Oswald Russell: Jamaican Dances


Oswald Russell (1933-2012) was a Jamaican composer who wrote a number of important pieces of music during the 20th and 21st centuries. As well as a composer, Russell was also a talented pianist, with some of his recordings really standing the test of time. His Jamaican Dances were composed in 1970, and is comprised of three short vignettes for solo piano. 


The Music

The opening dance opens with an angular rhythm that soon lines the hands together for a punchy unison section. The syncopation used by Russell adds much interest to the music, with the bold dynamic choices also packing a punch in this movement. All three dances are based in some way on traditional Jamaican rhythms, and the opening figure heard in this dance paves the way for the rest of the suite.



The slower second dance is set in a Romantic style, however Russell uses harmony here to create an edge on his unique perspective. The soaring melody sits neatly on top of the fluctuating bassline, making this movement a real scene-stealer. Russell’s accessible style is heard throughout this movement, with the gentle harmony accentuating this sensitive melody. 



The last dance opens with a low-range introduction before a twinkling theme in the upper register of the instrument begins. The syncopated melody is memorable and sweet in style, with Russell honing in on his own style here. As the hands meet for the big climax of the dance, the harmony begins to change as a quick teaser before the opening material returns once more before the dance ends with a dissonant final chord. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

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