Rudy Smith, Annise Hadeed, Felix Roach & Friends' Pan-Jazz Improvisations was originally released on the Sanch label back in 1998. Regrettably, my original review managed to get 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.
Pan-Jazz Improvisations was recorded by Trinidad's Simeon L. Sandiford, who has been responsible for quite a number of the better pan recording-quality efforts coming out of Trinidad, and this offering is no exception. Indeed, the technical quality is quite excellent and has to rank among the best of Sandiford's recordings of pan.
While not purely a steel pan album - Pan-Jazz Improvisations is largely steel pan/s based around a trio of piano, bass and drums, supplemented on a couple of tracks by sax - it fits into this category more comfortably than anywhere else, as will become clear soon. Misty is the odd track out, featuring a sax rather than pan and thus sitting rather oddly on an album titled Pan-Jazz Improvisations. Two of the tracks, Blues For Sanch and Turkish Delight, excellent though they are, are purely pan solos and again don't quite seem to fit the concept of this album.
The material on this album consists largely of jazz standards. In fact, there's little to fault the selection of material, it's rather good actually. Certainly all very pleasant.
In all, the players, Rudy Smith, Annise Hadeed, Felix Roach & Friends, are also hard to fault and include Annise Hadeed as the best known among them, also an excellent pan arranger. They all are certainly more than competent, indeed, quite good to excellent.
However, where Pan-Jazz Improvisations falls down is that this ensemble (in all its various permutations), for one thing, is clearly not the tightest it could be - it seems very well rehearsed rather than empathic - and for another, and this should be the whole point of this album, the improvisations just, well, lack spontaneity and inspiration. Jazz-y, yes, but serious jazz, not quite. That said, some of the best solos though occur on But Not For Me, the opener (though the bass is rather too long and soon gets a little tedious, as indeed elsewhere), which, sadly, isn't saying very much. St. Thomas, the closer, shows a bit of animation, but the sax just tries to copy Sonny Rollins without ever quite succeeding, while the pan is far too sparse. The length of some of the tracks is also somewhat excessive given the lack of solid, inventive improvs.
All in all, Rudy Smith, Annise Hadeed, Felix Roach & Friends' Pan-Jazz Improvisations is still a pleasant enough album and quite enjoyable for what it is. However, it does lack sparkle, bordering on the bland as it does, as well as any kind of real cohesion and consistency, and serious jazz chops. For that, you'll have to turn to pianist Monty Alexander's (1980s?) albums with pan, with if memory serves Len "Boogsie" Sharpe and Othello Molineaux on the pans on the double album, Island Grooves, and with Derek Dicenzo on pans and guitar on one album, To The Ends Of The Earth. These still stand up as probably the best attempts of using pan in a serious jazz context. And, of course, there's Andy Narell, in a more contemporary, more fusion kind of vein. Narell also participated on two albums, along with reedman Paquito D'Rivera, in vibist Dave Samuels' Caribbean Jazz Project in the 1990s, although this was a generally somewhat lightweight effort from a purely jazz point of view, though certainly interesting and entertaining. Also, there have been some somewhat more successful explorations of the genre coming out of Trinidad.
Pan-Jazz Improvisations sadly is more the kind of music that you might hear in a hotel lounge or restaurant. If you're looking for real excitement, you won't find it here. All the same, this album still deserves a place in any dedicated pan aficionado's collection.
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1. But Not for Me - performed by Rudy Smith, Mervyn De Gannes, Felix Roach - 5:12
2. The Monkey - performed by Annise Hadeed, Rudy Smith, Felix Roach - 5:59
3. Blues for Sanch - performed by Rudy Smith - 6:02
4. Satin Doll - performed by Rudy Smith, Mervyn De Gannes, Felix Roach - 6:22
5. Ol' Lady - performed by Annise Hadeed, Rudy Smith, Felix Roach - 9:32
6. Turkish Delight - performed by Annise Hadeed, Rudy Smith - 6:30
7. Misty - performed by Rudy Smith, Mervyn De Gannes, Oliver Griffith - 9:37
8. Autumn Leaves - performed by Felix Roach - 6:57
9. Improvisations in Re Minor - performed by Rudy Smith, Felix Roach - 3:53
10. St. Thomas - performed by Rudy Smith, Mervyn De Gannes, Oliver Griffith - 4:17