A tale of four cities

Ricky Jordan,

Added 19 November 2012

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Top-notch musical arranger, bandleader, instrumentalist and vocalist – yes, vocalist – Ricky Brathwaite has continued his contribution to the cultural space with City Life, an album of 11 tracks, eight original, launched Wednesday at Frank Collymore Hall in The City. For Brathwaite, the project is “a reflection of my life on the road as a young musician”. “I lived in Germany for three years, playing every night. I also lived in Canada for three years, and played all over the country. And I went to school in New York.     “Always from city to city . . . . So I thought it appropriate to launch in The City,” he said. Brathwaite has also focused the haunting strains of his flugelhorn and trumpet on three “city” songs – Downtown Brooklyn, Round Bridgetown and Berlin Wall – while wrapping his theme in the title track. Besides the four “city” songs, three covers spice up the menu, along with a mixture of the romantic and philosophical. Beginning with the original Downtown Brooklyn, Brathwaite immediately brings a reggae feel to the album, probably to portray the strong Caribbean presence in that area of the Big City. On flugelhorn in this track, he leads a confluence of musical accents featuring Michael Hope on electric guitar, Ricky “Laker” Williams on bass, and himself on keyboards and drum programming. Next is the 1968 Beatles hit Hey Jude which, teamed with the third track Kitchener’s My Pussin (1965), provides an insight into Brathwaite’s early kaiso and rock influences. His groovy Caribbean take on Hey Jude is also ideally suited for the flugelhorn, which captures the uplifting tone that reminds listeners you can “take a sad song and make it better”. There are nice backing vocals here as well – compliments of Brathwaite, who layers them with a rapid sequence of riffs. After reminiscing on My Pussin, Brathwaite goes Round Bridgetown with a lively interplay of flugelhorn and tenor sax. The song typifies two friends in a laid-back mood walking through our own capital, observing, chatting, laughing . . . . On the fifth track, Brathwaite takes his trumpet to Germany, telling the story of the Berlin Wall in “muted” tones. His cohorts on this piece of reflection are Keith Anderson on tenor sax and co-writer Brian Walker on keys. The title track, City Life, is a virtual testament to the guitar artistry of Michael Hope, whose touch is everywhere on the song that flows without the expected inclusion of hustle and bustle. Clearly, “life” in the city for Brathwaite is about rhythm and memories that evoke a smile more so than about frenetic activity. The composer’s little known vocal ability is unleashed in the plaintive love song Quebec Queen, which is followed by his take on the 1962 Henry Mancini-Johnny Mercer classic Days Of Wine And Roses. And he stays in that mood somewhat with his cover of Roberta Flack’s Feel Like Making Love. Track 10, A Dream, reveals Ricky’s genuine belief in the healing power of music, and the ambition he shares with every artiste: to be a star. It’s an infectious song with a bit of sage advice to never give up on one’s dreams. Full of lush textures and beautiful percussive clicks, the final track For But A Season is philosophical and contains a warning of retribution, while highlighting the need for prayer and praise to “the One above”. In the album City Life, Ricky Brathwaite has provided an outstanding addition to the annals of local original material.

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