It’s a beautiful late Spring afternoon and we are here in the quiet Fulton Park in Brooklyn listening to Metamorphosis by Leon “Foster” Thomas, with every so often, the vibrations from the rumbling of the famous A Train underground adding a 3D feeling to the listening environs. Coincidentally, this park is within earshot of where so many monster musicians lived, grew up, were inspired and developed their chops: Lena Horne, Randy Weston, Max Roach, and Billy Cobham to name a few.
Reviewing a collection of new music is sometimes like sampling a box of unmarked assorted chocolates. It’s filled with unknown risks, horror shows and potential joys. Moreover, you just never know what you are going to get. Well here is a “spoiler alert.” Every music morsel in this box is outstanding.
Through “Metamorphosis” we get to experience multiple aspects of Leon - a young, gifted, talented and capable composer and musician with not just something to say, but lots to say. All the songs in this collection were written by Leon with the lone exception a “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”
Metamorphosis is a tapestry of music delights that transcends any perceived limitations or expectations of Leon’s association with the steelpan instrument. His performances are masterful with impeccable musicianship, as are those of all the other musicians performing on this collection. The series of musical conversations Leon engages the listener in through his exhibitions on his tenor pan are enthralling.
Leon’s execution of a “Whiter Shade of Pale is moving and masterful. It is an outstanding rendition of this legendary piece that further demonstrated Leon’s supreme musicianship and deft command of the steelpan instrument in a solo housing with no place to hide.
So what exactly does Leon bring to the table with Metamorphosis? On first listening we felt this collection of tunes was outstanding. And overall the CD (production, performances, music) was simply great. Now - after moving away from the CD for a few weeks and returning for a second engagement, our findings and feelings on the CD are just as solid.
Leon Foster Thomas - Steel Pan/Percussion
Martin Bejerano - Piano
Kurt Hengstebeck - Upright/Electric Bass
Michael “Mike” Piolet - Drums
Jean Caze - Trumpet
David Palma - Tenor Saxophone/Flute
Fernando Ulibarri - Guitar
John Daversa - Trumpet/EVI
Sammy Figueroa - Percussion
Recorded at Red Rock Studios, Miami, FL. 3/8/2016 (engineer: Dorian Reyes); 10K Island Studio, Miami, FL. 4/4/2015 (engineer: Jesse McGinty)
Mixing & Mastering by Dave Darlington, Bass Hit Recording, New York, NY.
Photography: Joe Gato
Album Design: Amin De Jesus
Produced by Leon Thomas
All songs composed by Leon Thomas
Hands down, this is one of the best CDs ever with the tenor pan in the spotlight. The sense of spatial placement, instrument layering and range to musical sensibilities exhibited by the producer, engineer and player are phenomenal. In short, Leon “Foster” Thomas brings a new experience to the listener through both what he has to say, his delivery and musical vehicle of choice, the tenor.
From the opening salvo of track one “Kai - Fusion” the tone is set for the rest of the CD with straight-up monster musicianship. Track two “Midnight Refrain” is just plain nasty - a funk bottom with smooth jazz topping. If you ain’t moving while listing to this - you’re dead. Gulf of Paria—track three—shares another side of Foster - thought-provoking, sensitive, worldly and observant; this track takes the listener in-flight to a new destination. Track four “In the Corner” is a beautiful conversational piece between the tenor pan and Foster, with us just ‘listening in.’ Priceless. It is a call-and-response in the most untraditional manner - that is, between what the musician is thinking, feeling and requesting/commanding the instrument to do, and ultimately how the instrument responds sonically. As most pan players would attest, every pan is different in feel and attitude - which makes the ongoing conversation in “In the Corner” even more personal and moving.
There six additional tracks or better yet, chapters, to the complete story told in Metamorphosis. All unique, engaging and transformative. We will let you explore and discover for yourselves additional goodies in this 'musical box of chocolates.’ As stated earlier Foster’s storytelling is brilliant; couple that with his first rate-musicianship and you have something very special. A special tribute is given to the late Nelson Mandela with “Take A Bow” featuring Jean Caze on trumpet. Indeed, excellent.
This is a great moment in time when we are increasingly experiencing great musicians using the steelpan as their instrument of choice, to showcase their talent and tell and voice their stories and visions in all different genres of music. From Jonathan Scales, Andy Akiho, Garvin Blake and Billy Cobham to name a few - just great music. Add Leon “Foster” Thomas to that list. You will not be disappointed.
Leave a comment in the WST forum