(4 / 5)
Miss the summer? Yeah, in the UK, blink and we missed it! No, I mean; do you yearn for the warmer and longer days, now the chill winds, rain, fog, ice and no doubt; soon-to-come snow, is with us?
Rudy Smith has the antidote, with his delightful new jazz album “Glass World”. Where the lead instrument is the steel pan – conjuring up memories of Caribbean sunshine, carnival and all things warm.
He has an incredible dexterity on the instrument, which may sound like it is simply a case of banging on an empty oil drum with some sort of stick, to the uninitiated, but it’s not easy to make the thing blend in to a quartet setting as the main instrument. Across nine tracks for circa 51 minutes. You cannot sustain notes on a steel pan drum, so in a jazz setting, you are kind of up a creek without a proverbial paddle before you even get anywhere near the thing.
Here; Rudy is joined by superb pianist Ole Matthiessen, bassist Henrik Dhyrbye and Ole Streenberg on drums, and the four create a fabulous noise. Top Danish sax man Jesper Lovdal delivers some fine saxophone on two cuts and Danish-based Swedish guitarist Bjarne Roupe pops up on one. Produced by Matthiessen, who is a Danish jazz pianist, band leader, teacher, author, music critic and producer. He has played with many “names”, including Charles Tolliver and Ted Curson. He has released four of his own albums on this label since 2007.
Drummer Streenberg has been in bands led by Dexter Gordon, Kenny Drew, Carsten Meinert, Bent Jædig, Tomas Franck, the jazz/rock group Secret Oyster, and has accompanied many visiting American jazz musicians. Bassist Henrik Dhyrbye has played with Streenberg since their teens –a unique rhythm section with 60 years’ experience. Matthiessen has played with Streenberg in various groups since they were members of the Carsten Meinert quartet in 1967.
74-year-old steelpan player and pianist Rudy Smith is acknowledged as the man who, in the mid-1960’s, transformed the steelpan into a jazz instrument and became the role model for soloists on the instrument like Othello Molineaux and Anise Hadeed. His playing draws inspiration from Milt Jackson, John Coltrane and Bach and can be heard on several releases under his own name, or with various artists, on labels: Caprice, Storyville, Soul Note, SANCH, S&P, and more.
Since 1983 he has led his own quartet playing alto pan with Matthiessen on piano (who composed six of the nine numbers on this record), Streenberg on drums and since 1996, Dhyrbye on bass.
Rudy has lived in Denmark for the last 35 years, a jazz musician who has created his own unique style and sound on steel pan. He has toured the world with his quartet, as a soloist, a steel band arranger, or as a pan tuner and pan maker – and has performed and recorded with many jazz musicians and artists from almost every corner of the musical universe.
In 2006 and 2008 he performed at New York’s famed Lincoln Center with many of the greatest acts in calypso and steel band music. In a career spanning six decades, he has built a reputation exploring and bridging the world of jazz with his native instrument.
So there’s much experience here individually, but collectively, there’s palpable chemistry and the record just oozes spirit and feeling. You can hear the mutual respect seeping into these performances too, between the four musicians.
The pan family was invented in Trinidad during the Second World War – originally made from oil barrels. Despite its short history, steel pan has ancient roots in West African music: the ballophon, the kora and the sanza. Relatives in European music are the vibraphone, the marimba and the xylophone. From 1944 to the early 1960’s, steelpans underwent a process involving various tunings, experiments with materials, and new types of pans ranging from soprano to bass. In Trinidad, pans have been closely associated with the carnival season.
Alongside the six Matthiessen compositions: “Stand By”, “One For Bent”, “Spanish Sparrow”, “Coming Home”, the title track and “the closing cut, “Waiting For The New One”, Rudy pens “Blues For Rasta Prasta” and there’s two covers: Johnny Green’s standard: “Body And Soul”, which gets over eight minutes devoted to it here, and the Calypso star Lord Kitchener’s tune “Old Lady Walk A Mile And A Half”.
Rudy’s mastery of his instrument makes it sound easy; as said before, it is not. He is most definitely first and foremost a jazz musician and artist. This is not a gimmick. His approach is not far off of a vibes player, in a jazz setting. We have here a formidable line-up with a leader who perhaps deserves far more mainstream recognition in the jazz world, and perhaps he has earned the label “legendary”. He can swing like a real mutha, too!
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’