Seems like many cultural rainbows have roots in political tension, so perhaps it’s wise to hear Etienne Charles’ buoyant 10-song collage as a narrative arc highlighting the silver lining of invention that lies behind the passions of resistance. As the talented trumpeter essays a few historical turns in the San Jose locales of Costa Rica, California and his native Trinidad, he and his sextet concoct a variety of temperaments, and from celebration to defiance, each is as engaging as the next.
Although it has an amiable glide to it, “Baruca” is inspired by a festival that recalls battles between Costa Rica’s indigenous peoples and Spanish conquistadors. Esprit and sobriety share space in the band’s rendering, which illustrates a group trait sustained throughout the disc: the musicians are utterly casual, but radically tight. “Limon” is built on a steady rhythmic push, an homage to the work of community building. It’s balanced by the élan of “Cahuita,” which fairly prances in its calypso-slanted revelry.
The pliability of Miles Davis’ second classic quintet seems to provide Charleswith as much inspiration as the Caribbean history he essays. The leader’s horn and Brian Hogans’ alto are expert at maneuvering between the elastic designs of the rhythm section. “Hyarima” broods its way through an ominous vibe, and Hogans lays out a fervent solo with Arthur Blythe inflections on “Revolt,” a tense reimagining of a consequential Trinidad uprising that finds drummer John Davis bringing the ardor.
Charles’ inspirations aren’t entirely ancient. The ensemble’s glance at California’s San Jose has to do with the area’s wealth imbalance in a post-Silicon Valley era, and the roiling “Speed City,” a modern broadside that waxes funky while launching a spoken word blast, recounts the segregation woes that once marked the campus of San Jose State University. Here the folkloric lyricism that started the album morphs into modern turbulence. As the transition takes place, it’s pretty obvious that Charles has delivered a potent punch.