Rhythmic Union Records 4868

The press release calls Liam Teague from San Fernando/Trinidad the "Paganini of pans". The title Panoramic of the present release thus contains a sly insider reference. And the subtitle Rhythm through the unobstructed view adds a second meaning. Take grooves from Trinidad, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Africa and India, put Robert Chappell on piano, marimba, vibraphone and tabla, broaden the rhythm section with Orlando Cotto on congas, marimba and percussion and Phil Beale on drum set, hand bass duties to Joshua Ramos and season with various saxes in the hands of Doug Stone. Shake up and voilà - Panoramic.

It seems Andy Narell's recipe of Jazz-tinged solo pan has just found a new chef who is equally clever at crossovers and technically sophisticated on his steel drums (in fact, he plays classical, Jazz and calypso and has jammed with the St. Louis Symphony, the Chicago Sinfonietta and the Czech National Philharmonic). The Engine Room label has published six prior Liam Teague albums and this artist is well known for eclectic musical combinations. His Panoraga for example is set for steel drums and tabla while Wood'n'Steel is for African xylophone, steel band and orchestra.

Panoramic is an incredibly polyrhythmic melange that contrasts David Rudder-style Tobago music with Cha-Cha, Cuban bata beats, bossa-samba lilts, African trance drumming and echoes of Bhangra. No matter the rhythm, it's always caliente - tropical and island-flavored. And no matter which of the eight numbers you cue up, this album is always about ensemble magic. That's why it's not issued under Teague's flag but simply called Panoramic. Piano leads, marimba riffs, sax romps and percussion interludes all share equal stage light with Liam's fluid, lightning-streaked runs and trills.

It's a debut album not for the steel drum virtuoso but for this particular formation. It hangs tight and spreads its chops around. And there isn't a filler track in sight. It's all calçados feliz - happy footwear in Portuguese, the actual name of the Brazilian closer and an invitation to move, get funkey and down wid dee riddim. With only a few of the albums formally submitted for review ranking actual writeups -- I decline to review anything I don't like -- and fewer even to generate outright excitement (perhaps a reflection on how much mediocre music there is these days), I'm happy to say that Panoramic is a true winner. I'd never heard of Liam Teague or the Rhythmic Union label before. Thankfully, media contact Kari Gaffnik decided to take a risk and surprise me. I'm damn glad for it, too. I'll now be digging deeper into Liam Teague's catalogue rather than merely wait for the next Andy Narell release...