(Charlie Parker: Now’s the time)
A local Jazz concert! What a rarity around these parts. Now imagine the anticipation…and the nervousness too. You want this one to go down well if for no other reason but to bolster the confidence of the producers in the genre to repeat the feat. I mean, there is less Jazz in the HLSCC (H. Lavity Stoutt) Concert Series these past few years since the scope was broadened to include Blues, Dance, Reggae, Theatre and World.
Even more unsettling to this writer was the slowness at which the Eileene L. Parsons auditorium was filling up. Where were the die-hard patrons who never miss a show, anyway? Something did not seem to be right. That was the floor. How about the stage…it’s show time.
Ok, Joseph “Macarldie” Nibbs and Friends, tackling a Charlie Parker composition like “Now’s the time” requires a certain amount of reverence, respect. So to state such a classic tune in reggae and not make it work was off-putting. And for the drummer not to swing it especially while the bassist is walking the five string electric hard body guitar was a further travesty. The greater disappointment still for this scribe was the lack of unison between the saxophonist and the pianist. But admittedly, those Parker changes are indeed difficult, to put it mildly. Bebop is no joke even though the bop is removed and reggae substituted for it. Not a good start, I’m afraid.
The band got themselves back on track and in sync on the leader’s ‘reggaefied’ original, which came next. Saxophonist Jeremy Vanterpool was more comfortable on this one; and so was the rest of them, drummer Nehassie Chalwell included.
(Begin the beguine)
“Begin the beguine” (Cole Porter) was where the concert really went up a notch. It was time for Macarldie’s guest, Shirley Crabbe, to add her voice to the proceedings. Whatever it was, her presence seemed to do something to the guys. Vanterpool was now back to his usual high standards as demonstrated in the past, inflecting his notes with a subtle warmth that the singer’s delivery demanded. Shirley’s voice came through as beautiful as ever. Was that a CD playback or what? Just kidding!
(So Far Away)
Speaking of which, “So Far Away,” a ballad taken from Crabbe’s debut CD “Home,” was exquisite, the singers soft lines complemented well by a seamless rhythm section, now on cue and in tune.
“Autumn Leaves” rose the temperature of the room just enough to light up the pianist too who, since Shirley hit the stage, had relegated himself to the respectful accompanist. Not a good idea. Bassist, Brandon Powell, who had up till this point been buried deep down in the mix, came to the fore with an unassuming embellishment of the theme.
Tremendous liberties were taken in rearranging the Duke Ellington gem called “Caravan.” The pianist introduced the song saying that what we were about to hear is how the Duke would have written “Caravan” had he been bred on Tortola. What I do know is that the composer would not have recognized his own work had he been at the Eileene L. Parsons Auditorium for the Caribbean treatment given “Caravan” was devoid of any discernible hint of the original.
I was late returning from intermission having gotten all caught up in a critique of the first set over a glass of wine. However, from outside the hall, I could hear the strains of Joseph “Macarldie” Nibbs and Friends, sans Crabbe, filtering through. For a moment, I wondered whether another band had taken to the stage unannounced. Of course not. Understandably, Macarldie Nibbs and his Friends – like so many of our Caribbean Jazz outfits who play Jazz – was more at home with Smooth-Jazz a sub-style that requires a command of swing.
That was precisely the problem Nibbs and Friends encountered when trying to accommodate Shirley Crabbe’s advanced vocal phrasing while playing to their strengths. Sadly, there was no happy medium to be found hence the unevenness of the programme, the exception being “In a Mellow Tone.”
“In a Mellow Tone” (Thelonious Monk) was just as remote from the original as “Caravan” was earlier on. However, the deviations were forgiven once Chalwell and percussionist Dylan Penn were let loose. Chalwell’s extended solo spot in particular had the audience lapping milk off his feet in the wake of identifiable zouk beats sprinkled with clever tom rolls and crashes.
(Straighten Up and Fly Right)
By far the most emotionally charged rendition of the night though was the title track from Shirley’s “Home.” All of the instrumentalists came together on this pensive ode to Tortola. The pianist was never more the essayist here. Drums and bass talked to each other with one voice as percussion accented the conversation. Soprano saxophone added harmonized snippets that tugged at the heart-strings. Bass kept time unobtrusively. If only the playlist was all like that.
All of sudden, the empty spaces the band had previously left unplugged at intermission were filled by “Summertime.” Macarldie caught the bug and handed the audience undoubtedly his most attractive choruses of the night. Vanterpool had by now hit his greatest high; every note, every phrase, though suppressed under the singer – and rightly so – hit the sweet spot every time and without reservation.
To shut the party down, Nibbs sought to raise the roof and the audience with it. That did not work out as planned. However, the band persevered, hitting another stride as they went, thanks again to the remarkable interplay between drums and percussion, with interpolations by the saxophonist who cued the players on the revolving motif that anchored the improvisations.
Joseph “Macarldie” Nibbs and Friends featuring Shirley Crabbe was a showcase of lows and highs, valleys and peaks, weaknesses and strengths. A times, the band dipped into the pothole that is the bane of many a Caribbean Jazz band, swing. They resurrected themselves off and on when playing to their strengths, Smooth-Jazz and were at their measured best backing Shirley Crabbe. However, I missed the straight up, straightahead underpinning Shirley might have lavished on us had she brought her own band for this date.
I sincerely hope she does some time soon. I could do with some of that.