Tag Archives: Virgin Gorda

Retro Review: Ericka Ovette at Jazz on the Hill, Virgin Gorda 2009


For every word that is written and published, there are hundreds, thousands even that remain in draft form although worthy of publication. The words that follow are some that were drafted with every intention of being made Public, but never were. Sometimes the reasons are clear, sometimes not. Why this review of a May 15, 2009 Jazz concert by Virgin Islands singer Ericka Ovette was kept in the Woodshed vault this long can only be described as unfortunate.

The urge to share the sheer joy I experienced back then courtesy of Ovette and guitarist Paul Pieper now demands that I hit the “Publish” button. And so I have…

The diminutive Ericka Ovette presented on stage in a duo setting accompanied by her “musical companion,” guitarist Paul Pieper and resplendent in a flowing black dress accented with a knee-length shawl drooped over the right shoulder.

Ovette opened with “God Bless The Child” as a channel to the legendary Ella Fitzgerald, whom she called “the mother of them all” in referring to the “five very important (African-American) women” of Jazz,” namely Ella herself, Carmen McCrae, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, all of whom are long gone now.

“Them There Eyes” was a swing seance to Holiday. This brought the crowd alive, and quite fittingly so. Ovette attributed that to the family that she packed the hillside with, and quite wrongly of course.

That applause, I am sure, was not directed only at the singer, but at the guitarist whose dexterity could not have gone unnoticed. Certainly, an acoustic guitarist backing up a Jazz singer is no easy matter. He has to provide the rhythm, the beat and jaunt. Pieper was on top of his game in this respect, not only on “Them There Eyes,” but on the very next selection, a song made popular by Sarah Vaughan, “Cherokee.”

Ovette then took a side road from her stated theme of paying tribute to the five ladies of Jazz song by essaying her interpretation of “Jinji” in a bossa nova styling. Although “Jinji” would be associated more firmly with Vaughan, it was fitting to acknowledge that this song was also covered by John Lucien, another crooner from the British Virgin Islands, now on his way up on high.

Back on the main road, Ovette returned to the work of Ella Fitzgerald in the form of “Squeeze Me.” At this point, Ovette is visibly enjoying her act as much as we are perched on chairs, benches or one or the other of those large stones that is typical on the Virgin Gorda landscape.

Sticking with Ella Fitzgerald, Ovette nevertheless angled her song choice to recognize the penchant that Fitzgerald was well-known for having “recorded music by every music songwriter from the great American songbook.” The songwriter she chose to single out next was Irving Berlin. The song, “Cheek to Cheek.”

Then it was Carmen McCrae‘s turn to shine down on us. Ovette did two numbers of Carmen McCrae, “arcane, very obscure tunes” that McCrae was known for popularizing, “One More Look at You” from the movie, “A Star is Born” and “The Best is Yet to Come.”

“Work Song” and “Brown Baby” are both Oscar Brown Jr. songs. The latter is “about the aspirations that parents have for their children“; the former a mother’s cry for an offspring lost, I suppose, an aspiration dashed. Both of these songs were taken from Nina Simone who made her platform one of Black activism as few of her time did with the kind of eloquence that she so successfully pursued. This marked the close of Erika Ovette‘s homage to the “Five Divas of Jazz”

However, there were three songs left to do in the programme. The first was a medley of two songs that culminated with the Four Tops’ “My Girl,” seemingly dedicated to Coralie George, the hard-working producer of Jazz on the Hill.

Ovette turned inwards with “The Need to Be” to please herself with a tune that she said she always does. It is like an anthem to her, she confessed.

She closed her set with “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” a song she has known pretty much for as long as she has sung.

Hers was a set that those of us who were on the Hill will remember very fondly. Me, make that very, very fondly for I hold a special attraction to Jazz duos of every configuration, let alone the full-proof, tried and true voice and acoustic guitar pairing. Ericka Ovette and Paul Pieper represented the sub-genre with such aplomb, it would be a wonder if there isn’t a clamour by all and sundry for a return engagement real soon.

PS: “Brown Baby” and “My Girl” can be found on Ericka Ovette’s latest CD, That’s What Friends Are For (Stolen Moments Records)

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Tom Browne, what’s up with that?

Virgin Islands (Br.)

The reviews for Jazz on the Hill have been in the can for months.  I was just not inclined to publish any of it before now.

For a band that was put together a matter of days before taking to the main stage at Jazz on the Hill, Tom Browne and Friends surprised when they came off the blocks.  It was a cooker, but the gas was disturbed by an ill wind before the finish.

