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ETIENNE CHARLES: CARNIVAL REVIEW

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Tuesday June 18, 2019

From soundsandcolours.com

REVIEW ETIENNE CHARLES ‘” CARNIVAL: THE SOUND OF A PEOPLE VOL 1
By: Mark Sampson

“Like a good wine, sometimes an album needs to lie quietly on its side for a while in order to appreciate its full range of flavours. Trinidadian trumpeter Etienne Charles’ 7th studio album is a case in point. It came out in March and I’ve been letting it settle ever since. Now that the cork is popped, so to speak, its richness is revelatory.

Educated at Julliard and now educator at Michigan State University, Charles gained a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2016 to explore the indigenous music and carnival traditions of his native Trinidad & Tobago. From his encounters and audio and visual field recordings, the raw material for the album emerged. He ‘had time to pay attention to every detail,’ he reveals. ‘Each piece is differently composed, depending on the subject.’ Yet ‘the music just came out. I’ve never had a project when the music came out this quickly.’ It shows. This is an ambitious album that never sounds forced or pretentious. In its thematic reach and its rhythmic foundation ‘” indeed in the very timbre of the trumpet playing, not to mention the title itself ‘” the album recalls one of Wynton Marsalis’ more successful ‘projects’: Citi Movement, the closest thing perhaps to a bona fide masterpiece that the new-classicist from New Orleans has thus far produced.

Back in the day, I worked with a Trinidadian pan-man. We would trawl through the racks of Cheapo Cheapo Records in Soho during our lunch breaks and he would often speak of the wonders of the annual carnival. What he never revealed, however, was the dark history behind the celebrations. Etienne Charles, however, takes the listener on a musical and cultural journey that moves from Carnival’s past to present, and thematically from dark to light. The subliminal roaring and screaming on the opening ‘Jab Molassie’ could be the sound of festivity, but equally the cries of torment. Built around a spare, haunting melody, the piece explores the origins of a character that Charles himself played as a little boy in Trinidad. The vengeful, fire-breathing, blue devil-spirit personifies ‘the atrocious acts perpetrated against us’. On the sugar plantations during slavery days, inconceivably sadistic punishments included being boiled in molasses.”

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