Andy Narell

The Passage

Heads Up International HUCD 3086

Andy Narell, tenor, double second, and quaduet steel pans, with Calypsociation (34-player steel orchestra including bandleaders Mathieu Borgne, drums and percussion, and Laurent Lalsingue, tenor and double second); plus guest soloists Michael Brecker, tenor sax; Paquito D'Rivera, alto sax; Hugh Masekela, flugelhorn

Even if you have never been to the West Indies, or haven't yet come under the spell of the sound of the magnificent steel pan orchestras which originated there, this release may be an exceptional introduction. But if you have already been enthralled by steel pans, with their shimmery tones and calypso syncopations, or by the pioneering work Andy Narell has done for decades in applying them to Jazz, you will find The Passage a non-stop delight.

Narell says he's "trying to redefine the art of the steelband recording," and indeed this new project is the fruit of the best technical, musical and creative efforts coming together. Part of the impetus for this is that listeners to a pan orchestra often are free to walk inside the band, finding space to stand and listen in between the sections. This is really the way steel bands are best heard and appreciated, but apparently they have never before been recorded so painstakingly, with the intent to convey this sonic pleasure. So the result of this labor of love --- even in my standard stereo version (the CD is also available in surround sound) --- is a breathing, truly "panoramic" sound, enabling the listener to really feel the spatial spread, depth of field and clarity of inner parts which these large orchestras offer in the live setting.

Best known in the U.S. for his many albums and record appearances as a gifted soloist and arranger for the instruments, Narell has been a creative and tireless advocate for their inclusion in Jazz and other not-strictly-Caribbean idioms. Significantly, he has been acclaimed in their birthplace as well, garnering unprecedented invitations as an outsider to arrange for the Panorama steelband competition there.

Complementing and justifying its sonic and technical achievements, which are remarkable, there is Narell's musical vision. Increasingly concentrating on advancing the tradition of arranging and presenting the classic steelband, even more than his already widely-acknowledged Jazz brilliance as steel pan soloist, Narell has added a third element of interest: the showcasing of fine Jazz soloists with steelband accompaniment. Noting that "a lot of Jazz musicians don't take steelband music seriously," Narell wanted to assure that these soloists experienced themselves as playing with "a tight, swinging big band," as his 34-person Calypsociation demonstrably is. For listeners such as this writer, who most enjoy hearing fresh improvisations, particularly in stimulating settings, The Passage is a big winner most of all because of the success of these showcases, a feature of the 3 standout cuts on the CD.

On "Song For Mia," Michael Brecker on tenor saxophone is warmly sinuous and gruff, yet wittily urbane, making this fresh treatment of the biguine dance beat perhaps the album's most striking sonic surprise. Paquito D'Rivera's exuberant and inspired alto saxophone solo on the 3/4 mazooka rhythm on "Mabouya" was a revelation to me. D'Rivera manages to combine the best woody aspects of clarinet tone with the best reed-and-brass boldness of the saxophone in his soloing, and his spontaneity is a joy to hear. Finally, on the haunting "Dee Mwa Wee," Hugh Masekela delivers a wise, wistful and deeply soulful flugelhorn improv over an irresistible 12/8 African groove.

The Passage is enthusiastically recommended on musical and technical grounds, as well as the "freshness factor."

by Eric Golub

Jazz Now Interactive June 2004 Vol 14 No. 2 - Table of Contents

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