Trumpeter and flugelhorn player Etienne Charles’ third recording marks another chapter in his engagement with the music and culture of his homeland, Trinidad. Kaiso—a term originating in Nigeria as a form of encouragement to artists—is a style that has come to be identified with calypso. The album delves into classic calypso, focusing on three prominent performers: Lord Kitchener, Mighty Sparrow and Roaring Lion. Charles and his bandmates, a core sextet plus guests and orchestra, effortlessly fuse this popular Caribbean music with a jazz aesthetic, paying homage while pushing forward. A mix of uptempo burners and slower, soulful tunes, the album explores the range and thematic depth of calypso, from carnival to romance, lost love and sociopolitical concerns.
The infectious title track, penned by the leader, sets the tone with driving rhythms and engaging interplay between Charles and alto saxophonist Brian Hogans. “J’Ouvert Barrio” captures the carnival spirit of Roaring Lion’s original 1935 recording and combines that fervor with a modern jazz sensibility advanced by Charles and pianist Sullivan Fortner Jr. “Ten to One Is Murder,” with guest Monty Alexander, re-enacts Sparrow’s personal account of a street fight, and finds the band theatrically trading phrases with escalating intensity. Calypso legend Lord Superior appears on “Kitch’s Bebop of Calypso,” a ’50s tribute to bebop on which drummer Obed Calvaire and bassist Ben Williams swing hard. The romantic “Rose,” beautifully arranged for orchestra, and “Margie,” a lovely duet between Charles and Alexander, showcase calypso’s tender melodies.