Okay it’s official. The 2017 New York Summer steel band season is open. It was ushered in with a bang at the recent New York Pan Stars Band Launch. Held at the Despers USA panyard in Brooklyn, three additional Brooklyn orchestras (Despers USA, CASYM and Pan Evolution) participated in what was official billed as a “Pan Party.”
As is the operating style of New York Pan Stars they attempted to begin as close to the advertised start time as possible. From Lord Kitchener’s “Pan in ‘A’ Minor” to “Zouk” to Marc Anthony’s “Vivir Mi Vida” - NY Pan Stars no doubt got this party started right. Moreover, they left absolutely no doubt about the orchestra’s versatility. Once again, Pan Stars’s arranger Marc Brooks demonstrated why he is one of the best in the business. The audience was clearly entertained by the band’s first round-performance. Special mention to their tenor section which is becoming one of the more recognized and skilled units in New York; it received rounds of applause as the section’s respective players showcased their improvisational skills.
From a fairly early start time, to providing complete program information about players and repertoire - in a nutshell, the word was “professionalism” - as displayed by event organizers New York Pan Stars.
Tenor player Sage Harrison of New York Pan Stars (second from left) shows of his ‘improv’ skills at their band launch
Not to be outdone or overlooked, Despers USA brought a small but tight and extremely effective unit to the program. The vaunted Despers touch was in full effect. In short, this veteran unit transformed its panyard pieces into a singular private musical engagement that was more like a one-on-one session with each individual attendee - without the aid of a VR (Virtual Reality) headset.
Despers sure knows how to control a crowd through a music performance. Interestingly enough, a veteran Solo Harmonites player from ‘back in the day’ was complaining that he no longer enjoyed the launches as he used to because in his opinion, “Today’s steel orchestras hit the pans too hard,” and lack a ‘performance feeling’ [and touch] for the instrument. Needless to say, this veteran panist was surprisingly pleased after listening to Despers USA.
Despers USA performs at the 2017 band launch of New York Pan Stars
From Bunji Garlin’s “Differentology” to “I Feel Good” by James Brown and with a whole lot of soul, pop, funk and soca in between - Despers USA traversed a bunch of musical genres with undaunted expertise. Led by their musical director Odie Franklin, who is an exceptional talent and a member of that cadre of boss young musicians who have been creating awesome arrangements for the steel orchestra, Odie’s thoughtful interpretations highlighted the respected Despers sound.
CASYM’s Travis Roberts (left) with the band’s next generation on tenor (right)
CASYM Steel Orchestra’s presence and performance on the night might be dubbed simply “generations.” CASYM’s continued and successful investment in community youth music education and performing arts was on full display. From the president of the organization, Travis Roberts, to the youngest tiny-mite performer, it was all CASYM. Running through a selection of popular songs, the band engaged the audience with an abundance of showmanship that has been an essential part of the CASYM performance-calling card since its inception. From Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” to the Ultimate Rejects’s “Full Extreme,” CASYM dropped one jam after another.
CASYM performs at the 2017 band launch of New York Pan Stars
Up last in the first round of performances was the newbie on the block, Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra (PESO). Don’t let the newbie tag fool you - Pan Evolution is made up of veteran panists with impeccable musicianship that was on full display. From the way they rolled, to the synchronicity among their players, the “tightness” in their delivery was outstanding. For many of the attendees this was the first time they had gotten a chance to hear Pan Evolution, which burst on the scene with much purpose and success last September when the orchestra participated in New York Panorama 2016.
At this event the PESO stage side quickly captured the full attention of the audience. They dropped a set that was like a box of chocolates - real sweet, but you never knew exactly what you were going to get. It was a confection of sweet steel manufactured mainly by their masterful arranger André White. No doubt that by the time they ended their set with a rendition of Bunji Garlin and Machel Montano’s “Buss Head” PESO had gained a whole bunch of new fans.
Audience takes in Pan Evolution’s performance at New York Pan Stars’ 2017 band launch
In the decades past, the older folks came in droves to Brooklyn steelband launches which were held on Sunday evenings, ‘dressed to the nines.’ Times have moved on and things have changed, and a consequence of erratic launch start times in recent years, has been the lack of presence and support of this mature audience.
But the band launch tradition continues. In a city where you can catch a live, command concert performance of Bruno Mars or Ed Sheeran by 8:30 a.m. (live summer performances organized by television networks), a Broadway Matinee in the afternoon, and your choice of major league baseball teams—Mets or Yankees—among thousands of other things New Yorkers do for entertainment - the Brooklyn Steel Orchestra launches still rank right up there among entertainment options.
1) Sage Harrison
2) Joel Edouard
4) Antonio John
5) Navaare Mason
6) Malik Inniss
7) Avery Debris
1) Selena Antoine
1) Sparkle Demming
2) Andrew Semple
1) Keifer Dover
2) Tahjet Lewis
1) Mark Joseph
1) Kianna Carrington
2) Starling Owens
1) Noah Smit
2) Marc Brooks
1. Pan in ‘A’ Minor
2. Vivir Mi Vida
4. Soca Triple Play (Technically, Bacchanal, No Code)
2. I Feel It Coming
3. Pan Kingdom
4. Soca Mix 2017
5. Full Extreme
6. Buss Head
New York Pan Stars at their 2017 band launch
Jahi Sharpe; Zion Hutchinson; Synanne Fleming; JGabriel Bruce; Dashawn Wallace; Lenny King; Michelle Alleyne; Brittany Burton
1) Lovely Day (arr. - Andre
2) Shape of You (arr. - Andre White)
3) Meh Lover (arr. - Andre White)
4) Gimme De Ting (arr. - Andre White)
5) Allez (arr. - Andre White)
6) Far From Finished (arr. - Andre White)
7) Kings and Queens (arr. - Brandon Waldrop)
8) Full Extreme (arr. - Andre White)
9) Buss Head (arr. - Dashawn Wallace)
Pan Evolution at New York Pan Stars’ 2017 band launch
Marc Brooks (on drums)
1) “Think Free”
4) “Something Got A Hold On Me”
5) “I Feel Good”
6) “We are conquerors”
7) “Missing You”
8) “Too Experienced”
10) “This Melody Sweet”
Despers USA at New York Pan Stars’ 2017 band launch
Amaya, Joel, Nicolus, Jaquan, Lakeisha
CASYM at New York Pan Stars’ 2017 band launch