Saturday, July 7, 2012

'Three Jamaican Dances' of Oswald Russell on CD 'SENKU' of William Chapman Nyaho

[Senku: Piano Music by Composers of African Descent; William Chapman Nyaho, piano; MSR Classics MS 1091 (2003)]

As we have posted previously, Dr. William Chapman Nyaho was a student and close friend of the late Jamaican pianist and composer Oswald Russell (1933-2012), who passed away July 2. Dr. Chapman Nyaho recorded Russell's Three Jamaican Dances on his CD Senku: Piano Music by Composers of African Descent; MSR Classics MS 1091 (2003). The work is in three movements: No. 1 (1:02); No. 2 (2:27) and No. 3 (1:56). The pianist writes in the liner notes:

As a versatile composer, concert pianist and improviser, his innovative concert programs usually include his own works, music from Western classical repertoire to Jazz and improvisations. Russell has held teaching positions in Jamaica and Switzerland and has been visiting Professor of Music in Kinshasa, Zaire.

Oswald's compositions include music for film, ballet, Marionette Theater, wind band and several solo instruments. His style is a subtle blend of Caribbean and Western musical idioms. Russell's gift for melody is characterized by long beautifully balanced phrases. His wide harmonic language ranges from simple diatonic to complex Jazz harmonies to atonality. A particular trait is his use of very effective sudden tonal shifts.

The Jamaican Dances are inspired by impressions of Jamaican life and its folksong. As in all three dances, a short introduction establishes the main rhythmic character of each piece. The first dance, replete with strong rhythmic gestures, is based on typical Jamaica rhythms. It is also infused with alternating major and minor harmonies and sudden tonal shifts. The second dance, according to Russell, is the product of his impovisation based on the folksong 'Sammy Dead.' The introduction is based on the cakewalk rhythm out of which grows a soaring and most haunting melody. The final dance of the set is more joyful in character and uses a tune 'Rookoombine' which is often heard in the market place. Again, Russell's composition is very colorful with shifts in tonality. As tongue in cheek, Russell increasingly incorporates 'wrong notes' towards the end of the dance.”

[Dr.William Chapman Nyaho (b. 1958) is featured at His performance website is and he has a Facebook Page.]  

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