If you were one to look up the definition of the phrase "musician's musician", chances are you will see Andy Narell's picture next to it. In fact, a few years ago, this writer had an interview with R&B singer Phil Perry who admitted that he was an Andy Narell fan and raved about the fact that he had some of Narell's music in his collection. Truly, Mr. Perry is not alone on being sold on Narell's music.
Indeed, Andy Narell is bubbling over with talent and a passion for pan-jazz music that is totally remarkable. Yet he possesses and maintains a modest and collected demeanor over what he has achieved over his musical years.
For one thing, Narell is the first non-Trinidadian to put the country's indigenous instrument on the jazz map and has kept it there ever since his entrance into the business. It's no wonder that he is often referred to as Trinidad's "adopted son".
In addition, he has performed and toured with some of jazz's impressive contemporary artists all around the world.
Come February 27, Andy would be releasing his CD compilation entitled Tatoom under the Heads Up International recording label. Tatoom is a plethora of steelpan music at its finest and that's putting it mildly.
This seven-track CD can soothe a homesick islander like this writer and can put the naysayers in check who ever doubted that pan music and jazz when blended together could result into something this majestic.
The first track "Izo's Mood" is a brilliantly sunny track that could give one goose bumps, such is the sweetness that it oozes.
On the title track "Tatoom", Andy cleverly blends several musical styles within, without losing consistency. The track commences with a light and airy mood, then to a joyous trot where Luis Conte's congas work is prominently featured and finally it gets to the point where Narell is allowed to improvise or "ramajay" as they say in the islands. There are four other musical delights left to enjoy on this compilation.
As the CD launch approaches, Andy has been extremely busy with promotion among other things. Thankfully, he was not too busy to talk to us here at JazzReview.com
JAZZREVIEW.COM: What kind of year have you been having so far?
ANDY NARELL: So far so good. I finished 2006 with a week of playing with Paquito D'Rivera at Dizzy's Coca Cola in NYC. Then I got to spend a week hanging out with my kids. It's been pretty hectic since then. I had four gigs in Paris with (my band) Sakésho, then came to the US and played 2 nights in LA, followed by a 5 day Ohio tour - clubs, concerts and clinics at colleges. Right now I'm back in Paris trying to keep several different projects going.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Speaking of that gig in LA. with your group Sakesho, how did the performance go at Catalina's?
ANDY NARELL: It went really well. It's a nice room - good sound and ambience, good piano. We had pretty good crowds both nights and the response was very good. It was the first time Sakésho has played in LA.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Good for you. You mentioned Ohio and some other spots here in the US, are you guys on tour or something?
ANDY NARELL: Whenever we can string enough dates together to make it work, we go out and play. We went directly to Ohio after LA.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Okay, let's talk about your new CD "Tatoom" that is about to drop sometime on February 27. What is the definition of the word "Tatoom".
ANDY NARELL: Nothing much really. It's just the name of one of the songs on the CD and it sounds like the first two notes - the entrance of the bass section.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: I'll be sure to listen out for that. I heard and fell in love with "Blue Mazooka" from one of your previous compilations. Why was it re-recorded and put on this current CD?
ANDY NARELL: I originally wrote 'Blue Mazooka' to play with Mario Canonge, Michel Alibo, and Jean Philippe Fanfant - the four of us became the group 'Sakésho'. At the time I just
wanted to play with them, so I wrote three tunes for them to play on my album 'Fire in the Engine Room.' The music on 'Tatoom' is all written for steelband, and I often rearrange music that was originally composed in a jazz context and arrange it for the big steelband.
Besides the fact that it sounds so different, I do a lot of additional writing for the pans, and I find it very satisfying to reinterpret those songs with a steelband. For instance, the version of 'Blue Mazooka' on 'Tatoom' starts with the steelband playing the theme, followed by Mike Stern soloing with the band. This is then followed by a set of variations written for the steelband that is totally new.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Let's talk a little more about that Andy, the fact that the music was written for a large steelband outfit. How long have you been working on material for "Tatoom?"
ANDY NARELL: The music on 'Tatoom' was written for a big steelband, and the work spanned a period of about six years. I spent more than two years teaching it to the steelband at Calypsociation in Paris, and we played the music live with 25 players. However, for this recording, I played all the pans. I did a lot of travelling to locate the best of Ellie Mannette's instruments. I carried a very portable version of a recording studio in my backpack, and I overdubbed the pans one at a time. It was a lot of work.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: A lot of work which paid off. The CD is terrific. Tell me more about you teaching pan in Paris.
ANDY NARELL: Well, it's called Calypsociation (people who are interested can go to Calypsociation.com). There are steelband classes at every level from beginning on up. There are a handful of teachers who are excellent players and arrangers. I started teaching workshops there in 2001, then wrote the music for them to play at the 2002 European Steelband Festival in Sete, France. We had 60 players from the school and from other bands around Paris. After that, I stayed on with the best 30 players from the school and composed for them - all the music from 'The Passage' and 'Tatoom.' About a year ago I separated my project from the official Calypsociation steelband and it's now an independent group, which will start performing soon after the release of this CD.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: By the time your CD comes out, Trinidad's Carnival street parade may have already come and gone. Any plans for arranging for the festival's steelband competition in the future?
ANDY NARELL: I loved arranging for Panorama in 1999 and 2000. It's a great feeling to be in Trinidad at that time of year helping to make the music happen, and it's a joy to go to work every day and create music for 100 players. However, there isn't much interest from the Trinidad bands in playing my music. When I arranged for Panorama, I made it clear that I was there to make music with as unique a point of view as possible (within the confines of the Panorama competition and the judging), and as far as I can tell nobody's interested in that at the moment.
What it really comes down to is that I'm always looking to do something new musically, something that neither I nor anybody else has tried. I never had the goal of winning Panorama. My intent was to do the most radical music I could get away with and still end up in the finals, because that's where you reach the public that's interested in steelband music. (At the finals you get the big live crowd, the television and radio, the videotaping, and the cd of the finals' performance). I felt that with 'Coffee Street' and 'Appreciation' I brought really honest music to the Panorama without gimmicks to get points from the judges, and that I succeeded in stretching the limits of what was being presented there. And we did get to the finals both times. Unfortunately, I guess I also have a reputation for being 'avant garde' and for not caring about who wins, which is why my phone isn't ringing.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Their loss will definitely be someone else's gain. Finally, any other upcoming gigs?
ANDY NARELL: I'm working at home (in Paris) for a little while, catching up as well as practicing and working on new music. I'm going to the North Sea Festival in Capetown (Africa) at the end of March to play with the Caribbean Jazz Project. I also have some steelband guest appearances in the US around April. I'll be playing with my steelband in Paris, as well as some Sakésho dates in France, the Caribbean, and Borneo, if you can believe that.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: I do believe! It was a pleasure Andy.