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The pot bubbling

Sunday, September 18, 2016
Pan player and Siparia Deltones musical director Akinola Sennon sits beside one of his mentors, master artist LeRoy Clarke (in blue and gold hat, first from left in back row), at the media listening party for Sennon’s new album Cousoumeh. The event took place at Clarke’s residence and gallery Legacy House, Cascade, on September 8. Photo courtesy Alva Viarruel

Ropeadope Records—an increasingly important record label in the US that is home to jazz pan players Leon Foster Thomas and Jonathan Scales—remarks that the record, “is an interpretation of jazz where the heritage of the island (Trinidad) and the full sense of the African diaspora collide, sometimes in a polished way and sometimes with a raw undercurrent.” 

In recognising that simultaneous pattern of up and down production value, one is effectively exposed to two sides of the musical adventure that Sennon has pursued in the making of this album.

Sennon, along with percussionist Tambi Gwindi, works with four young Boston-based musicians, drummer Shane Dahler, pianist Chris McCarthy, bassist Cole Davis and trumpeter Alonzo Demetrius Ryan Jr on half the tunes on the eight-song album. The Americans in the aggregation approach the idea of the Caribbean and Sennon's music with adroit solos and converse musically in a language that speaks to a proficiency of jazz improvisation while still searching for the Afro-Caribbean aesthetic. 

On this group of songs, a stand out track is Doh Fight Meh. It features a spoken word piece by Persis Caesar that recounts the horror and tragedy of having black skin in the world—“...melanin has just been declared illegal”—challenging listeners to disagree, but “doh fight meh!” 

That juxtaposition of vernacular spoken word and jazz music is reminiscent of Gil Scott-Heron's jazz poetry. The piece exposes a fissure between local voice and American music that—while not unassailable—points to the distance our expression has go before global consumption.

On the other hand, the four songs that exclusively feature a local ensemble gel convincingly, and that it is reflected in the ease of performance and the response of Sennon as soloist. His bold gestures of confident playing—unencumbered by his apparent awe of the musical responses of the Boston-based American quartet—showcase a touch that is both dynamic and subtle.

In these pieces we actually hear what the intention of the Cousoumeh project is all about: a fusion exercise that responds to the multiplicity of influences and focuses it in the pan. Both Quinam Beach and Legacy House in this song group support Sennon's new metaphysics.

El Tucuche, the indigenous philosophy of one of Sennon’s mentors, LeRoy Clarke, articulates the supreme idea of our metaphoric ascent. El Tucuche is man’s highest height (Aripo, the highest of our mountains, is the Godhead). The ascent from the decrepitude of Douendom celebrates movement beyond the perceived negativity in the local society. 

Akinola Sennon, with this album, has begun his definition of the Cousoumeh philosophy. 

Alluding to the local cooking tradition of simmering the pot as the contents “boil down” and impart myriad flavours to create the new, the pan player has begun a journey of supplanting the notion of the “tossed salad” with a “callaloo.”

Both men are suggesting an evolution, or a revolution in this case, in our sound and in our music. Metaphors aside, this new album also adds to the growing catalogue of jazz fusion records that local artists have been experimenting with for years and which have been slowly moving towards the mainstream.

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