Editor’s note: This is the first of four album reviews that will be published over the next two weeks, spotlighting new releases from some of our favorite D.C. jazz musicians.
by Luke Stewart
Avant music editor
D.C. trombonist Reginald Cyntje has been active in the area’s jazz community for over a decade. Throughout that time he has developed a reputation as one of the region’s most creative and hardworking musicians. With the release of his debut album, Freedom’s Children: The Celebration, he displays those qualities, and then some – namely, a strong sense of cultural awareness.
The sidemen for the release are some of the area’s best musicians, with bassist Herman Burney and steel pan player Victor Provost hailing from D.C., and multi-instrumentalist Warren Wolf and drummer Amin Gumbs joining him from the Baltimore area. True to the album’s title, the music is celebratory – so optimistic that it would make a manic depressive crack a smile. The blends of African and Caribbean musical heritages with jazz make for an impressive display of crafty musicianship and composition. And at the forefront of the music is a tireless message of social justice and cultural awareness. All told, this album – which Cyntje will ring in with a CD release performance at Bohemian Caverns this Sunday – displays the best of a great musician.
The recording process for Freedom’s Children was nothing less than phenomenal. As Cyntje explains in his liner notes, the vibe and energy was at a high as the spirit of musical creativity flooded the hearts and minds of the musicians, engineers, producers and all those involved. The emotional intensity seems to jump out of the music, as the sounds are lively and energetic while expressing a variety of moods.
Reginald Cyntje, “Peace and Love”
From the very first note of album opener “Children’s Parade,” the song’s Carnival-esque cadence is reminiscent of an island celebration. It is a treat to hear a jazz trombonist use the instrument in an ecstatic fashion, harking back to the days of soca rhythms played by Byron Lee or danceable ska by the Skatalites. The addition of Provost on steel pan proves essential, as his is the element that completes the picture of a grand island celebration. The Caribbean islands are a strong theme throughout the record, and their essence is felt in an especially familiar way on “Relaxing,” a smooth melody complemented by joyful reggae riddim. One can almost hear the waves crashing along the shore.
Another standout is the impossibly groovy “Peace and Love.” It is also the track that introduces the vocals of Christie Dashiell and Tosin Aribisala, who also plays percussion along with Jimmy Richardson. Burney lays down a powerful bass groove as the chant begins: “Peace and Love for all.” The tune is moving in a serious way, akin to Bob Marley’s “Exodus” or Fela Kuti’s “Water No Get Enemy,” except with a simpler, more blissful message. The African influence is clear, as percussion takes the place of a traditional drumset.
“[T]he music was created with community in mind. I also wanted to use styles of music that have been instrumental in social justice movements,” Cyntje writes in explanation. He upholds the revolutionary spirit in jazz music – its ability not only to influence and inspire the minds of the people, but also to create movement within the community.
Overall, Reginald Cyntje has created something of a concept album, one that exemplifies and celebrates the revolutionary musics of the Caribbean isles while telling the story of a man on a journey of self-awareness (kujichagulia, in Swahili). From “Children’s Parade” to “Sankofa” to “Ancestors,” the album takes the listener on a voyage from the islands, to Africa, to the United States, and back, exemplifying the revolutionary spirits that exist within each land along the way. However, the revolution here is simply to uplift and inspire the listener. There is no moment of sadness or anger, only elation and contemplation. Especially during these serious times in society, politics, and in the Music, it is refreshing to hear a jazz recording that dares to be starkly optimistic.
Reginald Cyntje celebrates the release of Freedom’s Children this Sunday at Bohemian Caverns, with sets at 7 and 9 p.m. Cover is $15, and there is no food or drink minimum. More information is available here, and tickets are available here.