Pamberi Steel Orchestra's Carnival Madness, a compilation of their Panorama entries from 1988 to 1999 and their debut album, was originally released in 1999 on the Rituals Records label, and re-released in 2006. Sadly, my original review somehow got lost during the hiatus of this site, but I discovered the original first draft recently and decided, to be fair, to write a completely new review. Meanwhile, my original review CD also managed to get mislaid, and rather than digging through the piles and piles of my huge collection I burnt a back-up copy from the wav file backups on hard disk, which were much quicker and easier to find.
Sadly, the actual recording quality of steelpan recordings tends to vary a great deal and can range from atrocious to excellent. I'm glad to say that the recording quality on Carnival Madness falls into the latter category. It is really quite surprisingly and delightfully good.
Pamberi are one of the "newer" pan sides, having been founded around 1980 in San Juan (pronounced, roughly, "sar-war") along the west-east corridor of Trinidad extending from Port of Spain towards Arima and beyond. I have often heard it said that Pamberi don't really belong into the "first division" of pan but never subscribed to this view myself, and on Carnival Madness they prove that this is most decidedly not so.
The material on Carnival Madness is as already observed a compilation of their Panorama entries from 1988 to 1999. And a most excellent selection it is, too. Six of the eleven tracks are by Pamberi's then arranger, Jeremy Bowen. The others include one of Len "Boogsie" Sharpe's most memorable pieces, Pan Rising, a fabulous rendition of Machel Montano's Showdown, and the equally outstanding Soki Soki. Bowen's arrangements include the unforgettable The Rite of Pan and Pan Man Forever - highlights among this album of highlights.
Pamberi show superb musicianship, skill and sensitivity on Carnival Madness. The album is a delight that goes straight to your feet and makes you want to reach for your bottle-and-spoon. It is hugely enjoyable, and thoroughly consistent with not a single weak track within hearing. What's more, it still stands up well today and ought to be a firm favourite with any true pan lover. Carnival Madness is utterly compelling, even enchanting. It is also one of that sadly relatively rare species of pan album that combines technical recording excellence with musical excellence and excellence of material. It seems quite unbelievable that should be a debut album.
Pamberi Steel Orchestra's Carnival Madness should be considered essential in any good pan collection. For the casual say world music listener, this is certainly one of the finest albums to represent the steel pan of Trinidad & Tobago. Get in the groove!
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