Andy Narell records with 30-Piece Steel Orchestra Calypsociation

Cleveland, USA – Andy Narell has a
new recording titled The Passage, which features Narell, the steelband Calypsociation, and three of the greatest soloists in jazz – Michael Brecker, Paquito D’Rivera and Hugh Masekela. The Passage
was recorded and mixed using cutting-edge technology to capture all the excitement of the
steelband sound, and is being released in two formats: a CD, and a 5.1 surround-sound SACD.

The story of The Passage
starts in two places at the same time: Paris, France, and Port of Spain, Trinidad. The Parisian plot starts when Narell arrived in Paris to discover the existence of
Calypsociation.

I came over here to teach in the spring of 2001,” Narell recalls. “I had sent over the chart of ‘Coffee Street,’ and they played part of it for me – and I could
hear after two minutes that I wanted to work with this band
.”

The fit between Narell and Calypsociation was so tight that the band commissioned him to direct, compose and arrange two ten-minute pieces for the second
European Steelband Festival in 2002. That music sounded so
sweet, and the experience was so rewarding on all sides,
that Narell continued working with Calypsociation – a
collaboration that’s documented on the CD.

In the 63 years since the steel pan was
invented in Trinidad, it has become a symbol of politics,
religion, and class-struggle. Every year, just before Carnival, the
entire country locks in on the widely popular national pan
competition known as Panorama. The top steel bands swell to
100 or more players beating close to 300 pans, and
heavyweight composer-arrangers like Len “Boogsie” Sharpe,
Ray Holman, and Clive Bradley create ten-minute musical
extravaganzas for the occasion.

The thundering, percussive, polyrhythmic
roar of these huge bands – each with its pounding bass pans
and jazzy melodies moving from section to section – is so
exciting it can make you weak in the knees. It’s also almost
impossible to record.

In live performance, human ears can decode
the subtleties of the music, thanks to the spatial spread
and depth of a big steel orchestra. And to make the
experience even more exhilarating, many panyard listeners
actually walk inside the band, finding space to stand
between the sections. Unless you’ve personally plunged into
the center of a steel band in full flight, you have never
heard the music the way it really sounds.

Narell has been aware of this for years, and
he realized that this recording provided the perfect
opportunity to try something revolutionary. “Due to
technical issues
,” he explains, “steelband recordings tend
to be one-dimensional sounding. It’s very hard to capture
the power of the bass, the spatial relationships of the
sections, and the clarity of all the inner parts. So even
digital recordings tend to sound small and tinny compared
with the massive power of the real thing. For this
recording, we placed the microphones all around the band to
capture the excitement of 30 people playing together in a
large studio space. Then we overdubbed each of the eight
sections of the band on top of the live performance to get a
clean stereo pair of each section for presence, balance, and
effect sends. This way I’ve got the elements I need to
create a mix that puts you right there in front of the
band
.”

That’s just the stereo mix. The 5.1 surround
sound SACD will be ground-breaking in more ways than one.
Obviously, this is the first steelband record to be released
in surround, but Narell has gone a great deal farther.
Since surround sound is such a new format, everybody is
experimenting and there are very few established
conventions. So rather than take the stereo mix and just add
a few things to the back for interest, which is what a lot
of surround mixers do, I decided to use the technology to
put the listener right into the center of a steelband. It’s
a thrilling audio experience
.”

To take things to yet another level, Narell
invited three jazz masters to sit in – Michael Brecker,
Paquito D’Rivera and Hugh Masekela. “A lot of jazz musicians don’t take steelband music seriously,” says Narell. “So it was
important to me that the soloists should not only be great
players, but that they would approach this music with
respect, and come to the session with the anticipation that
they were about to play with a tight, swinging big band –
which is what Calypsociation is. Mike, Paquito and Hugh
exceeded my expectations, which were very high. They add a
whole new dimension to the record. They play so beautifully,
and the sound of their instruments soloing in front of a
steelband is a totally exciting experience for me
.”

“It’s not every day you get a world class
orchestra to rehearse for two years to make a record
,” says Narell. “I could have spent a few thousand dollars, and a
few days, to record the band, but I decided to make the most
of this opportunity. We put hundreds of hours of work into
recording and mixing this disc. Frankly, I’m trying to
redefine the art of the steelband recording
.”

Narell is probably best known to American
audiences as a musician who pioneered the role of the pan in
contemporary music. Narell has made 14 albums. He’s recorded
and/or performed with Marcus Miller, Chucho Valdés, Bela
Fleck, and many, many others. And in 1999, as the first
non-Trinidadian ever to arrange for the legendary Panorama
competition.

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. He was also the executive producer of the first Latino feature film made in North Carolina titled “Los sueños de Angélica.”.

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