It was an evening of smooth jazz with a funky Caribbean twist. But more than that, it was a massive display of class, dedication and an obvious love of music by featured entertainers at the International Jazz Panyard Jam Session hosted by Phase II Pan Groove Steel Orchestra and Hadco at its pan theatre on Hamilton Street, Woodbrook, on Saturday evening (April 30).
Held in celebration of International Jazz Day, the playbill showcased the myriad musical stylings of the Douglas Redon Ensemble, The Reunion Band, and the Phase II orchestra in a four-hour programme joyfully executed before a full house of patrons gathered in a transformed space that was aesthetically pleasing and comfortably laid out.
Highlight of the night, though, was the outstanding performance by the Reunion Band, led by acclaimed T&T trumpeter/percussionist Etienne Charles that featured Leon "Foster" Thomas on steelpan, Ron Reid (bass), Luisito Quintero (percussion), Obed Calvarie (drums), Godwin Louis (saxophone), Brett Williams (keyboards) and vocalists Vaughnette Bigford and Roger George.
The amalgamation opened its set giving new treatment to Madam Blondell, a traditional calypso selection from a past era in Trinidad, arranged by Reid on the pan jazz CD Reid, Wright and be Happy released in 2003.
On April 18, this year, in an interview with Carol Banks Weber, a contributor to the AXS website, Charles had this to say: "I was raised on calypso and reggae, which at the core, are about educating the people about the actual situation while entertaining, as opposed to what may be implied. Keeping in that tradition as a composer and improviser, I try to continue the example that was set for me by my mentors and idols. Horace Silver once said (I believe in the liner notes of Serenade to a Soul Sister) jazz compositions should have melodic beauty, meaningful simplicity, harmonic beauty, rhythm, and environmental, hereditary, regional and spiritual influences."
All those elements were present in the group's musical repertoire that extended to include Bigford's smooth and classy interpretation of Sergio Mendes' composition So Many Stars, sung, skilfully, in the past by international songbirds Natalie Cole and Sarah Vaughn. Bigford would return later to revive fond memories of the music of the 1970s with a jazzy rendition of Can You Love Me (originally sung by Alsop "Steelo" David with music band Kalyan in 1977), in which we heard some authoritative bass riffs from Reid on the acoustic bass.
Roger George continued to astound listeners with his extensive vocal range. He was smooth and intent in rendering Turn Your Lights Down Low from Bob Marley's Exodus album of 1977, yet managed to ramp up the performance with a flurry of soulful notes in the upper register that earned spontaneous shouts of approval from listeners. Audience participation eagerly accompanied his other offering of the late Kitchener's Cricket Champions from the album Legacy of a Champion � 1967-1971. "England must understand, we are the champions," was part of the refrain the crowd sang to the calypso that was written to celebrate the West Indies' first victory over England in the second test match played at Lord's in June 1950.
The audience was reminded that this Kitchener masterpiece was composed long before Rudder's Rally 'round the West Indies and DJ Bravo's Champion.
Only managed to catch the last two selections from opening act the Douglas Redon Ensemble, but heard the band's clean, clear and precise playing, led by an artiste who is a bassist, pannist, composer, arranger, teacher, and someone who has quietly and powerfully contributed to the performance, presentation and survival of kaiso jazz, pan jazz, pan and calypso music.
It would appear as though some sound engineers continue to struggle in their efforts to reproduce the music of a steel orchestra. Evidence of this surfaced when Phase II took the stage to present its repertoire. From its opening selection titled Something Special, it was evident the sound was too loud. When "Boogsie" began his solos the music sounded discordant, making it difficult to appreciate the aggregation's carefully chosen titles that included Andre Tanker's Forward Home, Sparrow's Rose, and Jule Styne's It's Magic from 1947, among others.
Saturday's event, blessed by sporadic drizzles, was an awesome experience in that it was a near flawless production. Full credit must go to the Hadad brothers (John, Joseph, Robert) of Hadco, and event implementer Danielle Espinet. Hadco plans to make Jazz Panyard Jam Session an annual event, to be held to commemorate International Jazz Day which is observed on April 30.