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Leon Foster Thomas: Metamorphosis

James Nadal By

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Being one of the newest percussion instruments on the planet, (circa 1939) the steel pan is actually on a similar timeline with the development of modern jazz. Taking into consideration strong African influences and a hybridization process, they appear to be a natural combination. Pan Master Leon Foster Thomas has taken the instrument most associated with his homeland of Trinidad, right into the heart of jazz composition and performance with Metamorphosis, in a bold rhythmic and melodic encounter.

With shades of early Kaiso (calypso) music blended with jazz, "Kai-Fusion," lays the soundscape for the pan to interplay with the horns, all revolving around carnival derivations and imaginings. The utilization of twin trumpets and a sax gives this opening track exhilarating anticipation and excitement. In a throwback to when bands had to play dance music to make it, "Midnight Refrain," honors the speakeasies and clubs where the audience and musicians collided in a mutual sense of satisfaction and good times.

The "Gulf of Paria," lies in between Trinidad and Venezuela, and in this piece Thomas portrays an aquatic introspection exercise, commencing with a tranquil piano/pan melody, setting the mood for trumpeter John Daversa to soar into the clouds. "In the Corner," is a personal manifestation of a musicians doubts, and how to overcome them. Thomas enters unchartered zones, rising with angst, and sliding into consolation, revealing a full spectrum of emotions. Percussionist Sammy Figueroa is featured on "Delusion of a Dream," the most Caribbean flavored track, and "Unknown Memory," is a bop-fusion adventure with Daversa on the EVI (electronic valve instrument) for a futuristic approach.

The sounds and influence of reggae are evident on "Dubplate Swing," but then Thomas dives into blues territory with some clever harmonious twists and turns, accenting the pan against the horns. The African currents flow within the soca inspired Nelson Mandela tribute "Take A Bow," Jean Caze playing vivid trumpet phrasing reminiscent of Hugh Masakela. "A Whiter Shade of Pale," endures as one of the great ballads of the rock era, and Thomas—with perfect piano accompaniment by Martin Bejeran—performs an intimate odyssey, as if the song was initially intended to be performed on a steel pan. A lesson in mastery of technique, tone and tempo, all as the ceiling flew away. The band all gets to stretch out on "Cry of Hope," a rising frenetic bopper which closes out the repertoire on a high note.

Whereas the steel pans are usually centered on calypso and other Caribbean music, Leon Foster Thomas has an abstract crossover intent. He utilizes formal musical training and education, combined with his innate Trinidad heritage, to obtain maximum benefit of the uniqueness options. This is steel pan music for contemporary times, no longer is it a novel instrument with colorful applications. He takes his jazz compositions seriously, and technically exhibits how the steel pan can be applied within these parameters. Metamorphosis is defined as a marked change in appearance, character, and function, all applicable to Thomas, and his music, as he takes this relatively young instrument into maturity.

Track Listing: Kai-Fusion; Midnight Refrain; Gulf Of Paria; In The Corner; Delusion Of A Dream; Unknown Memory; Dubplate Swing; Take A Bow; A Whiter Shade Of Pale; Cry Of Hope.

Personnel: Leon Foster Thomas; steel pan, percussion; Martin bejerano: piano; Kurt Hengstebeck: upright bass, electric bass; Michael Piolet: drums; Jean Caze: trumpet; David Palma: tenor sax, flute; Fernando Ulibarri: guitar; John Daversa: trumpet, EVI; Sammy Figueroa: percussion.

Title: Metamorphosis | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Ropeadope


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