Monday, July 21, 2008

Real Good Music...

Some distractions from heat, gas, foreclosures and politics--My uncle Bo Hunt had a mission before he died. Marry the distinctive sound of the pan (steel drum) with classic Jazz composition. Exorcize the vision of the pan as what dumb, pink-skinned tourists hear as they jump off the plane and are greated by smiling natives adored in 1950s Harry Belafonte gear. Check out (and buy!) the new CD Cousins, by Steel+. Bathe not in the rhythms, but the melodies. Yeah, melodies. With vocals by fresh pipes like Joemca & Jessie Luck, Birdie's silky keyboards, Alston and Bertram's tonic pan notes. It's not about "de Islands dem." It's about smooth, cool enjoyment. By online or order directly; listen to some tracks here.
Bo put it so well:
I started sailing back in the 1970s, and on one of those early trips in the British Virgin Islands, we anchored off Tortola at a place called Cane Garden Bay. It had a beautiful horseshoe-shaped sandy beach ringed with palm trees. A cottage with a wrought iron gate sat smack in the middle, a tire hanging from a palm tree outside its door. That night, sitting in the cockpit of our sloop under a canopy of stars with just a whisper of wind, I heard a beautiful sound drift over the water from the shore, a crystal clear sound I knew well. I couldn't believe it. I jumped up and went to the bow: A steel band was playing at this smoking little club. And the band was good - real good. We jumped in the dinghy and went ashore to find the place packed with locals and sailors, all grooving to the pans, all feeding off the energy and joy of the drums. The band played all night and the club didn't empty until the sun came up.
That's the power of steel: It's addictive, seductive, and once it grabs you, it has you for life. It captured those sailors in its thrall just as it has always held me - just as it does to most people who have ever heard the sound. I remember years ago, when I donated a set of pans to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the musical instruments curator ran from behind his desk because he couldn't believe what he heard coming from the drums I had a musician play for him. He bent over and looked under the pans and studied all surfaces looking for amplification. Later, a woman in the department heard the steel drums and said, "It's the instrument of the future."
That was more than 20 years ago and the future is now. It really gets me that after all those years, and as beautiful as this instrument is, it's still largely neglected by mainstream musicians and the music industry itself - especially when played by Trinidadian musicians. Credit should be given where credit is due: Steel music originated in Trinidad and some of the most accomplished musicians today are from that island nation. Yet, very few of them are able to break the industry's glass ceiling.
By ignoring this instrument, everyone loses - music lovers, musicians, culture. The advertising and film industries are really missing out by not taking advantage of the sound of the steel drum. Hey guys, you're not paying attention. You're missing the steel connection.
I've been on a mission for more than 50 years to help the steel pan gain the respect and commercial success it deserves.
I like to say that the steel drum is an original form of recycling. Pans are made from 55-gallon oil drums. The bottom is sawed off and then you sink the top by hammering it, dropping it about seven to nine inches. The trick is to stretch the steel without breaking it. Fires are sometimes built under the steel to temper it.
Then each note is worked with the sledge hammer - you have to raise the note in the sunken part. And this is where the tuning begins. Bam, bam, bam! An hour and a half later, you hear harp-like sounds emerging from the note.
The creation of a steel drum requires as much artistry, skill and labor as the creation of a grand piano.
My first CD, Sweet Pans 'n Ivory, showed the versatility of steel music, how the pan beautifully translates not only calypso, but jazz and pop.
Now I'm bringing you Cousins, which builds on the relationship between steel and jazz, steel and classical music, steel and popular song, steel and calypso. They are all cousins in the great family of music.
I turned to an array of instruments for Cousins - double second steel drum, single tenor steel drum, piano and keyboards, trumpet, drums, bass, guitar, conga, timbales, bongos, and a quika to illuminate that same relationship. They, too, are cousins. And adding to the family are the musicians - Alston Jack, Wayne Birdie Kirton, Bertram Boldon, Manuel Ramos, Max Gouveia, Anthony Alexander, Gregory Rivero, Etienne Charles and Larry Marsben - and vocalists - Jess Luck, Joemca, Keith "Designer" Prescott and Alvin Roberts. All are cousins.
We open Cousins with a tribute to the steel drum called Pan Talent, a tune by Mighty Terror. Its upbeat feel easily swings into Irving Berlin's There Will Never Be Another You.
Birdie's lovely ballad, Don't Play Me No Sad Songs, was written years ago and I'm honored that he allowed me to include it on Cousins. Vocals are by two family friends - Joemca, a talented young composer and musician, and the sparkling Jess Luck.
I like the easy feel of the 1940s song A Sunday Kind of Love, and we do our own interpretation. It easily sets the tone for pretty little Blusette, the Norman Gimbel and Jean "Toots" Thielmans jazzy and breezy waltz.
Then we go in a different direction with Birdie's Ode to the King, a celebration of the late great pan master Rudolph King and his contribution to steel music.
We had some fun with the haunting Matt Dennis-Earl Brent song, Angel Eyes, and turned it into a medley with the Billy Holiday-Arthur Herzog Jr. masterpiece, God Bless the Child.
Joemca wrote I Hear a Chime at Midnight for Jess, whose crystal clear soprano is a perfect partner for steel. I think it's a beautiful segue to another tune I'm honored to include, Together, which was written and arranged by Jack.
Only Trust Your Heart is a beautiful bossa nova by Benny Carter and Sammy Cahn that I fell in love with decades ago - especially after hearing Astrud Gilberto sing it.
We end the CD with Beads of New Orleans, a calypso I wrote with Karen Miles for a special project we were asked to do for Mardi Gras. The music is by Jack and the song is arranged by Jack and Birdie. The popular calypsonian Designer does the vocals, with back up by Debra Haynes. We think we've captured the spirit of New Orleans on this tune, and I dedicate it to all those who suffered loss of family and homes in the horror of Katrina and its aftermath.
Cousins came together with a group of extraordinary artists. They are all special and talented in different ways, and without them, this CD would not have been made. Thank you Alston Jack, Wayne Birdie Kirton, Bertram Boldon, Manuel Ramos, Max Gouveia, Anthony Alexander, Gregory Rivero, Etienne Charles and Larry Marsben, and vocalists Jess Luck, Joemca, Keith "Designer" Prescott and Alvin Roberts.
My gratitude and appreciation to the many friends who dedicated time and endless support to our project, especially to Steve Lewis who had my back at every turn.
May the power of steel live with you through Cousins.
Bovain Hunt, New York City
We celebrated his life this past weekend at the Dillon Gallery on W25th street in New York. Celebrate your own with this CD...


