Roots tributes seldom get as fascinating or as cultishly seductive as Kaiso Stories, on which Brooklyn-based singer Fay Victor teams with the free-jazz collective Other Dimensions in Music to revisit, reinvent and audaciously retool songs from her Trinidadian youth. Spending summers with her grandmother in Port of Spain, she grew up with calypso and its precursor, kaiso, among other African and Caribbean sounds. And as evidenced by this passionate recording, she never grew out of those influences.
Opening with a bloodcurdling shriek followed by some sultry Betty Carter-esque scat, Victor assures you from the start that neither “Maryanne Revisited” (as in “down by the seaside”) nor the rest of these songs will indulge in turntable nostalgia. Drawing from such sources as the Mighty Sparrow, Lord Kitchener and field recordings from the 1930s, she reawakens cultural history, addressing political and religious topics as well as boy-girl and life-and-death themes with manic chants, raspy shouts and patois-inflected spoken recitations.
Surrounded by Other Dimensions’ array of primary and “little” instruments, she gives you a sense of what Carter might have sounded like with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Trumpeter Roy Campbell and saxophonist Daniel Carter play their roles as foils with graceful restraint while the great William Parker, on gembri and duduk as well as double bass, prods the singer with soulful finesse. Having emerged as a vocal artist with a real vision, Victor rises to a higher level of inspiration here.