RastaJazz - A Jazz-Reggae Journey - is an exploration of the nexus of Jazz and Reggae - fusing Jazz styles such as Swing, Latin Jazz, Modal Jazz, Jazz-Waltz, Contemporary Jazz and more with Reggae styles such as Roots, Ska, Dub, Dancehall, Niabinghi Beat and Calypso to create fresh sounds.
WHAT IS JAZZ REGGAE?
What is commonly known as jazz-reggae is the Ska or 'Jamaican Jazz' style played by the ‘Skatalites’, and this style is exemplified by musicians such as the ‘Jamaican Jazz All Stars’ and Ernest Ranglin. Pianist ‘Monty Alexander’ – who has performed live and recorded with Ernest Ranglin – has taken this a step further by applying jazz improvisation to reggae styles and songs.
An early influence of jazz on Jamaican music can be noted in Calypso music, yet the later main American influence on Jamaica’s Ska and Rocksteady was R&B which, though itself a musical descendant of jazz, is a simpler form of music. The form of music most commonly known as Jamaican Jazz or Jazz Reggae today is instrumental Ska, as popularized by ‘The Skatalites’, though there have been other interesting and musically successful fusions of the styles by musicians such as Monty Alexander, Courtney Pine, The Aggrovators, Jazz Jamaica All Stars and Ernest Ranglin.
The possibilities for fusion of jazz and reggae has barely been touched upon, though the aforementioned artists have flagged starting points for exploration. The continuous evolution of jazz and reggae based forms of music (often negotiating with popular music culture) along with the depth and breadth of historical material gives opportunity for innumerable new experiments, successful fusions in style and compositions.
RastaJazz – A Jazz Reggae Journey
‘RastaJazz – A Jazz Reggae Journey’ asks the question: “What is Jazz Reggae?” and sets about answering this question by merging musical characteristics of jazz and reggae styles. There are six compositions on the EP, each using different reggae and jazz based styles to create fresh new styles and songs.
‘Community’ is a song with a lyrical theme of deep ecology – the connection between all beings, ‘living’ and ‘non-living’, on earth. The lyrical concept was originally based on the approach of a “Council of All Beings” workshop, as run by deep ecology exponents Joanna Macy and John Seed. In a “Council of All Beings” attendants represent an element of nature (e.g. a stone, or a cockatoo), each espousing the value of the element to the ecosystem. ‘Community’ merges a ‘roots reggae riddem’ with ‘modal‘, ‘minor blues’ and ‘contemporary jazz’ chord progressions over three different sections: An eight bar chorus section; an eight bar verse section and; a minor twelve bar section for a horn soli and instrumental improvisations.
‘Rainbows’ is an instrumental track; a synthesis of both a Jazz-Waltz and Swing Rhythm with a reggae beat, using some modal jazz chords over a 12-bar structure. The song features solos from Kevin Jones on Trombone, David Rastrick on Trumpet, and Kevin McDonald on Electric Bass.
Thematically, the song draws upon the work of Marshall Rosenberg and other nonviolent communication (NVC) practitioners. There was only time in the song to include a few initial concepts and listeners are encouraged to study further to learn how NVC works. Although this was the third composition started for the project, it was the second last to be completed. The initial concept was to merge Ska and Latin-Jazz and in rhythmic terms this manifested as the chorus and verses being Ska, the brass section being Latin-Jazz, and the instrumental section being a fusion of the two styles. The song has a ‘pop’ structure’ though it breaks into a modified ’10 bar blues’ pattern for the solo improvisations. The song features solos from Mike Wiese on Baritone Sax’, and David Rastrick on Trumpet.
'Heart', the fourth track from the 'RastaJazz' EP, features vocals from Margaret River's vocal diva Michelle Spriggs. Thematically, the song has a spiritual message for day-to-day living - It’s about keeping a higher perspective on our spiritual growth during all the challenges we face during our daily lives. Musically, ‘Heart’ is a synthesis of a Dancehall reggae beat with some contemporary jazz chords over a repeated 32 bar ‘AABA’ structure. The song features a flugelhorn solo from David Rastrick, plus a flute motif and backing lines from Kevin Jones.
‘Niabinghi’ is said to be the name of an African queen who “rebelled against the oppressive life-denying evil regime which disrupted order and stability” and who, after travelling from the deserts of Egypt and Ethiopia, lived with her fighting, dreadlocked troop in the forests of West Africa - Congo, Sudan and Uganda (Uwechi, 2008). She extolled virtues such as respect, righteousness and compassion. Her tradition was carried to Jamaica with West Africans who were brought there as slaves by the Spanish, and later the English. ‘Niabinghi Jazz’ is a synthesis of the Niabinghi beat and some contemporary jazz chords over a repeated 16 bar structure. The song features solos from David Rastrick on Trumpet, Kevin Jones on Flute, Marty Rotolo on Guitar and Gary Larkin on Drum-kit.
KING BANANA CALYPSO
“When I was putting the tunes for the project together, I was looking for jazz and reggae styles I could merge to create a style of jazz-reggae,” said composer David Rastrick. “When doing my research I discovered that reggae has roots in Mento, a Jamaican form of Calypso, that already incorporated the instrumentation and some harmonic influences from swing and big band jazz, so I went with that!” Lyrically, Calypso was often a way of spreading news, with the singers – often sporting monikers such as ‘Lord Invader’ - “telling it like it is”. In this spirit, the song became a lighthearted jibe at Australia’s political system and society. “Thematically, the song is a satire about Australia’s current (as of 2015) political system – what I call a ‘banana corprotocracy’,” said songwriter David Rastrick. “’King Banana’ is a villainous political anti-hero whose leadership is based on short-term economic rationalism (in support the short-term profits of the nation’s mining industry).” “It’s probably the most fun song on the EP, so we saved it to last to record.” The song features solos from Kevin Jones on Trombone, David Rastrick on Long Cornet (with a Wah Wah mute), Mike Wiese on Tenor Sax’ and Sean Lillico on Piano, and is based on a repeated 32 bar ‘AABA’ structure.
ABOUT THE RECORDING
The live studio album features vocal harmonies, a full brass section of trumpet, saxophone, trombone and flute, and a classic rhythm section of guitar, keyboard, bass, drum-kit and percussion.
The musicians on the recording are mostly based in the Cape-to-Cape region of South West Australia, and are:
David Rastrick - Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Cornet and Vocals
Michelle Spriggs - Vocals
Mike Wiese - Baritone and Tenor Saxophone
Kevin Jones - Trombone and Flute
Marty Rotolo - Guitar
Sean Lillico - Electric Piano and Hammond Organ
Kevin McDonald - Electric Upright Bass and Electric Bass
Gary Larkin - Drum-kit
Hugh Lawson - Djembé and Shaker (on tracks 5 and 6)
The album was recorded live by Sean Lillico at Fur Real Studio's, Yallingup, West Australia, on the 16th of May, 2015. The recording is entirely live except for two over-dubs: The vocals on 'Heart' and the hammond organ on 'Niabinghi Jazz'. Produced by David Rastrick, the album was mixed by Sean Lillico and David Rastrick, and Mastered by James Newhouse.