Homeward bound but going where?

A review of Clifford Charles’new jazz album Homeward Bound published in the Sunday Arts Magazine on September 28, 2014
Let’s acknowledge up front that Clifford Charles is a skilled and inventive guitar player. His approach to interpreting songs is nimble and adventurous and his backing band on this work is capable enough.
The thing that the guitarist is trying to do with this album may simply not be possible, however.

Charles spends the first two-thirds of his album trying to wring jazzy interpretations out of popular recent soca songs.
His choices for this treatment are certainly appealing songs on their own. Destra’s It’s Carnival and Call my name, Kerwyn Du Bois’Bacchanalist, Bunji Garlin’s Differentology and David Rudder’s Bacchanal Lady all come in for musical review and reinterpretation.

There are usually three ways this gets done. The rhythm is altered, either by dramatically speeding it up or slowing it down, it gets replaced entirely with another style, something quite different like ska or bossa nova, that changes the feel of the song, or riskiest of all, the melody gets dramatically rearranged.

But soca is a very stripped down style of music, which isn’t surprising given the way it quite specifically targets the dance floor or in our case, the road on Carnival Tuesday.
In that way, it tends to resemble electronic dance music (EDM) most closely and there hasn’t been a big rush by modern jazz practitioners keen to plumb the musical possibilities of the catalogues of Crystal Method or Armin Van Buren or to toy with the now alarmingly passé dubstep.

It’s no surprise then that the most successful of these reworks is Bacchanal Lady, which was created in an era in which more than one person was responsible for all the music that went into a song.
Which isn’t to say that the other works are insignificant. Charles’opening chords on Call my name have a bittersweet, yearning quality that brings a new beauty to Destra’s under appreciated song and his jaunty playing on Bacchanalist perfectly fits the song’s essential message.

Things begin to fall apart with his overthinking of Differentology, which comes over as a brooding remorse at the whole idea of Carnival and stumbles more than once trying to add clever musical cues to an admirably spare song.
I didn’t much care for the phased electronic piano stylings of Kittitian keyboardist Ron Clarke which just felt dated on a modern album, and the generally murky mix of the recording didn’t serve the guitarist’s work well at all.

I expect to find most of the soca reinterpretations, particularly the Destra songs and Bacchanalist, added to the playlists of DJs working mellow MOR sets for appreciative older audiences.
That’s going to be a good thing for Clifford Charles, because his work is going to be heard and appreciated and, most importantly, paid for.

But the best works on the album are the ones buried down at the end, Soca Theme, Say yes and Inna d Dance, three numbers that speak to a very promising idea of how soca’s melody can influence and direct a very accessible Caribbean jazz.
All three songs are written and performed entirely by Charles, with urgent vocals by Chara Hoseinee Friday on Soca Theme.

Soca Theme is a driving, funky song, the beat freed of the need to appeal to a masquerader in costume, galloping along at a madcap pace urged on by the peppery strumming of the guitarist.
I’d really have liked to hear his work here more clearly in the mix, but that’s remedied somewhat in Say yes, a delicate blending of lavway and love song that shows off Charles’tasteful and measured playing.
Apart from some pleasant flourishes on Call my name and Bacchanalist, this is the best showcase for his work on the album and it rewards repeated listening.

Inna d Dance is very much an island vibe number, bouncy and agreeable and the composition by Charles that’s most likely to get some notice.
The guitarist carves clear, fluid lines against the gently rocking beat that hearken back to the type of precise, unequivocal playing that Eric Gale was well-known for.

If anything, Homeward Bound suffers by not having a clear enough market in mind. Jazz buffs are likely to be infuriated with his overly respectful handling of the soca pop songs and irritated by the mix.
DJs and casual listeners will find rich and very usable material in his soca reinterpretations but won’t have much use for his original works.

But it’s these compositions that hold the most promise for his future musical adventuring. With some more aggressive arrangements and less laid back playing, Clifford Charles has the potential to carve out a very special place in the local jazz landscape.

The Band
Clifford Charles - Guitar, all instruments on Soca Theme, Inna d Dance, Say Yes.
Sean Friday - Bass Guitar
David Richards - Drums
Ron Clarke - Keyboards
Chara Hoseinee Friday - Vocals (Soca Theme)
Jesee Ryan - Sax (Bacchanal Lady)
Producer - Clifford Charles
Album available from Cleve’s, Kams and Crosbys, on the web at CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon and
on the guitarist's website.
blog comments powered by Disqus