The insert to Andy Narell's ultra festive Fire in the Engine Room perfectly explains the concept of the recording -- to feature the steel pan master's interaction with the "Engine Room," which is defined as the rhythm section of a steel band. While Narell's choice of instrument makes pretty much everything he's ever appeared on sound like the musical equivalent of a tropical vacation, this is one of his least poppy, most inventive efforts. On the opening cut, "C hakalaka," he zips along happily, floating a vibrant pan melody over Mario Lanonge's colorful, improv-laden piano harmonies. Then there's a lengthy break in the action, where electric guitarist Louis Mhlanga crackles over the thick and throbbing rhythm trio of bassist Michel Alibo, Luis Conte and drummer Jean Philippe Fanfant. Even when the rhythm section isn't creating powerful infernos, they're still creating interesting sound effects; on the samba flavored "Unusual Bird," Conte enhances his rhythmic touch with mystical soundscaping behind Narell's lively melodic flair. Tunes like this and "Blue Mazooka" capture the kind of island festivity Narell is famous for, but it's also interesting to hear a subtle reflective moment amid the action, as on the gentle intro to the playful "The Long Way Back." Dario Eskenazi's lush piano sets the mood beautifully, as in a sunrise before the hectic action of the day. A compromise between these moods is struck on "Stutter Step," whose percussion and bass elements roll easily behind a midtempo pan and piano melody.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran