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Leon Foster Thomas: Calasanitus

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Leon Foster Thomas: Calasanitus
Born in Trinidad and in 2023 based in London, steel-pan virtuoso Leon Foster Thomas surprised and delighted many in the jazz world with Metamorphosis (Ropeadope, 2016). It was his third album but the first to receive widespread distribution in the US and Europe. The disc proved the steel pan to be serious and sophisticated, sitting comfortably in a lineup of otherwise standard instrumentation, and an instrument that in the right hands can be as expressive as the vibraphone, its nearest chromatic 'tuned percussion' relative.

Like Metamorphosis, Calasanitus was recorded in Miami, where Thomas relocated in 2001 to study jazz at Florida Memorial University. Two members of the 2016 band, trumpeter John Daversa and drummer Michael Piolet, are heard on the latest album, alongside new recruits Troy Roberts on tenor and alto saxophones, Tai Cohen on piano and Michael Ramos on bass. Flautist Magela Herrera guests on one track and drummer Harvel Nakundi is added on three. They are a busting crew.

An engaging composer and imaginative improviser, Thomas fuses melodies with propulsive rhythmic drive. He wrote all of the tunes, bar one, on Calasanitus. These comprise four muscular workouts: "I Am An Immigrant," "Silent Maze," "Together" and "Ascension," which bookend a lovely ballad, "Bliss," and the prayerful "Dance Of David." The cover is a remake of soca star Bunji Garlin's bustling 2015 hit "Cheers." Harmonically and structurally, the closing track "Ascension" is the highlight of the album, but there is not a single dud on the disc, which is peppered with strong solos from Daversa, Roberts, Cohen and, above all, Thomas.

Thomas is not the first player to use the pan in a jazz setting, but his predecessors are pretty niche, despite Othello Molineaux's relatively high-profile recordings with Jaco Pastorius and Monty Alexander. Hopefully, Calasanitus will improve that picture. But whether it does or not, Thomas here confirms himself as a world-class jazzman and the pan as a legitimate jazz instrument.

Track Listing

I Am An Immigrant; Silent Maze; Bliss; Dance Of David; Cheers; Together; Ascension.

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Magela Herrera: flute (3); Harvel Nakundi: drums (3, 4, 6); Antonia N. Wilson: vocals (4); Faith Lowe: vocals (4); Donald A.Lowe Jr.: vocals (4).

Album information

Title: Calasanitus | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Krossover Jazz


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