Good music, intentions from Alpha Generations
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Last Friday's concert at Redbones Blues Café, New Kingston, was billed the Alpha Spectacular and, to a large extent, in terms of the music delivered to the large audience, lived up to its title.
However, the night also served a larger purpose than the hornlines of two bands - the youngsters still enrolled at the legendary South Camp Road institution and an All Star aggregation of graduates - carrying strong melodies to appreciative ears. There was a strong celebratory air to the evening, with references to not only the Alpha Boys' School's storied history, but also recent developments which seem poised to give it a shot in the arm.
These include an online radio station playing music in which Alpha musicians have had a hand. The night's host, Joshua Chamberlain, named Bob Marley and Toots and the Maytals among those tracks rotated on www.alphaboysschoolradio.com. There is also development of the physical infrastructure, in conjunction with the Caribbean School of Architecture at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech).
Seeing that it is, after all, music business, it was explained that the concert was an initiative under a commercial plan which Alpha student Rohan Angus is critical to. "This is the first annual event. The Alpha Spectacular will help to give the students an opportunity and increase their knowledge about business," Angus said.
With all that, though, it was the music that the audience came for and it was music that moved them, with the Alpha Boys' Band of current students first up. It was a large aggregation, about half of it, forming a five-man horn section and, although their youth showed initially in some self-consciousness onstage, there was no denying the strength of their music.
The overall tone of the Alpha Boys' Band segment was up-tempo, even Lean On Me getting accelerated treatment, with a percussionist-turned-rapper dropping in some lyrics. Sly Mongoose was part of a mento medley and a composition of their own was included in the band's presentation.
Solos were delivered, as is standard for bands of that nature.
The young men had an adult to help anchor them, Winston 'Sparrow' Martin starting out on bass, and it was he who marshalled them into a line, side by side a step down from the stage, and a few steps closer to the audience. It was a set-up for steps of another kind; with percussive instruments in hand and the congos holding a steady beat, each young man moved forward in turn to drop legs - many very briefly and shyly with a few more outgoing - to the audience's cheers.
After an intermission, the Alpha All Stars (with Martin now in a more familiar role, as drummer) got off to a spectacular start, the pair of trumpeters exchanging piercing notes from opposite sides of the audience area as they made their way leisurely onstage, where the entire band joined in seamlessly.
It was an excellent start and the All Stars did not drop the musical ball, Summertime, appropriate for the season and to the tone of the concert. Standout trumpet work was consistent throughout the band's segment and, on Summertime, one of the two swiftly switched implements to change the tone of his instrument twice, to good effect.
There was a guest vocalist in Sky Taylor, the young woman taking a seat just behind where the line of young men were earlier, playing the guitar along with a reduced band as she did her original Just a Little More. A cover of Lorde's Royals was played a bit slower than the original, the adjusted tempo injecting higher emotion, and Taylor's guest slot ended with Our Day Will Come.
Dipping into Alpha's heritage, the All Stars did Skatalites numbers - including Eastern Standard Time - back to back. Naturally, this got the movement going with Rockfort Rock slowing the tempo but keeping a groove going.
As the All Stars headed to a close, a trumpeter sustained a long note, further delighting the audience at Redbones.