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Duvone Stewart’s arrangement of “Year For Love” Absolutely Masterful

A Review by S.F. Thomas
(Originally published in the When Steel Talks Forum)

Renegades Steel Orchestra 2018

Hello all,

I’m coming out of hibernation just to say I thoroughly enjoyed this year’s Panorama. All the performances were outstanding.

But what tells the tale of this year’s Panorama is that the points spread between the last band and the second band was a mere 10 points, while that between the 2nd and the 1st was another seven points again! That reflects the full-spectrum dominance this year of Renegades under Duvone Stewart’s arrangement.

He is what I do not now hesitate to call a Master Maestro, among a group of Maestros that have proven their ability and indeed even genius over the years. I am looking forward to 2019 to see how the old bulls will respond to this musical mauling by the young bull that seems to have asserted dominance over the herd. In the 80s and 90s there was a sense that the arrangers were more or less evenly matched. Now I’m getting the sense that the old bulls will have nothing to mount a credible challenge to this young bull. That is how far ahead this offering was.

I give credit to Duvone not only in the context of T&T steelband panorama, but as a contribution for the ages, and to the world. This was a challenge to Beethoven, such was the largeness of the musical conception of this young arranger. One can see/hear it in the first 3 seconds. Those initial five notes are a challenge to Beethoven’s 5th symphony opening statement of a musical theme. Play those 3 secs. over and over again, and ask whether Beethoven in his 5th Symphony had anything on Duvone.

Then play the 35 secs. introduction, and again ask if there is any piece of music, anywhere in the world, of any genre, at any time in the past, that is as compelling, musically. The rest of the arrangement continues in this absolutely masterful fashion, so satisfying a musical treat that, again, even Beethoven would be envious. Wow! Just wow!

I have a quibble about the ending adopted on Finals night. IMHO he should have stuck with the shorter ending of the Semis, which was more thematically coherent, in keeping with the plaintive quality in the “Fire go bu’n dem” theme. In the Finals, the big climactic ending compromised on that quality, in its triumphant tone, and to my mind departed from the plaintiveness of the theme stated at the beginning. But that is mere quibble.  

Renegades Steel Orchestra Finals Panorama Performance 2018

This was a masterpiece of the highest quality, one for the ages. The musicologists like Gillian (Bishop) will have this piece to study for years to come.

I hope Duvone continues in this spirit for many years to come. He has of course to stay humble, but as to his music, I hope he gives free rein to the largeness of musical conception and imagination that his muse clearly indulges. And I hope that the old bulls don’t take that mauling lying down, and up their game next year. The art form will be even richer for it.

With this arrangement one gets the sense that Duvone is a Master Musician whose instrument is the whole orchestra! One gets the sense also that he is playing this instrument not only with absolute mastery, but with a sense of playfulness, like Neo in the movie, The Matrix, when he comes into his power and is able to stop bullets! I can see him doing what he did to the orchestra in this “Mambo Caliente” video clip;; where he was playing the pan like the virtuoso that he is, and also conducting all the other performers, all virtuosos in their own right, and having an enormous amount of fun with it.

Duvone Stewart performs Mambo Caliente

This is a piece (“Duvone’s Year for Love”) to listen to, over and over again, there is so much in it, and at so many levels.

Amazingly, the piece succeeds at several levels:

One - It is Panorama music, and of a high order, produced to satisfy the producers of the music first -- that labour of love that the musical artist is more or less compelled to perform to satisfy an inner urge to explore the limits of the art form and of their musical creativity and dexterity. This is where the playfulness has to come in, otherwise the hours and hours of practice cannot be sustained.

Two - As Panorama music, it must succeed with the musical consumer, by getting feet to start tapping, and whole bodies to start moving, under the influence of the musical force-field generated. That it does brilliantly. In that regard, it is well crafted, not only to get the listener dancing, but if it were music played for the road on a carnival day, it would also be a perfect piece, at slower pace, to simply take revellers along with it, in the Trini chip chip style.

Three - Finally, so dexterous are the players, and so textured the musical arrangement as such, moreover complete and coherent in musical conception, it can arrest and transfix that musical consumer who seeks not just to enjoy the music, but also to wrap an intellectual head around it, merely standing and listening, and enjoy it at that level.

Another thought: This is the best Panorama performance ever, IMHO. If Smooth’s and All Stars’ “The Hammer” (293 pts), or Boogsie’s and Phase II’s “Pan Rising” (292 pts.) were played on the same night, they would have to take second and third place. As a matter of fact, I would give Renegades’ and Duvone’s performance 295 pts. by comparison. That implies an eight-point adjustment. If every other performance on the night were given an additional eight pts. that would be well deserved I think, so high was the overall level of the competition. Just a thought.

S.F. Thomas gives an annual comprehensive breakdown of Trinidad and Tobago’s Panorama. He is a longtime member of the WST Forum.

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