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Date: 10.24.06             

Steelpan and Jazz Festival Takes Flight
Free Community Concert Draws Music Lovers

In Pictures


Trinidad - The amphitheatre in St. James was about half full at the beginning of the 2006 Steelpan and Jazz concert series.  Starting promptly at 7:30 PM, it was about seven minutes later, after the national anthem and introductions by Mistress of Ceremonies Sharon Pitt, when the first of the event's two ensembles took the stage.


John Arnold and a circle of five Friends

John Arnold and a circle of five Friends, featuring Arnold on keyboard, opened up with a mellow feel to the festival on a slightly overcast evening that held the threat of showers soon to come.  The ensemble went through much of the material available on its new CD, 'Smooth Jazzy Feelings.'  With Desmond Graham on double tenor, their set included a track called Katrina, and two vocal numbers - Sweetest Taboo and 'Swonderful', both vocalized by Lynette Louis, a mainstay with Arnold for about twenty-two years.  The group struck a unique balance in mood, just right for those who had made their way to the show straight from work, yet not focusing on very up-tempo fare to jar its other audience - those who had come simply to enjoy some steelpan and jazz-influenced music.  There was time enough for 'hot' numbers which would be sampled with the ensemble up next.  By the time John Arnold and Friends took their leave to appreciative applause, the amphitheater was almost full.

Cane Fire

Cane Fire, led by Canadian-born Jeremy Ledbetter followed next on stage.  The group's eclectic membership, diverse nationalities (Cuban, Canadian and Trinidadian) and world travels are deliberately discernible and audible through their music, in both arrangements and Ledbetter's original compositions.  They immediately set about asserting their style on stage.  It was the group's first time playing to a Trinidad steelpan and jazz  festival audience.  Like John Arnold and Friends, Cane Fire featured a pannist - Ontario-based Trinidadian Mark Mosca, and also performed material off their new CD 'Kaiso Blue.'   But this was an adventurous ensemble, with a younger leader at the helm.  Experience and subtlety were the hallmarks of Arnold and friends a short while before; and now energy and passion took over and played to an amphitheater that was almost full at this time.

It was refreshing to experience musicianship that was not afraid to have the steelpan on par with other instrumentation, and relegated to the background of the musical arena, (even though the pannist is up front...)  But then again - Ledbetter had made it clear that he believed the steelpan to be one of the most phenomenal music instruments around; he said he built his music with the steelpan as its base, and declared as much by allowing the steelpan to be heard most times as audibly as other instruments. 


Cuban trumpeter Alexis Baro

With significant Latin and Caribbean influences framing their sound, Cane Fire, in existence for about eighteen months, came up with sometimes fiery deliveries, including Congas In The  Kitchen which allowed Cuban percussionist Alberto Suarez to 'heat up the place' with his congas.  Also featured was world-renowned Cuban trumpeter Alexis Baro (left).  Jeremy Ledbetter later spoke of what, for him, appeared to be a profound experience involving pan on the Western Main Road in St. James a few years back.  Late on a Carnival Tuesday, a transformer blew somewhere along the route; and all the lights went out, all the electronic music stopped, but there was that lone sound that could be heard in the night - the sound of a steelband.  The selection he wrote to immortalize that experience, was what he chose to close his group's first Trinidad appearance with - a track simply called St. James.


Desperadoes Steel Orchestra

The rain that had been threatening began to come down intermittently, and up went some umbrellas in the defensive position.  Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, one of two orchestras on the program (the other was Trinidad All Stars), began to play very shortly after Cane Fire, at precisely 9:00 PM.  The set lasted fifty-five minutes and included some of their best loved material including Party Tonight and Ordinary People, arranged by the late Clive Bradley.  So Sick popularized by Ne-Yo - the track that handed them a second consecutive championship for the 2006 Pan In The 21st Century competition - began that particular 'three-in-a-row' treat - and appeared to strike a particular chord with the crowd, the young, and the not-so-young.  Umbrellas continued to alternately open and close as the rain showers see-sawed in intensity.  As usual, present at the show were the die-hard Desperadoes fans who continually called out what they wanted to hear.  (Sorry, people, this was not "Steelbands Unplugged...)"

Shurwayne Winchester

Now it was the turn of the 2006 International Soca Monarch and International Groovy Soca Monarch, Shurwayne Winchester (below).  That was not hard to determine, because suddenly the amphitheatre's seating area disappeared from sight - hidden amongst human bodies and umbrellas, as the showers began to increase.  And with a voice that was as insistent as it was melodic, Winchester began a ballad version of his 2006 run-away hit, Don't Stop.  Eventually the rain seemed to obey Winchester, because it made it's presence felt.  With some members of the crowd stageside, up close and personal, and the audience in general dancing in the rain with umbrellas in hand, Winchester increased his tempo, and continued to perform in the rain, while his band was under the protection of a tent.  The performer delivered crowd favorite after crowd favorite, one with his female back-up singer. He began to peak - and then the music system shut down.  With the rain, there had been signs previously that there could be concerns with the electricity if the rain did not stop.  And so at 10:20 PM, Shurwayne and crew were dead in the water while the sound engineer and his crew were troubleshooting.  The crowd was remarkably good-natured, an indication in part of their maturity, and on the other hand, of Shurwayne Winchester's popularity.  In just over seven minutes, they were back up and running, with the singer's stage performance time shortened somewhat due to the minutes lost.  Nevertheless, he made the best of his band's remaining time in the spotlight, winding down hypnotically - again with the ballad version of Don't Stop.

Trinidad All Stars were set to follow Winchester and company.  Then the rain started in earnest.  While some music lovers stayed put, others ran for cover, and yet others ran straight out to their cars, and public transportation, evidently deciding to call it a night.  But this is Trinidad, and while When Steel Talks (WST) was not around after the rains came, one may assume that All Stars, fairly protected under the tent erected on the second stage where they were to perform, did heat things up during the lull in the weather which followed.  And even if it did rain again, the umbrellas were probably seen 'dancing in the rain' - again.

The Steelpan and Jazz Festival runs through Saturday October 28.  Visit the Events Calendar for more details.


Steelpan and Jazz Community Concert - in Pictures

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