Fire in the Engine Room
American-born steel-pan master Andy Narell offers something completely different on Fire in the Engine Room (Heads Up HUCD 3056; 64:29), jamming with three distinctive ensembles that color his tremulous, hollow tones with a wide-ranging musical palette. Narell's Paris session brings forth rhythmic frolics, from the charming "Chakalaka," marked by Mario Canoge's irresistibly lithe piano solo, to the knuckleballing, jaunty "Blue Mazooka," which bounces from the title-referenced groove to wild variants on Brazilian rhythms. New York's Caribbean Jazz Project offers complex emotions on "Unusual Bird," which finds Luis Conte building samba textures around Narell's uniquely feathery tones; and Narell's "regular" San Francisco ensemble bustles and bubbles through the skittering "Coffee Street," which offers gentle observation via the pan-man's wide open tones. The cumulative effect of Narell's journey is an affecting showcase for the many moods of this still mysterious instrument, used more often for atmospheric touches than as a sparkling lead voice.