5 ways to sail away on an 'inner' Caribbean jazz cruise

Jul 31, 2011

With the non-summer we've been having and the fact that a lot of people can't afford to get away, allow us to give you a vacation for your mind.

Think beaches. Sunshine. Frozen drinks. Your soundtrack? Five great musicians who hail from the Caribbean.

In his latest monthly list of five themed songs for NPR, KPLU's Nick Morrison takes us on a Caribbean cruise of jazz. Well, four of the five artists are jazz musicians. The final entrant on the list is in a class all by himself. But more on Joseph Spence in a moment. Let's start the cruise! (You can listen to the full songs here on NPR Music.)

A real scorcher in the Dominican Republic

Nick begins his list with pianist and composer Michel Camillo, who hails from the Dominican Republic. If you've heard Michel on KPLU, you know that he can play really fast! And that's usually in a trio configuration. Imagine if he arranged songs for a big Latin band! It happened in 1994 for "One More Once" and the song Nick selected off that CD is "Caribe." And it's smokin'! It will really get you going. The musicians are so tight and have to be quite skilled to follow the fancy finger work of Michel Camillo!

A visit with an old friend in Jamaica

As a young pianist in Kingston, Jamaica, Monty Alexander cut his musical teeth on ska and reggae music. He moved to the United States to pursue jazz but never forgot his roots. Over the years, Alexander has worked at blending reggae and jazz, with a focus on the music of Bob Marley. Nick selected Alexander's version of "No Woman, No Cry" from his CD "Stir It Up."

A train to Puerto Rico

David Sanchez and Miguel Zenon are two saxophonists from Puerto Rico who take us on quite a trip aboard a jazz-powered locomotive in "La Maquina (Viajanda en la Tren)" from David Sanchez's self-titled CD.

A cool breeze from Cuba

Follow that with the smooth, tropical sound of Chucho Valdes and the Afro-Cuban Messengers. Chucho won his fifth Grammy Award in 2011 for "Chucho's Steps." Nick says it may be the last Latin Jazz Grammy ever awarded. The Recording Academy is thinking of doing away with the category. We'll have to see what happens there. In the meantime, the song "Begin to Be Good" off Chucho's latest CD is a breezy, tropical delight.

A "unique" voice from the Bahamas

Nick ends the list with an artist who isn't a jazz musician but rather a great finger-style acoustic guitar player. Joseph Spence has influenced many of today's great guitarists, including Ry Cooder. In his version of the Haitian tune "Yellow Bird" from his CD "Good Morning, Mr. Walker," Spence certainly puts his stamp on the song. He forgets some of the words and laughs through his casual delivery, to the delight and laughter of his live audience.

Hope you enjoyed our trip!

See and listen to Nick's full list on NPRMusic.org

Artscape” is a weekly KPLU feature covering Northwest art, performances and artists. The feature is published here on Sundays and airs on KPLU 88.5 on Monday during Morning Edition, All Things Considered and on Weekend Saturday Edition.