some of the earlier dub work of Sly and Robbie. Dawud Orr’s synthesised wind instrument playing added to the spacey feel along with some new computer driven sound effects.

During their second number, a lively call and response interlude between Prashant Patasar on tabla, Wayne Tobitt on drums and Mungal illustrated the real pleasure that father and son take in playing together.
Pantar closed their short set with a new number, Tendonitis that found the band in exploratory territory, laying spacey sound effects over a spanky disco beat.

The Patasars, Mungal and Prashant, seemed to be skipping through the song like polished stones, present, but never quite making full contact with the music. It wasn’t to my taste, frankly, but experimentation raises the game all around.

Vaugnette Bigford was the most mom-friendly act of the night, an engaging chanteuse who’s capable of putting an intriguing spin on even quite ordinary material.
Backed by Theron Shaw on Guitar, Anthony Woodroofe on saxophone, Douglas Redon on bass and Richie Joseph on drums, Bigford stalked the stage in a dazzling tie-dyed number, her steps assured by a tight, precise and tasteful band.

They worked through the set crisply, no song running longer than five minutes, and it was hard not to feel cheated by the brief appearance of an ensemble that worked so well together.
A standout performance was Bigford’s respectful reclamation of Carol Addison’s Born to Shine, on which Woodroofe duetted with throaty, growling sax lines.

The lone misstep was her reading of Miriam Makeba’s Pata Pata, a pleasant enough opportunity for a band jam, but a number on which even the most accomplished singer could add little.
Bigford’s best moments in the show were her defining vocals on original numbers and intelligent new readings of less well-known works, territory where her blooming talent can really take root.

Dave Marcellin managed the remainder of the show, opening with extended electric piano flourishes that also seemed to involved some detailed tweaking of the jacks and wires leading into the three keyboards that constituted his rig.
Marcellin then settled into a capable rendition of the Chick Corea standard, Armando’s Rhumba, embellished with some synthesiser solos that seemed to be based on fuzz guitar samples.

The re-invention of the vintage calypso, Melda, which followed, was a pleasant surprise, sounding more like mid-70’s Herbie Hancock than the considerable body of work that Clive Zanda has done in the same vein.
Particularly intriguing was the bold, operatic tone of Marcellin’s interpretaion of the music, lending a sharp, almost comically ironic contrast to the content of the largely scurrilous lyrics he was interpreting.

It was at this point in the concert that the crowd seemed to lose interest in the proceedings, and a steady trickle of departures began. That came as a surprise, because the show had been ruthlessly kept on track, Pantar limited to three songs, Vaugnette Bigford visibly wrestling with a set she was pruning as she worked on stage.
It was the only concert I’ve attended in years which seemed mindful of an implicit promise to its audience to end at a reasonable hour on a Sunday night.

In a puzzling turn, Marcellin cut short his set and left the stage, which encouraged more folks to pack up, thinking the concert was over.
Then Marcellin and his band returned to back Michael Boothman, who might have been pointedly directing his opening number, What’s going on, to the growing numbers of empty white seats.
Boothman played professionally through Dimples, an agreeable easy listening instrumental he performs on the local circuit and closed the show with Rosetta, a swing classic.

Mama dis is Jazz offered exactly what it advertised, genuine jazz performances from a cross-section of local performers in a palatable, briskly organised programme that suffered only from awful lighting, audio that was way too bright and crackly in the midrange and too-long, unfunny MC chatter to kill time between set changes. Lose the MCs, do better sound checks, hire a good DJ and lighting designer and this is a concert series that might approach perfection.
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