Neville York: Jazz Flamboyant
Steel pan player Neville York explains "Jazz Flamboyant" as "an art movement that is focused on capturing the sound of wind, the mystery of light, the glory of color, the aroma of nature's spices, the rhythm and beauty of a people and their endless resplendence and their joyous fluidity." If that seems like a lot to assimilate in a single reading, one listen to this captivating disc will make its meaning abundantly clear. There is an immediate sense that this music is much less concerned with the mechanics of making music than about the celebration of the people and the culture of St. Maarten and the spirit of the Caribbean community.
That having been said, this second collaboration with pianist-arranger Marshall Vente and his band, Tropicale (the first titled Sweet Salt) points to a surprisingly strong Chicago connection. Although Neville York studied at NIU in De Kalb for seven years, the two musicians would chance to meet during a 1994 Vente vacation visit to St Maarten Island. Add to this the intriguing happenstance that St. Maarten, York and Vente all share a Dutch heritage and you already have a compelling basis for a fruitful partnership.
Since then, Tropicale has traveled frequently to St Maarten and, for the occasion of these sessions, included Chicagoan Jim Massoth who, along with Neville's brother Earl "Churchy" York, mixed and mastered the CD. Joining Tropicale's Luiz Ewerling from Brazil, Jose Gregorio from Venezuela, Cuban American Isidro Perez, American Jim Batson and Marshall Vente—all Chicagoans—are celebrated vocalists "Peachy" (Minerva Larry-Smith) and Melvin Hodge from St. Maarten; rounding out a multi-national aggregation about as ideal for this recording as the term "Jazz Flamboyant" could possibly imply.
In his liner notes, Neville York describes St. Maarten's inhabitants as "predominantly a beautiful mixture of the African, European and indigenous people of this hemisphere." Surrounded here with this supporting cast of superb musicians whose dedication to the spirit of the material is more than apparent, York has fashioned compositions and arrangements that are as rich and varied as the people and culture it represents.
"La Belle Creole" leads off the album and is a prime example of York's infectious melodic writing. Its breezy blend of lively island rhythms laced with spicy Latin-tinged piano evokes a colorful image of the Caribbean life-style. York is a virtuoso pan player whose sustained singing style is as much at home with jazz as it is with salsa, folk and popular forms. "Flamboyant Cry", one of this album's highlights, is a showcase of his versatile technique. As voices and percussion swirl and swell around them, York duels with with Vente's charging, rhythmic piano using the full arsenal of his singing sonorities and angular, jazz-inflected lines... especially in the slow, effective fade that closes out the tune.
"Adorable Illusion" and "Seducing Eyes", with their evocative lyrics and romantic charm, bring the listener closer still to the human sentiment of Jazz Flamboyant. "La Vida es Muy Dulce" and "Ojos Seductores" surprise with their salsa rhythms and remind us of the richness and diversity inherent in this culture. And when one listens to the words and music of "Motherland," there is a sense of yearning and a need for connectedness to cultural roots that seems to describe the essence of a people who seek to discover a place and purpose in a world so beautiful and enchanting, yet so far removed from their origins.—Dennis Sieja
This music was recorded at Bronese Recording Studio, St. Maarten N.A. & Crystall Recorders, Lombard, Il. It is available by E-mail: www.jazzflamboyant.com.