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Concert Reviews

Etienne Charles · Carnival: The Sound of a People

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Etienne Charles

On the evening of November 16, 2018, Trinidadian native, amazing trumpet player, recording artist, bandleader, composer, arranger and educator Etienne Charles brought to Toronto his most recent project, Carnival: The Sound of a People. It was the  first concert of the Jazz at the George Series, a new jazz series presented by Sony Centre for the Performing Arts at the George Weston Recital Hall (Toronto Centre for the Arts). It was also the premiere of Carnival: The Sound of a People (the recording) in North America. Mr Charles has close connections to Canada, he has family in Toronto. It was his Canadian uncle the one who introduced Etienne to the trumpet in his early years.

Carnival: The Sound of a People is an epic musical endeavour of profound dimension. It’s a fascinating artistic statement that goes deep into the roots of Trinidadian culture, into Afro-Caribbean history. It celebrates the identity, the survival of a people through music and dance, through traditional manifestations of sarcasm and rebellion against the oppressors, but also of joy and struggle for freedom, all of this kept alive in the carnival festivities.

The concert was more than music, it was dance, popular traditions, street artistic manifestations, including carnival costumed performers who joined the band on stage. Mr. Charles’ sister Abby Charles was dressed up as the Fancy Sailor, a traditional character during the carnival celebrations in Trinidad and Tobago. From the liner notes on the album (Carnival: The Sound of a People Vol 1) which I bought that night after the concert, I extract the following: “Funded by a John Simon Guggenheim fellowship, Charles travelled to his homeland, Trinidad & Tobago in 2016, making audio and video field recordings of some of the richest traditions of carnival to inspire his compositions. The music of this album reflects his encounters with the people. Their defining sounds and stories, as well as the history of carnival, one of the most fascinating, dynamic traditions of the Americas.”

Etienne Charles and his band performed most of the music from the album: Jab Molassie, Dame Lorraine, Moko Jumbie, three movements of the micro-suite Black Echo, as well as other compositions from his previous recordings. On Carnival: The Sound of a People Vol 1 Etienne Charles continues with his writing and compositional style, working around important, historic themes, with extensive research, field recordings (audio and video), the kind of projects an ethnomusicologist always dreams of working on.

The Band was integrated by Etienne Charles on trumpet, congas and percussion; Godwin Louis on alto sax; Alex Wintz on electric guitar; James Francies on piano; Larnell Lewis (from Toronto) on drums; Jonathan Michel on bass, and guest Mark Mosca on steel pans and barril (he’s also from Toronto).

We were all delighted to see Mr. Larnell Lewis as part of the band. He’s a well-known Torontonian award winning artist, acclaimed for his work with Michael League and Snarky Puppy. Other highlights of the night were the participation of another Torontonian of Trinidadian descent, Mr. Mark Mosca, a master award winning steel pan, percussionist. The traditional costumed performers played a very important role adding the theatrical and carnivalesque athmosphere to the show, specially the Blue Devil character, who was screaming as a mad man (or devil) dancing swiftly and moving all over the stage. Toronto actress, director and storyteller Rhoma Spencer dressed all in black representing Death made an appearance in front of the stage as Mr. Charles and his band interpreted the tender ballad “Memories,” a rearranged old calypso by Winsford Devine that pays tribute to people who have recently passed away. People who Mr. Charles have known, like steel pan, percussionist Ralph MacDonald, one of his former teachers and one of his biggest mentors.

Attending the show were Etienne Charles’ parents, who flew all the way from Port of Spain, the capital city of Trinidad and Tobago, to celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary with him.

All in all, a magnificent show, highly educational and entertaining, with a profound cultural, historical message.

Photographs by Atael Weissman – click on the images to enlarge
(see full gallery on our Facebook page)

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Concert Reviews

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

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On Thursday, October 13, 2022, representing two generations of Cuban Piano Masters, Hilario Durán and David Virelles got together at Koerner Hall, one of the most magnificent concert venues in Toronto. They were celebrating the release (in Canada) of their new recording Front Street Duets (Alma Records), a project they started working on at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto
Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

Both artists were extremely happy of releasing their duet album after these past two years of the unimaginable worldwide health crisis. They were also excited to be in Toronto, and for being able to accommodate their busy schedules to perform their music in front of a very enthusiastic audience. Durán and Virelles expressed their utmost respect and admiration for each other. David from an early age considered Hilario as one of his musical heroes, a musical giant and influential figure in Cuba, in Canada and abroad. Hilario considers David as one of the most important Cuban pianist of his generation, a big star shining globally, from the highly competitive musical scene in New York.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

The concert got started started with Epistrophy, the first tune copyrighted by Thelonious Monk, followed by Sophisticated Lady / In A Sentimental Mood, two compositions by Duke Ellington. Next, Durán and Virelles performed four tunes from their new album: 1. Danza Lucumí, (beautifully arranged by Virelles), a song written by Alejandro García Caturla, a Cuban composer who together with Amadeo Roldán, are considered the leaders of Afro-cubanismo, a nationalist musical trend that incorporates Afro-Cuban songs, rhythms, and dances. 2. Challenge, a new composition by Durán. 3. La Malanga (also arranged by Virelles), a composition by Calixto Varona, one of the most important composers from Santiago de Cuba from the XIX century. 4. Guajira For Two Pianos, the first track on the album Front Street Duet, a fiery composition written by Durán.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

The first set came to an end with Airegin (an anadrome of Nigeria), a jazz standard composed by American saxophonist Sonny Rollins in 1954.

The second part of the concert started with a solo performance by David Virelles, Canción Estudio, composed by José Antonio “Ñico” Rojas, a prominent Cuban composer and guitarist, considered as one of the founders of the style of Cuban song called filin. Then it was Durán’s turn for an inspired solo performance of Autumn Nocturne (a notable composition written by Russian-born Josef Myrow with Kim Gannon). Durán had previously recorded this tune on his 1999 Justin Time Records release Habana Nocturna, a superb album that feature acclaimed saxophonist, flautist and bandleader Jane Bunnett, and drummer extraordinaire Horacio “El Negro” Hernández.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

Next, both pianists performed a set of four pieces written by Hilario Durán for the recording Front Street Duets. 1. David’s Tumbao, a composition dedicated to David Virelles. Durán is well known for his fiery tumbao style when he’s playing. 2. Punto Cubano #1, inspired on the genre of Cuban music known as punto guajiro or punto cubano, a poetic art with music that became popular in the western and central regions of Cuba in the 17th century and consolidated as a genre in the 18th century. 3. Santos Suárez’s Memories pays tribute to the Havana neighbourhood where Durán grew up, where he fell in love with the piano and became a musician. It brings back cherished memories involving his upbringing, his family and close friends. 4. Milonga For Cuba, a very special tribute dedicated to the people who protested in Havana last summer 2021.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

For the encore, Durán and Virelles interpreted a wonderful rendition of Body And Soul, a popular song and jazz standard written in 1930 with music by Johnny Green and lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour and Frank Eyton. Body and Soul is the track that closes the album Front Street Duets, and also brought to an end a tremendous musical night at Koerner Hall in Toronto.

Photographs by Danilo Navas

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