by Nolan DeBuke
Impressions are what we draw when listening to music, how it correlates to the person, the message and what is being said musically. So, what is the impression drawn here on New Life. If there’s one impression about Shawn Thwaites that emanates with a first listen, it is his willingness to surprise. The Trinidadian-American’s musician and educator from Washington, DC is an innovator. His pressor bills his music as “integrates the very best of his Trinidadian ancestry and his D.C. upbringing, intertwining jazz, hip-hop, funk, calypso, reggae, and more.” For me, the music is taken to another level of exploration due to his choice of instrument. The steel pan sound along with his Rebel Quartet that sports six members is a solid listen. The band equally lives up to its Rebel name with a recalcitrant and uninhibited style throughout their debut release, New Life.
The album begins with “Black Fist,” a reverent tune with quick rhythms and an inspired solo by altoist Levi Saelua. A rap introduction, followed by “Westcoastin” sets up a solid groove, with inventive textures created by Thwaites, Saelua and Williams. The tune never lets up on the groove, and Alan Ernst digs in with rollicking piano lines.
Taking things out is “Jordyn,” an excellent example of Thwaites abilities in a relaxed groove where the beat is spacious, to let his ideas flow with superior connectivity and expression. Again, trumpeter Koph and altoist Saelua conjure up inspired and supportive ideas.
The album explores a mix of R&B, hip-hop and Caribbean sounds melded together into a delightful gumbo of sound. Each musician brings a vibrant element to the proceedings adding up to an evolved groups sound.
Though titled as rebels, more eloquently I would say pioneers of a new frontier sound, that is worth the listen. Not just for the Caribbean fan, this is a wonderful genre pushing offering for any jazz or world music fan.
Track Listing: Black Fist; Westcoastin’; Dirty Truth; First Born; Hood Suite 1st Movement; RT. 50; Europa; Out of the Rain; Interlude June 27, 2015; Jordyn.
Personnel: Shawn Thwaites: steel drums; Levi Saelua: alto saxophone; Christopher Williams: trumpet; Ben Koph: bass; Alan Ernst: piano; Dinos San Pedro: piano; Jim Frink: drums; Aaron Smith: drums; Kris Bruner: vocals.