Album Review: “New Life” By Shawn Thwaites Rebel Quartet
I love living in this era. Specifically, this statement refers to what’s happening musically. Even more specifically, it’s in reference to the steelpan instrument and the slew of artists that have emerged this decade. From Leon “Foster” Thomas to Jonathan Scales, we’re in an era that features some of the most diverse, complex, creative music we’re likely to hear in our lifetimes. Making it more special is that the steelpan instrument was seen only as a Caribbean instrument to be used with Caribbean music. Now, thanks to those aforementioned artists, and the Shawn Thwaites Rebel Quartet’s inventive new album, “New Life,” that stereotype is well on its way to becoming a distant memory.
What I love best about the record is its ability to combine so many styles in its attempt to fuse its own voice, which it does successfully. The opening track, “Black Fist” is a fantastic representation of this, coming off both as a minor key Calypso throwback and fresh hip hop groove that provides a catchy hook and memorable solos from saxophone, trumpet and Thwaites on double seconds. The sound expands on the next track, “Westcoastin,'” which includes a spoken word intro and an R&B/smooth jazz groove reminiscent of artists like Lauren Hill (who Thwaites has previously recorded with) and Walter Beasley, who taught Thwaites in college. There is also a strong Miles Davis-esque bebop influence, where Thwaites gets to show off his considerable soloing chops, which are tastefully executed on this track, with no need for exaggerated embellishments or flourishes. The melody is also executed well with both steelpan and saxophone playing in unison and harmonization at different points throughout the piece.
The fifth track, “Hood Suite,” diverts into more of a Caribbean jazz vibe, nostalgically reviving a riff that may have been played in 1950s Trinidad. What’s interesting about the track, is that’s only a minute long, which suggests it’s a set-up for the next tune, Rt. 50, a complete departure from all previous tracks, considering it’s classical music influence with strings and what sounds like a Baroque-era mode. The electronic hip hop drum beat roots it to the album’s core sound, however, to produce a haunting and emotional track to anchor the middle of the record.
From the darker “Rt. 50,” the album moves back up with the positive, but mellow, “Europa,” which features beautiful solos from the horn section again. “Out of the Rain,” goes even softer, with brushes on the drum kit and thoughtful soloing from Thwaites to paint a picture of a 1960s east coast jazz lounge with a distraught man, drenched from the rain, leaving his trench coat and his troubles at the door to enjoy a nice cocktail. At least, that’s what I heard.
The final two tracks, “Interlude,” and “Jordyn” evoke a hopeful spirit, with powerful chord changes and uncluttered solo ideas that speak as clearly to the listener as a singer’s words might do if there were any. The refreshingly earnest balance between heartfelt melodies and imaginative improvisational ideas are what made the album work as a whole. Here’s hoping their next venture is just as good.
To purchase the album or learn more about the group, visit http://strq.tv.
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