Last night, we had the great pleasure of listening to Etienne Charles and his six-piece band Creole Soul [see previous post A Treat for the Hudson Valley: Etienne Charles plays the Falcon]—what an unforgettable musical experience! We sorely missed the other half of the Repeating Islands team, Lisa. But I managed to get her a signed copy of Creole Soul and am now listening to three of the Etienne Charles CDs one after another: Creole Soul, Kaiso, and Folklore. Tonight they will perform at the Northampton Jazz Festival, which is free today, the last day of the festival. The festival concerts already began at 11:00am, but if you are anywhere near Northampton (María!), you are lucky indeed. Charles and Creole Soul will perform from 7:30 to 9:00pm in downtown Northampton, Massachusetts.
I cannot begin to explain why you must not miss this! I’ll just say that it was a pleasure to listen to six amazing musicians with great discursive chemistry and true camaraderie, playing in joyous, seamless, but electrifying, harmony. The Caribbean’s many flavors emerged in unique and unexpected ways through strands of bélé, reggae, konpa, kaiso, and so much more.
Etienne Charles and Creole Soul: One of the most compelling and exciting young jazz artists ushering the genre into groundbreaking new territory is trumpeter/bandleader Etienne Charles, who, still in his 20s, has already recorded three impressive and well-received albums for his own Culture Shock Music imprint. His new album, Creole Soul, is a captivating journey of new jazz expression. It buoyantly taps into a myriad of styles rooted in his Afro-Caribbean background and plumbs the musical depths of the islands, from calypso to Haitian voodoo music. Also in the jazz amalgam mix are rock steady, reggae, belair, kongo and rock as well as the influence of Motown and R&B music Charles listened to on his parents’ record player when he was growing up.
“Jazz is Creole music,” says Charles who was born in Trinidad, relocated first to Florida and then New York to further his jazz studies (graduating, respectively, from Florida State’s and Juilliard’s jazz programs) and today teaches jazz trumpet at Michigan State University. “As a person in the new world, I’ve been influenced by so much music. And my family has a mixed background, with French Caribbean, Spanish and African roots as well as Venezuelan influences. I come from a fusion of rhythms, a fusion of cultures. That’s what this album is all about: focusing on soul music that is Creole at heart.”
As befitting an artist who excels with such a diversity of musical styles, Charles has performed with a range of musicians, from Roberta Flack, Rene Marie and David Rudder to Wynton Marsalis, Johnny Mandel, the Count Basie Orchestra and Maria Schneider. He also worked with steel pan all-star Len “Boogsie” Sharpe as well as jazz masters Frank Foster and Benny Golson.
Charles was taught by one of his mentors, primo jazz pianist and Florida State professor Marcus Roberts, that “going backwards is the only way to go forward.” So, while the 10-song Creole Soul is steeped in the jazz tradition, the spirit of the Caribbean also drives it. The young trumpeter, in addition to composing six originals, delivers his unique spin on Creole-oriented tunes from past masters, ranging from Bob Marley to Thelonious Monk. The album—at turns, rootsy, spicy and grooving—features at its core Charles’ crisp trumpet intonation and his lucid melodic lines. Joining the leader for the Creole music adventure is Charles’ band, comprised of tenor saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart, alto saxophonist Brian Hogans, Kris Bowers on piano and Fender Rhodes, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Obed Calvaire. Guests include vocalist Erol Josué, guitarist Alex Wintz and percussionist/vocalists Daniel Sadownick and D’Achee.
The New York Times calls Charles an auteur who is “one of [jazz’s] more ambitious soloists and composers,” JazzTimes applauds him as a “daring improviser” and DownBeat celebrates his tone as “melodically captivating” and “rhythmically agile” that makes his music “immediately pleasing.” After three albums, released on Culture Shock, Charles has garnered a welcomed response to his Caribbean roots-informed jazz. Creole Soul, his most accomplished recording so far in his young career, holds great promise to a future of more ebullient and intimate artistry.