Band together

Launch concert review by Mark Lyndersay, originally published in the Trinidad Guardian on June 24, 2014.
From left, performing at their album launch at the Little Carib Theatre, executive producer Michael Low Chew Tung, Anthony Woodroffe, Vaugnette Bigford, Rodney Alexander, Dean Williams and Modupe Onilu. Photographs by Mark Lyndersay.

It was the start of something, to be sure, and the crowds that filled the Little Carib Theatre last Thursday were keen to witness it.
It’s rare for a local jazz concert to claim standing room only status, but the musicians of the TriniJazz Project earned it for their first public outing performing at the launch of their eponymous new album.

The concert started promptly with bassist Rodney Alexander at centre stage for his composition
Musiq. Right from the start it was clear this wasn’t going to be a straight reading of the album, and the call and response passage by Alexander’s bass and Anthony Woodroffe’s felt sharper and more passionate than it was on the recording.

Woodroffe’s song,
I’m into you, followed with a lot more verve and lilt infusing the live version of the beat backing the composer’s delicate flute lead. A slashing percussion solo by Modupe Onilu pushed the song along even harder, coaxing the flautist to jam even harder when he returned to lead the song.
There was a delightful moment as guitarist Dean Williams leaned in close on the tips of his toes during a roaring jam to listen to Woodroffe’s playing as they eased off the soloing to rejoin the melody.

Dean Williams’
Li Jwe Gita (He plays guitar) followed with far more fire than he recorded for the album. Williams showed some fascinating strumming technique on the number, pushing outward from the ghetto of beat embellishment to which rhythm guitarists have been consigned for most of the soca era.

The result was a guitar lead that started like just that sort of playing before pushing outward with layered multi-chordal strumming and a deft fingering technique that sometimes felt like just a little too much fireworks for the melody.

Following the track list of the CD closely, Modupe Onilu’s
Awon Omo Ti O Ti came next, the percussionist offering a theatrical introduction to the song with his array of music and effects generating gear before leading the song on a small xylophone, the first I’ve seen in a T&T concert since the days when Andre Tanker used one for his sets at the Hilton.
An inspired trading of riffs between Williams and Woodroffe took the Onilu’s song soaring before the guitarist’s dense barrage of notes took it to escape velocity.

Every serious singer should have a song that they own, and Vaugnette Bigford has found hers with her reading of Merchant’s One Superpower for this album. When she took the stage with her backup singers a respectful hush descended on the rowdy boys who had been romping on the stage just moments before.

The live performance was even more contained than it was on the album, backed by a lush, gently swooping music bed led by a sustained chorale by her backup singers and Low Chew Tung’s synthesised organ.

Bigford would also perform
Memory of your smile, lifted somewhat by a gentle bass solo from Alexander that suggested pulsing heartbeats and would return for the second to last song of the set with a lanyap number, a surprisingly tentative version of Valentino’s Birds Flying High.
Yeah, No, Maybe got an energised makeover from a band emboldened an overwhelmingly strong response from the audience and a growing comfort with their confident interplay.

Rodney Alexander starts the wildness off with a Hendrix-style solo played with his teeth, surprising Dean Williams who moved quickly to take up the challenge.
The two traded fierce solo runs before Woodroffe parted the two like a smooth sax peacemaker, which then brought Onilu running to the fray with a really tiny drum from which he coaxed some gentle moans.
“These guys just won’t behave,” laughed Woodroffe after the number, “and it’s my song!”

Dean Williams introduced his second song
A Woman’s Sweetness, declining with a sheepish smile to explain the song’s inspiration. While the song starts well, Williams began to overplay it, losing the delicacy of the recorded version of the number in a shimmering cascade of effects and solo jam smarts.
The concert ended as it began, bookended by a Rodney Alexander composition,
Country. By then the TriniJazz Project was sounding less like an artful collaboration of like-minded players and more like an all-star band.

Alexander’s song offers many opportunites for soloing and interplay, and they were enthusiastically mined by capable players whose comfort with each other’s abilities filled the room with deft playing and confident vamping on the sweet, laid back beat.
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