A Pan Jazz Evening Ripe for Repeat Performances

Garvin Blake
Garvin Blake
Contributed by Hazel Beckles for When Steel Talks

All good concerts must have its final number. Thunderous applause fills the hall appealing for one more jam. If time and contracts permit that is. Whatever the outcome the fans leave and the lights go out. The lights went out at Lincoln Center after Abstract Entertainment’s “Acoustic Revolution” concert and like all good concerts steel-pan and jazz aficionados left wanting more.

Whether you were a panist or just an avid pan or jazz music lover the evening held something for everyone. Those familiar with the pan world would know that there were fans there that came to cast the deciding vote. This was inevitable.Did the night belong to Andy Narell, Garvin Blake or Liam Teague? Truly speaking the night belonged to the coupling of the instrument and the genre of music. For those who love jazz and pan like Neal Andrew, a Trinidadian living in Jamaica on vacation in New York, it was a double treat. He was celebrating father’s day at the concert. Some of his family even came in from Washington DC.

You know, at times it’s still downright baffling reflecting on the Black experience how much music and genius poverty and suffering bred. The steel pan instrument and jazz music, just read up on the roots of these two “phenoms” and you gain a deeper appreciation for the “sufferahs” who left such riches to the world lest it’s forgotten when you sit in these concert halls.

Yet the sound of the steel pan is unique to Caribbean life. No, no, no it has its “jam and wine” moments. But it’s more than that. It digs deep and ferrets out stuff. It paints a picture. It tells our story then and now in an unpretentious way. It does not prettify history. It tells the good with the unpleasant. If you listen well you can hear hungry stomachs growling playing alongside the well fed. What a story- teller. The griot can get highly intellectual too. Just look at and listen to Garvin Blake play. The music is just not coming from between the wrist and the rubber mallets (pan sticks) used to play the instrument.

At Lincoln Center, Blake’s band seemed to be the more settled of the evening. Settled enough to treat the audience to an unbridled jazz set. From acoustic guitar to accordion player one never knows what Tony Cedras has up his sleeves. An unusual instrument in jazz his accordion solo in the Duke’s “Caravan” was awesome. For those who know what he can do they still marvel at Frankie McIntosh
on the keyboards.

There was certainly no fear in his and Blake’s treatment of the Mighty Sparrow’s “Ah Fraid Pussy Bite Me” shortened to “Ah Fraid” on the playbill. Pussy was not biting anyone bedecked like that at Lincoln Center. Great styling. Left some men whistling the tune all the way home.

While the sound of the steel pan is unique to Caribbean living the instrument is an instrument like any other left to interpretation, styling and appreciation by anyone the world over who makes it their instrument of choice.

Looking at Andy Narell brings to mind a restless pan spirit roaming the pan yard looking for a lodging. Not quite finished with his work in the pan yard it lands on Narell and says what the heck, uses Narell as a medium to complete his work.

Whatever spirit says to do Narell does and he is dam good at it. Something is foreign to the spirit but he is happy. The spirit is not too familiar with him. Narell and the spirit together make refreshing music and have built up quite a following.

Take Andre Morton and quite a few others I spoke to who came there to hear Narell play. He grew up in the City and sees pan music as part of the medley of New York City rhythms. His friend Rebecca also from New York felt that the instrument and the jazz genre was a natural fit. They both concurred that pan jazz was part of an array of Caribbean jazz often represented only by Afro Cuban or Latin jazz. He really appreciates how Narell takes time out to talk about the music to the audience.

But there are pan enthusiasts who would tell you there is much more to Narell as a music writer than a pan soloist but as an American he has carved out his niche as a white panist. His band started of quite guarded just when they were getting into their element their set was up. Andy Narell’s “Laventille”, was beautiful. Kudos goes to their percussionist David Guerrero whose pulse brought it all together.

Testimony to a great artist going places was overhearing Liam Teague expressing with such humility his longing to meet and joy in what seemed to be his first encounter with Emmanuel Jack Riley. Mr. Riley received an Abstract Entertainment Award as one of the first great improvisational pan players and soloists. An AEI 2004 Visionary Award was also given to Max Roach. Buddy Williams accepted it on
his behalf.

Though people who for the first time had come to hear Teague felt cheated by a performance that at times came across too noisy and jarring. His duo’s with saxophonist Arturo Tappin with whom he teamed up to put out the CD, “Teague and Tappin”, seemed to be an assault on each other instead of the happy marriage between the steel pan and the other instruments that preceded their performance. The audience found themselves trying to interpret Arturo’s distracting sign language to a stage assistant off stage while Teague was soloing, to either raise the mike when he is playing his clarinet or turn it down when he is playing the sax. Whatever happened to sound check people were left to wonder?
With legend Buddy Williams on drums and base player Gary Hasse who wooed the audience this band could have been the grand finale on a wonderful evening.

There is something unexplainable that comes to the forefront that may have gone by unannounced in daily experiences. ADLIB on stage was such a moment. Elegantly dressed young men and women between the ages of eleven through eighteen. That unexplainable something is mothers listening with their bellies. ADLIB filled mothers bellies with pride. Maybe pride is not the word but it would suffice.
Opening the evening, their repertoire featured a sweet rendition of Andy Narell’s, “We Kind of Music”, setting the tone for an unfolding evening.

A quick gage of the audience revealed permanent smiles plastered on the faces of some elder men while women were nodding their heads. A group of self-assured young people were on stage, invited to take care of adults business and turned around and made the business their own. They were serious and it was telling in their music.

Their performance and their youth offered a brief respite full of possibilities from quite a troubling world these days.

But then came the test not for the children but for the organizers of events like these, how best and quickly can a pan ensemble be removed from the stage to make way for the next performer.

Yet it was a great evening ripe with potential for repeat performances. So did the night belong to ADLIB, Narell, Blake or Teague? It depends on how you like your story told. For those who gained an appreciation for steel pan music via Andy Narell, Narell’s performance was it. But for those whose introduction came way before Narell they listened and knew when their storyteller took the stage.

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