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The sound of steel pans seems to surface at beaches and poolside bars more often than jazz clubs, but that doesn't mean that these sunny-sounding metal melody makers aren't welcome or cut out for the jazz life. Steel pan trailblazers, like Jaco Pastorius
, established a place for their instrument in the jazz world a long time ago and paved the way for new and emerging pan players from future generations to join the game. Enter Leon Foster Thomas.
Thomas, a native of Trinidad now based in Florida, is poised to become the next big thing on his instrument. He's already established himself as a regional talent, winning numerous awards and dazzling crowds during live performances, but he's relatively unknown elsewhere. Thankfully, Brand New Mischief may help to rectify that unfortunate issue.
This all-original, seven-song program gives Thomas a chance to shine as a composer and performer. The album-opening "Soul Window" starts in a ruminative state, eventually reaching a joyous plateau, but the turf changes quickly with the sinister funk of "Sleepless Nights." Drummer Ludwig Alfonso turns up the heat as this song develops, delivering some high energy, crash-and-bash beats. "Amour Bleu" begins in a state of serenity but travels across a dynamic arc that takes it to new places, while "Annecy" stays put in a state of soul balladry. Thomas' penchant for lyricism comes through on this one, which sounds like it could be a long lost Stevie Wonder
While Thomas establishes his playing credentials early on in the album, he ups the ante on the Brazilian-tinged "Baby Powder," which proves to be a breezy and buoyant ride, and the tropically-infused "Enchantment," which cooks at high heat and features some smoking steel pan soloing. The album-closing title track is built around bassist Kurt Hengstebeck's funky lines and gives all four members of the band an opportunity to step out into the spotlight. While Thomas and pianist Allen C. Paul have plenty of space elsewhere, Hengstebeck and Alfonso don't and they both rise to the occasion here.
Brand New Mischief may help to broaden Leon Foster Thomas' audience, and he certainly deserves to be heard, but that remains to be seen. Regardless, it serves as a document of a steel pan star in the making.