The Nostalgic Panyard
Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra's The Nostalgic Panyard was released in 2000 on the Sanch label and was recorded live at Trinidad All Stars' panyard in Duke Street, Port of Spain, in four sessions spanning the period of February 1998 to November 1999, by Trinidad's Simeon L. Sandiford using portable recording equipment. The first session covered Me and Meh Lady with 120 players or pretty much a full Panorama complement on 21st February 1998, while the second featured '96 All Stars Medley with 60 players on 20th May 1999. The third and fourth sessions covered the rest of the material with 23 players - an ensemble, really - on 24th and 25th November 1999. All recordings took place late at night, and a few extraneous noises are just discernible here and there if you listen very carefully but are easily ignored. By and large, Simeon Sandiford must be congratulated on another very good recording that puts many steel pan recordings to shame. Just occasionally, the dynamic range gets a little bit too wide for comfort but only just, and the levels from track to track are reasonably consistent, so there is no need to hurriedly reach for the remote to turn the volume up or down between tracks.
Trinidad All Stars, one of, if not the oldest surviving pansides (or steel bands), need little introduction and remain one of the top-ranking "First Division" large steel bands. The Nostalgic Panyard showcases the broad range of repertoire of All Stars beautifully, the main omission being classical music.
Trinidad All Stars' The Nostalgic Panyard opens with a very spirited Craw Fish with excellent tenor and double seconds soloing from Dane Gulston and Clive Telemaque, respectively, although these would have benefited from some "lift" in the mix had multi-track recording been used. David Rudder's Adrenaline City highlights All Stars' very fine ensemble playing, and, difficult though it would be to pick a favourite track, this would certainly have to be one of them. It somehow encapsulates All Stars' distinctive sound and their characteristic swing beautifully. The ballad-like Lion King by Elton John has just the right balance between restrained sweetness and up-beat exuberance and clearly benefits from the smaller ensemble. The Antonío Carlos Jobím and Luiz Bonfá classic Samba de Orfeu from the 1959 movie Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro) swings beautifully and once again features some fine tenor and double seconds soloing from Dane Gulston and Clive Telemaque, respectively, and again, these would have benefited from some "lift" in the mix. All the same this is an irresistible track. Things continue in a vaguely Latin way with Chuck Rio's classic Tequila, with great ensemble playing and superb double seconds soloing from Clive Telemaque - although it would have hugely benefited from massed shouts of "Tequila!" This is the version that Pee Wee Herman ought to have been dancing to! A medley of mainly ballads covered by calypsonian Baron, Baron Medley, although wonderfully played and well arranged, would have benefited from perhaps less songs and definitely shorter duration. I can't say I have heard Baron covering Abba's Dancing Queen and must admit I find it very hard to picture, but this, although an excellent arrangement in itself, should have been a prime candidate for leaving out, it really doesn't quite fit. Far easier than picking a favourite from the mostly superb tracks on Trinidad All Stars' The Nostalgic Panyard is picking a least favourite track. And this next one is it, the King of Bland Kenny G's incredibly schmaltzy Forever in Love. No amount of fine ensemble playing or fine tenor and double seconds soloing, here from Dane Gulston and Nalo Sampson respectively, can redeem this irredeemable saccharine-on-steroids. It's Kenny G, what do you expect?! (For a more detailed view on Kenny G, see this review.) However, the medley of Jimmy Cliff's reggae classics The Harder They Come / Wonderful World Beautiful People quickly pulls us out of the molasses, as it were, with this wonderfully cheerful rendition by All Stars. You've never heard reggae lilt swinging so delightfully. I can't help though but wish for a solo or two here, especially a call-and-response type. But even without this, this is a superb track. Merchant's Be Careful is likewise a delight, the prominent urgency of the bell adding immensely to the atmosphere. '96 All Stars Medley finally sees a larger complement of 60 players and consequently a more "full-bodied" performance of one of the smoothest medleys I've ever come across. But not only is it smooth, but it also hangs together extraordinarily well despite the diversity of the material. Fittingly, it is left for a full complement of 120 players to provide the closer of All Stars' The Nostalgic Panyard with Carwash's Me and Meh Lady and a suitably exuberant and exhilarating performance. This arrangement brought All Stars an undoubtedly well-deserved second place in 1998's Panorama Final. A joyous way to close this wonderful album.
Trinidad All Stars' The Nostalgic Panyard is a hugely enjoyable album, despite one or two minor misjudgments in the choice of repertoire. Up in "de big yard" and out on the road we may still only support one panside, but at home we're free to listen to and even enjoy them all, and so All Stars' The Nostalgic Panyard ought not to be missing from any good steel pan collection. No way!
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