He may be one of the world’s best steel drummers, but Andy Narell nonetheless delivers too much of a good thing on Tatoom. Like his 2004 release The Passage, which featured the overkill of the 30-member steel-drum orchestra Calypsociation, Tatoom blends 22 different steel instruments. This time, however, all are overdubbed by Narell.
It isn’t exactly a formula for improvisational interplay. The muted tones of Narell’s tenor, double second, triple guitar, tenor bass and bass steel pans—and even occasional brake drum parts—are underscored by Luis Conte on percussion, either Mark Walker or Jean Philippe Fanfant on drums, and guest soloists. However, neither guitarist Mike Stern nor saxophonist David Sanchez appears on the 12-minute opener “Izo’s Mood” or subsequent title track. Both are too long for Narell to carry as the lone melodic instrumentalist.
To his credit, Narell has always strived for a solo rather than session career despite playing an instrument that, at least in Western music, may be a better cog (or even brake drum) in the wheel than the wheel itself. Stern’s signature Telecaster tones make the lengthy “Baby Steps,” and particularly “Blue Mazooka,” fly by during the otherwise overcrowded six-tune, 73-minute disc.
Narell’s career highlight was the 2001 CD Live in South Africa, with its small band interplay, no overdubs and spontaneity. Tatoom, by comparison, was a better idea on paper than on disc, and succeeds more as a science than music project.