“Just got paid, Friday night
Party huntin,’ feelin’ right
Body shakin,’ all around (Body shakin’ all around)
No one thinks when I’m gettin’ down
“Check the mirror, I’m lookin’ fly
Round up the posse, jump in my ride
Radio rockin,’ a monster jam
Feel the rhythm, pump up the sound” ~ Johnny Kemp
Brooklyn, New York, USA - They may be the new kids on the block or more accurately the latest (new) edition on the block - but they did not disappoint. For sure it was Friday and the vibes were there with a whole lot of Summer jubilation in the air. Johnny Kemp would not have been disappointed. Unison Steel delivered. Billed as “A Pan Lime” with a Miami Vibes theme - indeed, heads were moving and shaking, fingers snapping and feet tapping as Unison Steel dropped a wide and varied set of musical delights that enchanted the full house of pan limers.
The event was held at Valencias Event space in Brooklyn, a cozy venue that was perfectly sized for the gathering. Unison Steel had it hooked-up complete with custom step and repeat backdrop for picture-taking and marketing. The only thing missing was the Red Carpet. A virtual who’s who of Brooklyn pan community was present.
Unison Steel backdrop
Unison Steel members, left to right: Noah Smit, Kianna Carrington-Dover, Keifer Dover, Selena Antoine, Sparkle Demming, Joel Edouard, Sage Harrison, Marc Brooks, Tamika Small, and Antonio John (kneeling)
DJ Hulk at Unison Steel’s event
This was easily one of the largest gatherings of New York pan players and pan administrators since the start of the pandemic. Like most of the arts and entertainment community - Pan in New York has been essentially on life support since COVID-19. However, Unison Steel’s performance reminded us of the high standards set for NY pan a long time ago.
The evening got started right with one of New York’s finest, DJ HULK, setting the stage, mood and expectations with his unique style of mixing monster grooves of different eras one after another - Spouge - Rockers - SOCA and more.
Unison Steel opened up the first of two sets for the evening with a menu of musical classics that demonstrated the group’s outstanding versatility and musicianship. Sade’s “Smooth Operator,” a-ha’s “Take on me,” Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You,” Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and “You Don’t Know My Name” also by Keys - just to name a few.
For this specific appearance, Unison Steel featured Sage Harrison (tenor), Antonio John (tenor), Sparkle Demming (double second), Keifer Dover (double guitar), Marc Brooks (drums), and Noah Smit (bass). A small (for the time being), tight, veteran unit of panists - ideal for the current state/crisis of storage, and vanishing practice space in New York city. The sextet gave a great accounting of themselves; versatile, engaging and very good musicianship.
Unison Steel sextet
Honestly, this writer is not generally a fan of small or miniature steelband ensembles, globally speaking. Beyond the obvious critical tuning, impeccable musicianship coupled with outstanding quality instruments are required if you are going to use one (a single unit) of each voice. Through both a combination of advanced performance skill set and solid arrangements that truly embraced sonic peculiarities and unique traits of the steelpan family - Unison Steel delivered big-time. And by the time the group performs “If I Ain’t Got You,” the show has now become a serious ‘quiet storm’ moment (for this first set) that left the crowd begging for more. Yep, a deep connection was made leaving the crowd hooting and howling, and feeling some kinda ah way...
Unison Steel sextet
Anthony “Big Tony” Joseph, right, with ace veteran panist Wilfred Kieal, Jr. at Unison Steel’s event
Again, this was one of the first real major gatherings of NY pan folks since the relaxing of the COVID pandemic restrictions. And it is no secret the pandemic has impacted negatively on all aspects of New York entertainment and culture. However, if we were to use this early Summer event as a barometer of things to come - the forecast could indeed be positive. [Although at the event, Tony Joseph, president of USSA (United States Steelbands of America) did drop a ‘reality check’ with his news of absolutely no New York Panorama for 2022]; more on this later.
The bottom line is that Unison Steel sounded great in this small controlled environment. Of course in a much larger venue with an uncaring and/or unqualified audio engineer things can go south very quickly - it is like going to NY Panorama and waiting for the WIADCA (West Indian American Day Carnival Association) sound engineer to stick that fork in your experience. But why think about such things...
Special kudos to second pan player Sparkle Demming who doubled as MC. She was engaging, witty, humorous and culturally relevant.
If you are in the New York area - you can catch Unison Steel at Pan Jazz on The Rooftop at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum on August 6, 2022.
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