Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Gilzene & the Blue Light Mento Band – Sweet Sweet Jamaica

Two words: YEAH MON! This new cd does double duty as valuable cultural artifact and strangely delightful party album. With acoustic guitar, a primitive “rhumba box” for a bass and an impressively energetic octogenarian banjo player, Gilzene & the Blue Light Mento Band play what Jamaicans were playing and dancing to before calypso, decades before reggae. Mento is sort of like Jamaican bluegrass, with similar chord changes but a different rhythm. It’s not reggae, but as this album goes on you can hear several elements that survived the transformation: for example, the way the percussion rolls when the song reaches a turnaround, and the guitar accent on the downbeat. Sung in old-fashioned Jamaican patwa, the lyrics reflect an earlier era, sometimes sly, sometimes silly, laden with puns and innuendo. Authenticity these days may be a dubious concept, but this album has an strikingly roughhewn, rustic vibe. The ramshackle quality of the performances, the dodgy harmonies and the slightly out-of-tune instruments only enhance the vintage feel. Although mento is an indelible part of Jamaican culture – island jazz still abounds with mento themes and references – it’s been a long time since it was in style. So this album is overdue, and particularly welcome for preserving these songs pretty much the way they were played seventy and eighty years ago.

The group kicks it off with a stripped-down, acoustic version of Crying, an international hit for Katie Kissoon in the 70s. The second track has a rousing, careening bluegrass feel with bracing, sometimes abrupt banjo accents. Gungu Walk, which follows, is a playful narrative told from the point of view of a peeping tom. The work song Hill & Gully is a long (some might say interminable) call-and-response vamp with a vintage Cuban feel – being an island nation, Jamaica has long been a melting pot for a stupefyingly large variety of styles. Ole Im Joe (Hold Him, Joe) is similarly rousing, in this case the metaphorically loaded tale of a donkey who can’t get enough to drink, alcoholic or otherwise. And Wata Yu Garden needs no explanation. The last of the fifteen tracks is a somewhat breakneck, out-of-tune version of the Toots & the Maytals classic Sweet & Dandy with vocals by Toots himself.

The backstory here is classically Jamaican. Gilzene has two other incarnations, one as Culture George, a reggae artist whose orthodox Rasta roots album was produced by the Twinkle Brothers’ Norman Grant back in the 70s, and the other as a gospel singer. Backup singer/percussionist Donnett Leslie moonlights as the keyboardist in his reggae band.

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January 29, 2010 - Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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