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There are times when you have to admire an artistic effort for its sheer audacity if nothing else. Andy Narell's Tatoom is one such statement. Commercial considerations aside, Narell is doing nothing less than to continue growing and developing as a musician. In the process of pushing himself he's pushing the listener as well, which may limit the appeal of the album. Let's face it: jazz isn't always about giving the people what they want. The best jazz gives the people something they never expected.
For those willing to listen with a open mind, Tatoom presents Narell's powerful playing of the steel pans in a jazz setting with featured soloists Mike Stern on guitar and David Sanchez on tenor sax. How much enjoyment the album provides will depend upon how willing the listener is willing to accept an instrument usually employed as an embellishment in this setting as the featured instrument.
The shortest of Tatoom's six tracks is nine minutes in length and the album's subtitle is "Music for Steel Orchestra," so it's obvious Narell isn't worrying over airplay. The motivation here is to demonstrate how such an untraditional instrument not only can fit into a traditional jazz setting, but expand it beyond expectations. Stern and Sanchez are well-established leaders of their own bands, but Stern's guitar on "Baby Steps" and "Blue Mazooka" meshes seamlessly with the sheets of sound coming from Narell's steel pans. Sanchez's suave tenor sax on "Tabanca" demonstrates how easily Narell can adapt his sound to blend in with other players.
"Appreciation," the closer of the album, was originally composed by Narell for the 2000 Panorama competition in Trinidad and was performed by a 100-player steel band. Narell puts together a sextet of additional pan players and, though smaller, it's still a mighty big sound created by the orchestra.
Steel pans are not the most dynamic of instruments. There isn't the range of a piano or saxophone, but Narell squeezes every drop of innovation out of his pans. Tatoom, in its own moody and urbane way, is similar to an independent director introducing a new and innovative film to an audience that thinks it's seen and heard it all. With this labor of love, Narell is experimenting and expanding the frontiers of the steel pan.
Some folks aren't going to "get" what Andy Narell is trying to accomplish with Tatoom. Others with open minds and ears will, and will find themselves delighted.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.