Friday, December 07, 2018

Modern Sound Quintet-Otinku

In general, recordings of steel drum bands usually end up sounding thin while failing to capture and convey the dynamic live experience. Over the years I have purchased albums like Liberace presents the Trinidad Tripoli Steel Band, only to donate them right back to the thrift stores.  Still, the appealing description of this 1971 album on the Bear Family Records website recently enticed me to reconsider and re-investigate recorded steel drum sounds.  Modern Sound Quintet actually formed in Stockholm, Sweden and was led by Rudy Smith who hailed from Port of Spain, Trinidad-the epicenter of the steel drum/pan sound.  This international quintet was comprised of musicians from Barbados, Ghana, Surinam, and Sweden.  They conspired to make a churning sound that endures as their jazz orientation is not just a mere accessory, but a bedrock foundation underneath the gleaming steel pans.  The recording itself fastens the melody-carrying steel pans with the shingled percussion to avert the usual shrill ping and rapid evaporation that plagues many recordings of unaccompanied steel drums.  “Flowers in the Rain” presents percolating pans seemingly submerged in liquid to create a shimmering effect. “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” previously recorded by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet, and the Buckinghams, features a pronounced piano setting the scene before the steel drums deliver the signature sweeping chorus.  “Flamenco Groove” is one of the album’s original compositions and serves as a testament to Rudy Smith’s full command of the pans-working within and beyond the tension & release framework of the flamenco tradition.  While originally available only in Finland upon its initial release in 1971, multiple reissues of Otinku have proven these radiant Afro-Caribbean sounds too panoramic, durable and adventurous to stay bound to one particular place and time.

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