EHS: Caribbean Jazz CD in review, In The Woodshed

Elements of Life cover artElements of Life by Reginald Cyntje

Something that is always fascinating to me is the “sound” of a band, that which identifies the musical artiste, differentiating and separating him or her from the throng. For an artiste to achieve this elusive sound, so I have been told, it takes years of shedding and exploration to cultivate the chops, heighten dexterity and furnish a knowledge base sufficient for a lifetime of music-making.

At some point, all of these ‘elements’ come together to inform the interactions between the leader and his cohort that when pointedly engineered, codify the tones, signature threads of notes, moods and nuances leading to the creation of the stylistic instrumental and vocal patterns, that eventually become his. Trombonist, composer, bandleader ReginaldCyntje has achieved all these ‘life’ lessons with remarkable maturity, hence “Elements of Life.”

Many artistes are quite content to seek an individualistic sound and to submit that to the good of others, choosing to remain chronic sidemen, ne’er to ascend to the level of leader – complete with name in bold type on the CD cover.Cyntje, a Dominica-born United States resident, is not 40 years old, but already he has found his sound and enabled a band of regulars to realise it; and has placed his name in bold type on the marquee. Reginald has done so twice before with Freedom’s Children: The Celebration and the Love Album. Now, he has three-peat…on Earth Day, April 22, marking it with the official worldwide release of Elements of Life.

Elements is nine tracks long, that altogether harness and unleash the natural human energies and acumen of saxist(soprano and tenor) Brian Lee Settles, pianist Allyn Johnson, drummer Amin Gumbs, vocalist/scatter Christie Dashiell, bassist Herman Burney Jr., pannist Victor Provost and Reginald Cyntje from the powerful cauldrons of our earthly existence, that is Earth, Sky, Fire, Water, and Wind.

Straight out of the gate, the title track, Elements of Life, captures the imagination wholesale, what with the characteristic statement of the theme by the leader’s trombone and Dashiell’s scat vocals, subtly harmonised by Provost’s steel pans.

Following up is Johnson’s strikingly original motifs, replete with orchestral rolls embedded in pianistic expansions – unhurried, contemplative.

Enter Settles’ tenor stab at Johnson’s foundation, enlivening it with adept reserve before handing over to the always fluid and mellow trombone of Reginald Cyntje and the even more subdued Provost whose mature approach to storytelling is a “quiet storm,” to appropriate the phrase.

Gumbs completes the orbit in fine form, his gravitational summary abstracted on kettle-sounding toms and a combination of rim shots and drum head licks, anchored by left foot hi-hats and cymbal swishes. That is Reginald CyntjeMusic, through and through.

…and this is just track 1.

“Earth” is a welcome dig into the realm of Straight Ahead Jazz. Cyntje’s trombone essays swing to a wallop on this foray, setting the pace and tempo on a lofty plane for Provost to prove to me yet again that the steel pan articulates on par with any forebear lead instrument of the genre. Need I mention that Dashiell crafts and imbues her wordless vocals with more originality than anyone out there in the business today?

…Track 2 and I’m about to pop a blood vessel.

After all of the tension built up by “Elements of Life”, “Earth” and “Sky,” it has become clear to me that “Fire” and “Water” were intentionally tracked back-to-back to provide some form of release – without dropping the intensity of the body of work.

Reginald Cyntje imageTogether, these two elements reaffirm in my mind that Cyntje does have the capability of writing not just for his bone, but for singers as well; they have lyrics writ large all over them. Who knows, a vocal concept may be on the way. But, I digress. “Fire” and “Water” speak to Cyntje’s ultimate strength as a writer of beautiful melodies. I might have called them “sweet” but for the unintended association with Harry James.

“Wind” whips up the ‘elements’, so to speak, building momentum for the “March of the Trees” interlude to come, all in anticipation of “The Aftermath” on the way to the CD-ending “Earth Revisited.”

Whereas “March” is quite literal, leaving nothing to the imagination by virtue of its compositional construct and judging by the dirge and vocal lamentation inherent in it – there is such solemnity in this track – “The Aftermath” stirs the soul.

Thus awakened, the jaunty pianism of Johnson on the opener of “Earth Revisited,” serves as a singular vehicle, almost, in leading the charge – or march if you will – in re-capturing and harnessing the veritable “Fire,” “Water” and “Wind” for the final push to take back the Earth. The rest of the band fall in after Johnson, quite appropriately, to complete what I perceive to be a circle of life wherein the Elements, as delineated throughout the CD, represent life in all its incarnations.

Folks look for salvation in figures, structures and things. Me, when I listen to a recorded work like “Elements of Life,” I repent of all my sins and give my life to The Jazz.

Take a bow Reginald Cyntje Music, Brian Lee Settles (soprano/tenor sax), Allyn Johnson (piano), Amin Gumbs (drums), Christie Dashiell (vocals), Herman Burney Jr. (bass) and Victor Provost (pan).

M. Minchie Israel 
Woodshed Entertainment Collective (WEC)


Track listing

1. Elements of Life 6:38

2. Earth 5:31

3. Sky 12:26

4. Fire 8:13

5. Water 5:28

6. Wind 5:13

7. March of the Trees 1:28

8. The Aftermath 3:36

9. Earth Revisited 4:35

 All songs composed by Reginald Cyntje (BMI)

Allyn Johnson – piano
Amin Gumbs – drums
Brian Settles – soprano/tenor sax
Christie Dashiell – vocals
Herman Burney – bass
Victor Provost – steel pan
Reginald Cyntje – trombone


YouTube (this is the best the artiste has done thus far)

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