If you've never had the opportunity to get off the tender at Philipsburg, St. Maarten, and hear the joyful welcome of the steel pan band, you can simulate the jubilant experience with this exciting quartet project led by the master of the Trinidad pan sound, Andy Narell. The strange group name translates to "It's Gonna Be Hot," and Narell cooks big time with jazz pianist Mario Canonge (a key figure in French Caribbean music), bassist Michel Alibo (a longtime fixture on the African-Caribbean scene), and drummer Jean-Philippe Fanfant (an associate of Canonge for over ten years). All three of Narell's cohorts are Island-born and French-dwelling, and the mix of cultures shows in their beautiful blend of percussive island spirit and lush romance. The quartet draws much of their inspiration from the biguine -- the syncopated, polyrhythmic music from the islands of Martinique and Guadaloupe -- but the only pure biguine tune is the closer, "Song for Mia," Narell's composition which moves in mood from brooding and dark to reflective, then hopeful and finally jubilant. The tune runs nearly 12 minutes, allowing for wild solo time by each member and many different movements. It tells a powerful story even without words -- English words, that is, as toward the end Martinique folkloric singer Polo Athanase contributes some very African-sounding vocalizations with a chorus. The other tunes are built on rhythms that are calypso, Afro-Cuban, and even jazz. "Grand Fabrice" is the most intricate of these jazz numbers, shifting measures throughout behind Narell's lush duetting with Canonge. You'll want to book that Caribbean cruise after this one.
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