The Jonathan Scales Fourchestra
New York - He sat there fixated on the artist’s performance on the stage. Deciphering every note, every nuance. Storing it away for safe-keeping for when it will reveal itself for further processing, influence or usage in the future. This young Tonic has that ‘look.’ You know the look - the one that makes you say - “This one has the potential to be something very, very special in Pan if only he or she stays focused.” It’s that look we (When Steel Talks - WST) have seen before in the likes of a young Sheldon Elcock years ago, an Iman Pascall, Jehlani Fernando, Khan Cordice, Sade Constantine and of course we saw it in a then-very young Andre White. More on this particular young Tonic prospect at another time. Today, however, the story is on this young artist that is having so much impact on this next generation of steelpan musicians. It is recording and performing artist Jonathan Scales.
He is, as most of us know by now, a steel panist who brings his very own special brand of music and thought-process to the steelpan music genre (check the WST review of Jonathan Scales).
It is not the first time for the year Jonathan and his Fourchestra have been away from their home turf of Asheville, North Carolina, and up north to New York. As part of a fairly intense year-long tour, he’s already seared the Rockwood Music Hall audience back in July, where WST interns Sade Constantine (The Jonathan Scales Fourchestra Brings The Mix) and Aeron Jones (It’s Jazz - It’s a Fusion: It’s The Jonathan Scales Fourchestra) caught the action.
Jonathan’s music is different, untethered, unshackled by conventional thinking. There is no such thing as a “no-fly zone” musically for Jonathan Scales. He is doing his thing and is challenging the boundaries and expected norm for the instrument. And yet Jonathan’s music is steeped in American music tradition, spirit and foundation - the Blues, R&B, Funk, Rock and Soul. Indeed some of great ones like Max Roach, Hendrix, Miles, Sly Stone, Sun Ra and even Rick James would watch Jonathan with intrigue and say “I hear you, I see you, I feel you.”
With a dip of Miles and a drop of Monk and the musical attitude of the Return to Forever, Jonathan Scales took the Brooklyn audience into musical realms most of them likely would never have visited on their own, or under ordinary circumstances, through their life’s musical journey. Nevertheless with his talent, engaging style and charismatic personality Jonathan disarmed the normally critical, tough and dismissive Brooklyn steelpan music community of anything that is outside the box. And will eat you alive just for fun. Scales operates without doubt outside the box and outside the comfort zone of many in the audience. But he was able to win over many there, and cultivate a healthy respect for his musicianship. Jonathan Scales with his Fourchestra has the flare of Buddy Miles and Jimmy Hendrix in Band of Gypsys. The only disappointment was that the Brooklyn audience only got to see the group with three members (sans blues guitarist) and not with four as WST experienced in 2009 in Harlem. Make no mistake, however drummer Phil Bronson and bassist Cody Wright left no musical stone unturned as they alternately matched and accentuated the uniqueness of Jonathan Scales himself. Their performance was flawless.
And there were those present - like rising star and performer Iman Pascall - who were simply thrilled to have the likes of Jonathan Scales performing in a Brooklyn panyard. And therein lies the inescapable impact The Jonathan Scales Fourchestra has on many progressive musicians who have been following his music works for a few years now. New voices are being added to the steelpan music conversation and endless possibilities. Steelpan musicians and others are genuinely intrigued by him. Similar to what NYU (New York University) Steel under directorship of Jonathan Haas is doing with their pioneering the music of Philip Glass with the steel orchestra, The Jonathan Scales Fourchestra represents a break in conventional thinking.
Speaking of unconventional thinking, big-ups are in order for Pantonic Steel Orchestra for holding a free Sunday concert after the exhausting New York panorama battles. Bringing in Jonathan Scales definitely broke the mold. We are looking forward to this being a precedence and norm.
A simple, but appreciative program of the evening - introducing the headline act and acknowledging and thanking both the supporting acts and guests - was put together by Pantonic and shared with attendees; a thoughtful gesture, especially as the event was “free.” Hats off to Pantonic president Glenda Gamory, and Pantonic’s committee inclusive of but not limited to, Wayne Bernard and Anne Aspilaire. Special mention to long-time drummer and staunch Pantonic supporter Gregory Pegus for taking up the role of MC, and Sheldon Hoyte serving up musical interludes for the evening.
It was also great to see core members and management of many of the NY steel orchestras present among the steelpan music notables like Pelham Goddard, Hueloy Lila Yip Young, Lennox “Bobby” Mohammed and others.
We look forward to Pantonic’s Fall Classic next year.
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