World & Latin

Get Schooled In Calypso


For more than a quarter century, steel pan artist Andy Narell has been on a one-man crusade to expand the role of calypso music within the jazz idiom. His resulting body of work has been an engaging hybrid of traditional jazz and exotic Caribbean grooves. His latest outing is University of Calypso.

It is a collaborative set with guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Relator (aka Willard Harris), who is considered one of Trinidad's finest calypso players. Inspired by calypso artist Lord Kitchener (born Aldwyn Roberts, later nicknamed Grandmaster), who made early forays into jazz in the calypso heyday of the 1950s and '60s, Narell and Relator serve up lively renditions of 15 classics by Kitchener and a few of his contemporaries: Lord Melody, Mighty Terror, Roaring Lion, Spider. Relator lends a few of his own songs to the mix, and a crew of fine Latin jazz players -- including special guest Paquito D'Rivera on clarinet and alto sax -- make for a richly layered backup unit.

Whether it's the comical "Love In The Cemetery," or the spirited "Hold Onto Your Man," evocative of Trinidad's Carnival season, Relator's engaging vocals add a layer of intrigue and appeal to Narell's lively pan work. On the occasional instrumentals -- the easygoing "Pan in Harmony" and the melodic "Sugar For Pan" -- the guitar and pans hold a lively conversation all their own.

"Oddly enough, there has been very little interaction between calypsonians and small jazz bands since the '50s," said Narell. "Relator and I are drawing a lot of inspiration from the idea of picking up where Kitchener left off 50 years ago."

The album comes out June 23. A few summer classes may be in order at the University of Calypso.