1. Jenny's Room
2. Pan Woman
3. Babe of the Day
4. Shadow Play
5. Groove Town
6. Orange Guitars
Andy Narell, Ray Holman, Tom Miller, Alan Lightner - Steel drums
Dario Eskenazi, Frank Chastenier - Keyboards
Michael Alibo - Bass
Peter Erskine - Drums
Luis Conte, Marcio Doctor - Percussion
Andy Haderer, Rob Bruynen, Klaus Osterloh, Rick Kiefer, John Marshall - Trumpets
Dave Horler, Ludwig Nuss, Bernt Laukamp - Trombones
Lucas Schmid - Bass trombone
Heiner Wiberny, Harald Rosenstein - Alto saxes
Olivier Peters, Rolf Römer - Tenor saxes
Jens Neufang - Baritone
David Rudder - Vocals (track 5)
Steel drummers playing with a big band? Surely it can't work, can it? But it does - thanks to skilful arrangements and the combined skills of three virtuosic steel pan players, headed by Andy Narell, the New Yorker who brought the Trinidadian steel drum firmly into the jazz world. The album also succeeds through the expertise of the WDR Big Band of Cologne, which plays with fire and precision.
Someone once said that the sound of a big band in full cry is one of the most joyful sounds in the world, and the steel band has an inbuilt joyfulness encapsulating Caribbean warmth. Steel drums also have a particular ability to emphasise syncopation - perhaps just because they are percussion instruments - and this fits well with jazz. This ardent atmosphere is accentuated here by the presence of several additional percussionists, including Luis Conte and Peter Erskine.
Vince Mendoza conducts every number and arranged four of the six pieces. He does an excellent job of fusing the various elements into a cohesive and exciting force. Tom Scott actually arranged the opening Jenny's Room, which starts with tranquil music from piano, bass and drums before the gradual arrival of the orchestra and the steel drums. Slowly the volume builds, as we start to hear the full weight of the big band, decorated by the steel drums, which add a rhapsodic solo. The control of dynamics creates marvellous tension and exhilaration.
The tempo hots up for Mendoza's arrangement of Pan Woman, with steel drums and percussion at the forefront, ably reinforced by the WDR Band playing in authentic Latin-American style. The tenor sax solo is especially tasty, interpolating a saucy quote from a well-known theme.
Mendoza's Babe of the Day suits the ensemble well with its enigmatic, swerving structure, allowing plenty of space for articulate solos from steel pan, tenor sax, trumpet and drums. Andy Narell's composition Shadow Play (arranged by Jim McNeely) is a tender tune with a Caribbean bounce. It exemplifies Narell's skill in writing impassioned melodies, and includes a nice piano solo but a rather dubious (flat?) trombone solo.
Groove Town is marred by overlong, mediocre vocals from David
Rudder but saved by stimulating percussion and pleasant steel drums.
The final Orange Guitars was written and arranged by Vince
Mendoza. It starts with steel drums backed simply by percussion and
then develops into big-band grandeur.
One huge mystery is why this album has only just been released, seeing that it was recorded way back in 1997. Music as good as this shouldn't have been languishing in the archives.