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Jazz, his way

Tatoom: Music for Steel Orchestra
Tatoom: Music for Steel Orchestra
By Andy Narell

Heads Up International: 2007

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This review first appeared in Turbula in April 2007.

After a quarter century, it's probably safe to say that Andy Narell's use of the pan steel drum in a jazz environment is no gimmick. Listening to Narell's latest album, "Tatoom," makes clear what an organic blending of Caribbean sounds and jazz improvisation Narell has created.

There's an absolute shimmer to his playing – always has been, but it's only deepened with the years, acquired a lustre and richness that set Narell's playing in the ranks of the top players of any instrument. Like Milt Jackson's vibes work, Narell's steel drum playing is breathtaking not only because the choice of instrument is unusual and rare, but also for the virtuosity of his playing.

Only a half-dozen songs are on the new album; the shortest comes in at nine and a half minutes. So there are numerous opportunities to work and rework the themes, with Narell trading leads with guitarist Mike Stern on two tracks and saxophonist David Sanchez on a third. Percussionist Luis Conte is a constant presence, providing a percolating Caribbean beat.

While the bright, sunny tones of Narell's instrument and playing have often found his music pegged as smooth jazz or easy listening, the solid songwriting, the intelligent solos and the stellar playing are the equal of anyone in mainstream jazz today.