HOME: A Primer

On the release of my album Home,  Chicago Tribune Arts Critic Howard Reich asked me to answer a few questions about the album. I think this one sheds some light on what I was going for.

1) How would you describe what you were trying to do on "Home" ... particularly regarding its instrumentation and ensemble sound.

On Home, my first album as a leader, I wanted to connect to the listener with a complex but inclusive palette of sounds, moods and grooves.  I wanted to produce something that would appeal to music lovers of all kinds, not just jazz aficionados. .

The groove element was the first order of business.  I started playing bass because I wanted to make people dance, and I wanted to reflect that here. 

I chose mallet instruments and harmonica as the lead voices for my melodies. The steel pan and vibraphone, particularly in the hands of Victor and Joe, represent a synthesis of harmony, melody and rhythm.  Moreover, there’s a vocal quality in the way Joe and Victor play which I love - that seeming incompatibility of managing to “sing” by means of mallet and metal alone.  It’s a testament to their unique talents, and I feel like it gives this music a special character.

The chromatic harmonica and steel pan are essentially “folk” instruments, and I like that.  The former was popular in France as a more agile alternative to the accordion and the latter, as the national instrument of Trinidad, grew out of people's primal need to express themselves using what they found around them, which at the time, were steel oil containers.  The steel pan is volcanic and rooted, while the chromatic harmonica is almost transcendent, soaring above the ensemble.  With this instrumentation, I can take the listener on a journey from Chicago to New York, the Caribbean, Europe and back again.

Like the song “Saudade” (Sau-da-djee) on the album, whose title comes from the Cape Verdean Portuguese for a feeling of being dispossessed, this music represents my personal journey away from home as well as my dedication to the wonderful home in which I grew up and the family and friends that gave that home its glow.  After losing that home, coupled with the passing of my father and brother in recent years, the urgency of paying tribute and expressing hope and joy through my music became a priority.