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Raf Robertson's Universal Rhythm
In these momentous times of globalisation, words such as universal often carry a suspicious gloss.
For those who know pianist, composer, vocalist and teacher Raf Robertson, however, the word universal is one of many sincere expressions of his artistic gifts.
As a seasoned musician who has performed either as a leader or accompanying musician in various parts of Europe and the United States, in Africa, and across the Caribbean for the better part of three decades, Mr. Robertson is acutely aware of what it means to play with a universal rhythm.
Universal Rhythm is Raf's third CD as a leader. He follows the trajectory of his previous recordings (Just Teasin' and Branches) in documenting the life of what is incorrectly considered to be a poor relative of Jazz music - Calypso (Kaiso) Jazz. In this regard Universal Rhythm is offered as a most eloquent corrective.
It may be argued that Calypso Jazz is as old as calypso itself. The tasteful and catchy arrangements of calypsos from the 1940s and 50s for example (like those of the Roaring Lion and Lord Kitchener) embodied the jazz zeitgeist of the age. Then in the 60s came musicologist Scofield Pilgrim, and exponents such as Clive Zanda, John "Buddy" Williams, Rupert Clemendore, Luther François, Anise Hadeed, Monty Alexander, Robbie Greenidge, Len Boogsie Sharpe, Andre Tanker, Frankie McIntosh, Toby Tobas and scores of other improvising young West Indians. We now have what has become a well-defined and documented jazz sub-genre.
On "Pan Explosion," Raf mirrors the refined melodicism of the sadly departed master (Lord Kitchener) and adds his own inimitable improvisational flair. Anton Rubinstein's face would be wreathed in smiles if he were to listen to Mr. Robertson's treatment of his delicate and pretty "Melody in F" - demonstrating Raf's classical music affinities and the fact that Kaiso Jazz takes no prisoners in terms of its source material! Raf answers guitarist Andre Tanker's "Jumbie Call" with a hip-swaying beat and barrelsful of improvisational ideas. Kaiso Jazz gives way to a mellow reggae-fied vibe on Frankie McIntosh's "Madisa." Raf's two original compositions are "Pan for Carnival" and "Mandela's Dance." The former puts one in the mind of enthusiastic devotees "chipping" their way down Frederick Street on J'ouvert morning. The latter, tinged with "Township Jive," evokes the heady feeling of exhilaration when Nelson Mandela strode to freedom on that eventful February day in 1990. Perhaps the most haunting tune of the disc is the truly masterful reharmonisation of Mighty Sparrow's "Slave" featuring the very commanding vocal of Mr. Robertson himself. Ekendra Das' "Comparsa" adds a compelling percussive element to a fine album.
Ably supporting Raf on this most recent exploration of the Calypso Jazz beat are Konrad Atherley on electric bass guitar, Ekendra Das on percussion, Kenny Joseph on drums, Faye Clinton on cello ("Mandela's Dance") and Lennard Jack playing steel pans.
In your hands - or more properly issuing forth from your stereo - is a rich "musical callalou," essentially West Indian in content, but transparently global in intent and impact. Enjoy it!
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