From Tabanca To Rain
Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra's From Tabanca To Rain was released in 2001 and is a compilation of some of their best Panorama and other tunes from the period 1987 to 2001. From Tabanca To Rain was recorded live at Trinidad All Stars' panyard in Port of Spain, apparently during and after Panorama rehearsals by Trinidad's Simeon L. Sandiford using portable two track recording equipment. Now a panyard rarely offers the best acoustics and hence is rarely the ideal location for a steel pan recording. But, on the whole one has say "hats off" to Mr. Sandiford, the recording quality is overall more than acceptable, in fact, quite good really and a lot better than many steel pan recordings. Yes, the sound isn't always perfect and on one or two tracks the lower pans are more than a trifle difficult to make out, and sometimes the dynamic range gets a bit too wide for comfort, but all in all a pretty decent recording and the levels from track to track are perfectly reasonably consistent, so there is no need to hurriedly reach for the remote to turn the volume up or down between tracks. Given the circumstances, you might even say, an excellent recording. Certainly more than good enough to generate instant nostalgia and cause severe pan tabanca all these thousands of miles from T&T. (For non-Trinis, a "tabanca" is a kind of heartache.)
Trinidad All Stars are one of, if not the oldest surviving pansides (or steel bands) and in the 1930s were known as the "Hell Yard Boys", after the area in East Port of Spain where they were based. (Several name changes eventually resulted in Trinidad All Stars after WWII.) They remain one of the top-ranking "First Division" large steel bands, not too far off the lofty exclusive "Premier League". This collection, ranging from 1987's Curry Tabanca to 2001's Rain Melody, is an excellent showcase of All Stars at their best.
The material on Trinidad All Stars' From Tabanca To Rain principally consists of calypso selections for the carnival-time Panorama competition. One of the tracks, 2000 Medley, is a medley of two standards, All the Things You Are and For Sentimental Reasons, sandwiching an excerpt from the classical La Mer. The final track, Caribbean Home Theme Song, I regrettably cannot find any information on and it is not known to me, and equally regrettably the otherwise excellent sleeve notes arrived here incomplete due to damage in the post, nor were friends and family in Trinidad able to shed any light upon it.
The opener of Trinidad All Stars' From Tabanca To Rain, Barnet Henry (Preacher)'s 2001 Rain Melody, is the most uneven of the tracks, both in terms of recording quality (poor audibility of low pans and poor audibility of soft passages at sensible volumes) as well as performance - the "loss of sync" between the pans and "Engine Room" (percussion) at around 9:50 minutes is particularly jarring. The actual Panorama Final performance was vastly superior. The notes inform that All Stars were fielding 28 tenors, 6 double tenors, 14 double seconds, 10 triple guitars, 10 quadrophonics, 6 tenor basses, 15 six-basses, 1 nine-bass, and an engine room of 13 on this track. So not exactly short on low pans, making it all the more mystifying why these are so poorly heard. The master calypsonian, the "Grandmaster" Lord Kitchener's The Heavy Roller from 1995 that follows is an altogether smoother recording and performance, and is the first of three selections from the pen of Kitch. The 2000 Medley (All The Things You Are, La Mer, For Sentimental Reasons) is a competent arrangement but somewhat lacklustre, and I can take it or leave it, although it is hard to fault All Stars' performance. The second of Kitch's tunes, The Power of Music from 1996, is an excellent arrangement as well as a vibrant performance. However, the late late great "Grandmaster" of kaiso and pan's finest piece on Trinidad All Stars' From Tabanca To Rain has to be 1994's Pan Earthquake, which earned All Stars a well-deserved second place in that year's Panorama Finals. The arrangement is superb, and the low pans certainly give an excellent impression of the rumble of an earthquake, and the overall performance is next to flawless. A short rendition of "de Birdie's" (The Mighty Sparrow) 1984 killer Doh Back Back from 2001 follows. This was the year that PanTrinbago changed Panorama rules to allow the playing of tunes from previous years for the competition - perhaps not the best move. A fine performance, but the arrangement hardly strikes as of the first order. However, a brilliant arrangement follows in De Mighty Trini's 1987 Curry Tabanca, and a performance to match. Actually, the arrangement and Panorama Finals performance deserved better than fourth place, indeed, All Stars' rendition of Curry Tabanca is definitely among those top tunes to never have won Panorama, and this recording comes pretty close to the Finals performance despite being about two minutes slower. It is a rousing piece, full of raw excitement yet also preserving some of the sentimental touches of the melody and its "chutney soca" flavour, with tassa drums also adding to the onset of the breathtaking climax. This track alone is worth the price of admission. A short but exciting reprise of The Power of Music is an excellent choice for a follow-up. The closer of All Stars' From Tabanca To Rain takes the form of the brief Caribbean Home Theme Song from 1999.
Overall, Trinidad All Stars' From Tabanca To Rain is a hugely enjoyable album that ought not to be missing from any good steel pan collection. The selection of material is one of this album's great strengths. Too many steel pan albums are let down by poor choice of material, but From Tabanca To Rain clearly is not one of them.
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