Chicama Vineyard said...

Wonderful!! Available on iTunes? (my daughter bought me an iPod and so I am branching out)

Anonymous said...

I was fortunate enough to meet and know Bo Hunt in his later life. I must say -- I knew that he was talented and had a mission, but when I heard this CD, I was blown away. It captures was he wanted to convey, and it is celebration of his life. Bo, we know you are smiling down on us, and are proud of what you made. We are fortunate to have it. If you are interested in music -- especially world music, non-mainstream and pure art, you need to check out this CD. My favorite song is "I Hear A Chime at Midnight". God Bless you Bo!

Anonymous said...

Isn't that Bo on the CD cover? LOL

All-Mi-T [Thought Crime] Rawdawgbuffalo said...

now i am gonna search for that

Anonymous said...

OK I'm not sure I like this art-ier side of you. LOL But the music sounds interesting.

tchaka owen said...

This is good stuff! Of course I'll be waiting for it to show up on Napster and I'll rip it illegally (then move to Cuba to avoid prosecution). >:-)

Lola Gets said...

Ive always loved steel pan music, and I like pan-jazz as well, once I discovered it 10 years ago. Bought a couple of cd's when I was in Trinidad.


Deocliciano Okssipin Vieira, aka Ochyming said...

Mantega, Mantega!

Dizzy Gillespie would have smiled, that BIG smile of his.
Very close to Bossa Nova than Jazz.

Anonymous said...

Yes! That is Mr. Bo Hunt on the cover. Looks like a pic from the 70s or 80s. That pic is the essence of Bo and his music.