Many hands make light work

The TriniJazz Project
Parlemusic Productions
Album review by Mark Lyndersay, originally published in the Trinidad Guardian on June 24, 2014.
The TriniJazz Project is several things all happening together on a single CD.
Producer Michael Low Chew Tung, better known in the community of jazz musicians as Ming, gathered a group of young jazz musicians who had never recorded before to make an album.

The result is a collection of eight original instrumental works and two covers that push gently at the boundaries of the easy listening jazz that finds the largest audiences in T&T.
Each of the participating musicians is represented by two songs on the disc, providing a small but intriguing insight into the creative thinking of bassist Rodney Alexander, guitarist Dean Williams, saxophonist Anthony Woodroffe, percussionist Modupe Onilu and vocalist Vaugnette Bigford.

Mikhail Salcedo guests on tenor pan, drummer Richard Joseph does double duty as the album’s designer while Ming plays keyboards and runs the show.
The standout number on the album is Bigford’s sepulchral reading of Merchant’s
One Superpower, an arrangement that turns the song into an sombre indictment of man’s ambitions and hubris.

Compared to that tour de force work, her next song, a straightforward reading of Ray Holman’s
Memory of your smile falters. It simply isn’t in the same class of performance opportunity.
Bassist Rodney Alexander emerges as the album’s strongest songwriter, his bass driven songs
Musiq and Country providing expansive landscapes for the group’s proclivity for soloing and engaging in all too brief, though fiery exchanges.

These are also the songs that feel deepest rooted in a calypso style of composing, Country in particular feeling like a lost lavway from the fifties while Musiq reaches back to the funk-calypso experiments of the 60’s and 70’s that predated the formalising of the soca beat and so strongly influenced the compositions of Ralph McDonald.

Which isn’t to dismiss the work of the other musicians at all. Onilu’s work,
Awon Omo Ti O Ti, spends its first full minute exploring the musician’s collection of percussion based effects to create a persuasively primal atmosphere before racing into a nimble number led by his xylophone playing.

Questions Unanswered, the music swirls intriguingly without finding dramatic resolution. But there was no such uncertainty on Dean Williams’A Woman’s Sweetness, which lopes along like swing of a woman’s hips, flush with the confidence of its attractiveness. On Li Jwe Gita, the fretwork is flashier but elegant, layered over a bouncy beat that flirts with both samba and the Laventille Rhythm Section.

Anthony Woodroffe’s songs,
I’m into you and Yeah, No, Maybe both play to his strengths on the flute and saxophone but neither feels fully formed on the album. Even his colleagues play politely and respectfully and not even the usually incendiary presence of Mikhail Salcedo on Yeah, No, Maybe can rouse the song from its polite pacing.

Collectively, the album is a strong and eminently listenable collection of local music. Hardcore jazz buffs won’t find much to surprise them here, but the far larger audience of music lovers will find a lot to enjoy in this accomplished collection of local additions to the T&T songbook.

Ming has done a remarkable job of planting seeds on this album, recording five very promising musicians early in their careers and giving them a chance to explore the evolution of this album together.
This is definitely one of those “stick a pin here” recordings and it’s going to be interesting to see where these musicians go from here.

The TriniJazz Project
Vaugnette Bigford - Vocals
Anthony Woodroffe - Saxophone, flute
Dean Williams - Guitar
Rodney Alexander - Bass
Modupe Onilu - Percussion

Additional musicians
Michael Low Chew Tung - Keyboards
Richard Joseph - Drums
Afiya Althill - Vocals
Mikhail Salcedo - Tenor pan
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