Album Review: Etienne Charles – Creole Soul

The following review first appeared in the September 2013 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Etienne Charles

etienne charles

CREOLE SOUL – Culture Shock Music EC004 www.etiennecharles.com  Creole (intro); Creole; The Folks; You Don’t Love Me; Roots; Memories; Green Chimneys; Turn Your Lights Down Low; Midnight; Close Your Eyes; Doin’ The Thing

PERSONNEL: Etienne Charles, trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion; Brian Hogans, alto saxophone; Obed  Calvaire, drums; Jacques Schwarz-Bart, tenor saxophone; Kris Bowers, piano, fender rhodes;  Ben Williams, bass; Erol Josué, vocals; Daniel Sadownick, percussion, vocals; D’Achee, percussion, vocals; Alex Wintz, guitar

By Curtis Davenport

One of the reasons that jazz is struggling with the public lately, is a lack of fresh voices. Whether it’s intentional or not, so many artists have a sound that is extremely derivative of someone who came before them. We who write about the music often aren’t much help as we rush to crown “the next Miles”, “the next Hubbard”, “the next Wynton”. So when I hear someone who doesn’t sound like everyone else, I sit up and take notice. Etienne Charles, a 30 year-old trumpet player, originally from Trinidad, has caught my attention.

What differentiates Mr. Charles from some of his contemporaries is his use of rhythm. This is not something that has happened overnight, at least on his recordings. This is Charles fourth album.  In the same way that Robert Glasper has evolved into what is now his signature sound; Mr. Charles developed what we hear on Creole Soul over the course of his previous discs.  A graduate of Julliard and of Florida State University where he was mentored by pianist Marcus Roberts, Mr. Charles not surprisingly, evinced no small amount of Marsalis family influence in his early work. That is, much of it was rooted in the hard-driving post bop of the ‘60’s. The music was well-played and demonstrated Mr. Charles considerable prowess on his instrument but it did get lost in the straight-ahead shuffle. But there were always these moments on Culture Shock, Folklore and Kaiso, where Charles would delve deeply into the music of his Caribbean roots. I found those to be the most interesting tracks on those albums. On this new album Etienne Charles takes the next step and he has created a sound that while still firmly rooted in jazz, is also deeply infused with the music of Trinidad, Martinique, New Orleans and a few other stops in between.

You know that you’re in for something different from the opening track “Creole”, which features a brief introduction by voodoo priest Erol Josué delivering a chant in the Haitian Creole language, Kweyol. The main part of track then jumps off, riding on Alex Wintz’s guitar lines and a driving kongo groove. Charles then joins in with a trumpet statement that is equal parts rhythmic and majestic. Brian Hogans picks up the same line on the alto sax and takes it to the next level. Then Kris Bowers’ Fender Rhodes settles the proceedings just enough to keep them from boiling over too quickly. All the while Josué’s vocals, Wintz’s guitar and the beat keep are making the song captivating and refreshingly different. “The Folks”, is a soulful groove, mellower than the opener but still memorable, due again to Mr. Charles’ trumpet, Jacques Schwarz-Bart’s tenor and Bowers’ burbling Rhodes, which quietly sets the background throughout much of the album. Then there’s “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No), a Bo Diddley tune that became a rocksteady hit in the ‘60’s. Charles keeps the infectious beat, adds a full horn line and gives this tune perhaps its third life. I could easily see a hip club DJ throwing it in the mix, even though it is still very much a jazz tune. Mr. Charles also has roots in Martinique, which he pays tribute to on “Roots” an up-tempo jazz tune with a touch of the bel-air beat that Martinique is known for and a vocal chant break in the middle. Also among the cover tunes is Monk’s “Green Chimneys” imagined here with a very subtle calypso beat which sounds very interesting against Bowers dancing piano chords. And Bob Marley’s “Turn Your Lights Down Low” interpreted as reggae-jazz, with Charles soothing flugelhorn leading the way.

Creole Soul is a rousing success because Etienne Charles doesn’t try to force the marriage of jazz and other musical genres. He lets it happen naturally, employing other young musicians who are completely on board with his vision. They have created something that is different and exciting. Creole Soul is jazz that takes the two words of its title seriously and that’s what makes it distinctive.

3 Responses to “Album Review: Etienne Charles – Creole Soul”

  1. Etienne Charles is a fine trumpeter, and it sounds like he has a wonderful recording with Creole Soul. Also, nice review from Curtis Davenport, I think the review of Charles`s Creole Soul is on-point.

  2. Reblogged this on Curt's Jazz Cafe and commented:

    Etienne Charles will be appearing tonight, Friday, 11/8 at SubCulture in NYC. Two shows, at 7:30 & 10 pm. Check him out if you’re in the Big Apple this evening!

  3. […] Mr. Charles, a young trumpet player originally from Trinidad, creates a successful marriage of straight ahead jazz and the musical styles of the Caribbean and New Orleans. Many have tried to do the same thing with only moderate success. Etienne Charles nails it, big time. Those who want to understand how to fuse groove and jazz without “selling out” should use this disc as a primer.  (Read my full review for Jazz Inside  Magazine HERE.) […]

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