Once upon a time, steel pan recordings accessible to American listeners tended to be split…
Once upon a time, steel pan recordings accessible to American listeners tended to be split between folkloric explorations captured by preservationists and low-fidelity quickies musicians sold to memento-seeking tourists. Today, however, a fresh generation of artists is proving that the instrument is as versatile as it is evocative. And Joy Lapps, a Toronto-based steel pan expert and songwriter of Antiguan and Barbudan descent, is leading the way.
The title of Girl in the Yard, Lapps’ fifth album as a leader but first to consist entirely of her original compositions, wasn’t chosen at random. The project salutes women who supported her musical development and ambitions, both of which are on display throughout its 13 delightful tracks.
First up, “Lulu’s Dream” begins with captivating rhythms from drummer Larnell Lewis, percussionist-conga player Rosendo Chendy Léon and pianist Michael Shand. Their efforts lay the groundwork for a stair-stepping melodic pattern delivered by Lapps on tenor steel pan in conjunction with tenor saxophonist Rob Christian; clavinetist Jeremy Ledbetter; and bassist-programmer Andrew Stewart, who also handles production and arrangement duties and makes sure there’s plenty of room for organist Courtenay Frazer and guitarist Elmer Ferrer to stretch out. Together, the contributors build to an ecstatic conclusion.
The sonic journey that follows includes “Josie’s Smile,” a Caribbean excursion co-starring Andy Narell on alto steel pan that’s so enchanting it earns a reprise; the vibrant, strutting “Breathless”; the contrapuntal beauty of “Juliet Blooms” and its sequel; and the spritely “Fly.”
Best of all is a lush rendition of “Morning Sunrise,” first cut by Lapps in 2014, featuring Rob Christian on flute and gorgeous background vocals courtesy of Dionne Wilson and several members of the ensemble. The results are as bright as a new day — like the one the steel pan is having in Lapps’ capable hands. — Michael Roberts
Featured photo by Nathaniel Anderson.