Trinidad born BVI based pannist, Marlon Abner, featured prominently throughout the set.  He was particularly with it on Earth Wind and Fire’s Back Stabbers for a start, but as to whether he ran out of ideas or was unsure of the arrangement of the song, I do not know.  Anyhow, his solo fizzled and died at the end.  One thing is for sure, he knew it; his reaction afterwards was proof enough.  For he was sensitive to the fact that a fine solo must be predictable at the point of resolution, not just for the listener, but most importantly as a cue to the rest of the band.  The solo was not resolved to my satisfaction.

The leader did not help the cause any better on this rendition due to a patent lack of fluidity on the trumpet.  His notes though full of pyrotechnics, were nevertheless uneven thus extracting the rich substance of the melody from the music.

However, all this is not to say that Browne was all bust.  Far from it, Back Stabbers was just his down side in a rather short, albeit unsatisfying set.  Actually, Tom Browne was making way for the headline act for the night, Daniel Bishop and Friends.

Tom Browne came to Jazz on the Hill, Virgin Gorda with a sound reputation.  Sadly, he did not sparkle, thus leaving the J-Fans rather blue than Browne.

Subsequent Posts: An evening well spent at Jazz on the Hill 2009 with Daniel Bishop and Friends,

Drawn In(to) The Light at Jazz on the Hill 2009

Previous Posts: North Carolina State University Jazz Band blew the roof off Jazz on the Hill 2009,

Drexel Glasgow’s Gospel in a Mello Tone flunked Jazz on the Hill 2009,

Jazz on the Hill 2009 got off to a corny start with Bobby Hinton and Friends, May 15 2009

More on Jazz on the Hill 2009 as my muse dictates…

A bit about the HLSCC Summer Music Fest, BVI

Virgin Islands (Br.)

I have had some time to think about the Jazz events that took place in the British Virgin Islands at the end of the season of improvisation in May. Well, I usually give myself quite a while anyway to ponder, review footage and to sober up my initial impressions.

In mid-month, Virgin Gorda’s St. Mary’s School put on another edition of Jazz on the Hill. The ‘international acts‘ were received by me with a mix of euphoria and depression, to be honest. Then there was one act from the Caribbean that struck me as a bit too competent (though that is not necessarily a bad thing). And of course, the BVI presented some of its own, based at home and abroad.

At the end of the month, the H. Lavity Stout Community College ended the Thirteenth Performing Arts Series with a Summer Music Fest, which serves as a sort of coming out party for the music students of the Community College itself, the Government operated Elmore Stoutt High School – the only public High School on Tortola – and musical friends of the College.

My reviews of these events have already been written, though not yet published. I choose to hold them back a while longer. Instead, I wish to share my thoughts on the Summer Fest 2009, held on May 30 2009.

In it was a wonderful display of talent all around, not exceptional to be sure, but very encouraging in terms of the depth of potential and real talent that was on show on the night.

Referring specifically to the performance of the Jazz Band, I came away with the impression that the orchestrations by Conductor Andre Braithwaite were finely tuned to the point of near seamlessness. However, the solo spaces offered were so staggered and stunted that the instrumentalists who stood up to glow in their spotlights were unable to tell discernible and structured stories because they simply did not have enough choruses for that. The balance of solo interpretations with the melodic blaring of the horns and reeds and punctuated, percussive blasts, was just right though.

Where the Jazz Band failed was in the rushing of their charts. That was manifest not only in terms of how dwarfed, stunted and abrupt the solos were; it was as though the soloists were eyeing the finish line like distance runners, completely out of wind, willing the tape to meet them. (I know how that feels now that I have regained my passion for jogging.)

My one recommendation to Andre Braithwaite, therefore, would be to train next year’s batch of Jazz Band instrumentalists to draw out themes from the compositions presented to them, themes they could work original motifs from to help them create their own sounds and personalities.

Then there is the issue of emotional attachment. A solo that lacks ’empathy’ (the latest political buzz word is in order here; think US Supreme Court nominee) risks becoming mechanical and uninspiring.

The point? Notes may be played to near perfection if that is the objective, but the end results must never lead to a disconnect with the audience, loud and sustained applause aside.

Thus, for a soloist to capture my soul, he or she must take me on a journey, a fantasy if you will, that transcends the sheet music and leaves me with a lofty feeling when it is all over. At least that is what I search for as food for my spirit.

Maybe all of this cannot be achieved in the next academic year, or the next. Nevertheless, this must be the goal for the HLSCC Jazz Band. How about that Mr. Braithwaite?


Complete reviews of the HLSCC Summer Music Fest and Jazz on the Hill soon come…


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