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‘Parallel Overtones’:  An infectious Garvin Blake CD

A Review by Les Slater

Parallel Overtones - Garvin Blake

Global - Steelpan instrumentalists, whether they’ve been offering material for public sampling for years or just getting their feet wet, would do well to look no further for a gold standard than the package Garvin Blake delivers on his Parallel Overtones CD. It is that outstanding an addition to the argot of music product featuring the steelpan.

It doesn’t seem to happen in the steelpan’s birthplace to the extent it should, but integration of the pan with “conventional” instruments is to be vigorously encouraged…never mind that such collaborations sometimes don’t come off as organically compact as they might. None of that with Parallel Overtones, though. Throughout the set is evidenced an immaculate blend of Blake’s double-second with piano, bass and drums.

Right from the opening selection, “Every Time I Pass,” a Caribbean folk song which recalls Trinidad and Tobago’s onetime past masters of folk, Olive Walke’s La Petite Musicale, Blake and colleagues hit a groove that is maintained for the 10 pieces served up. And one cannot but note that Blake’s entry on this first cut, after a drum prelude, has to rank as one of the more mellifluous steelpan announcements of its presence that we’ve heard.

All of the tracks are well executed and, more importantly, eminently listenable. But there are a few standouts that perhaps will linger upon first hearing. Hard on the heels of the opener, for instance, Blake turns on its head whatever image you may have conjured of the standard, “Stella By Starlight,” with this bouncy, breezy interpretation. The piece underscores the first-rate musicianship displayed throughout the set, with the dazzling keyboard play of incomparable Frankie McIntosh (his “One for Boogsie” composition is also in the mix) and bassist Calvin Jones excelling as soloist and with some neat counterpoint lines, both men perfectly complementing Blake. Then there’s the jazz waltz treatment given to the Lord Kitchener evergreen, “Pan In Harmony.” Tweaking the melodic line just a tad, the better to reflect the mode, and seamless, artfully positioned modulation add enrichment to this tender re-casting of Kitch’s distinctive steel band piece. Delightful stuff.

And speaking of re-configuring kaiso, the Kitchener gem is followed in the lineup by Sparrow’s “No Money No Love,” which begins as straight jazz and transitions to a “lavway” featuring Blake’s extended solo over the group’s vamp. Another bow to old-time kaiso comes with Blake’s inclusion of “Fancy Sailor,” Clive Zanda’s fetching tome saluting that beloved masquerade of yesteryear.

One senses immediately how much thought went into the eclectic collection that Blake decided upon. For Luiz Bonfa’s “Manha de Carnaval” from the classic Brazilian film Black Orpheus, Blake dials up a haunting, mesmerizing tone for his arrangement, that is entirely befitting the Black Orpheus narrative. And then there’s “Body and Soul,” performed a zillion times since Coleman Hawkins’ iconic rendition all those years ago. Here, some spice injected for this makeover of the jazz perennial, complete with some handsome piano/pan interplay and another solid bass solo. If you think “Body and Soul” is too much a warhorse, too “old school” to be part of a “today” set, think again!

From its impressive kick-off to the flourish that climaxes Sparrow’s “Ah Fraid,” the final track, Parallel Overtones exudes top-tier quality and finesse. Garvin Blake has long shown how talented he is as a pan player and the intelligent, imaginative approach he brings to music making. It certainly is fine testament to Blake on both counts that the great Frankie McIntosh has been a collaborative presence for years on Blake’s music ventures. And here’s what stands to be added endorsement. We shouldn’t be surprised if, given the opportunity to reach them, Parallel Overtones proves itself a winner even with non-aficionados of steelpan music.

Les Slater

"Parallel Overtones" available at CD Baby Music Store and iTunes - Music

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