Schoolboy memory: Caribbean steel drum band in Britain, a children’s TV feature on how to mark out the end of half a big commercial oil-drum and hammer it into facets, each tuned to a certain note: industrial detritus turns musical instrument. Do Parisians do this at the Calypsociation Steel Drum School?
Andy Narell’s several of the musicians here, overdubbed on tenor and bass steel drums and guitars, with Luis Conte on congas/percussion, Mark Walker or Jean Philippe Fanfant on drums, plus guests. The average track time is roughly twelve minutes, the bouncy almost Wurlitzer-with-soul opener short at only 9:28, the longet title a few seconds off fourteen minutes.
“Tatoom” is the second title, Conte’s energetic congas enhancing something hypnotic about this medium-tempo tour-de-force of Adderley Brothers style Caribbean music. Narell plays with dynamics, going quiet, becoming more drivenly emotional with the insistence of drum-patterns, with Narell on tenor steel drum eventually charging on over a riff delivered by more of him.
Of course linear, singing and melodic music on steel drums does require repeated pummeling, even the physics of this music generates repeating rhythmic patterns. There’s a wash of sound and echoey ringing not so remote from Mike Stern’s guesting guitar: sonic affinity. David Sanchez guests on another title, a strong swimmer on tenor sax with plenty strokes available to follow his own course through the waves. There’s no doubting Narell’s virtuosity and inventiveness, and stamina. I could even have been impressed by the freshness of ideas on the thirteen-minute closer, “Appreciation”, if I’d not been shaking my head at Narell’s superhuman seventy-three minutes of fast medium brio. Not boring, creative, and… wow! Phew!
Incidentally, the label website speaks of Narell “playing all 22 pans [normally played by 22 bandsmen] in meticulously layered and carefully mixed orchestral arrangements.” Since it never sounds like there are quite so many of him, he has to be credited with subtlety too—and even more stamina.
// Notes from the Road
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