From Tabanca to Rain
Written by Simeon L. Sandiford
Thursday, 21 July 2011 22:15


From Tabanca…

Frank Chu Cheong and I waltzed into All Stars’ Panyard at 8.00 p.m. on Friday 27th February 1987. Our mission was to complete the final recording for the first of Sanch’s Panyard Series of cassettes. We had already been to Phase II, Exodus, Cordettes, Arima Angel Harps and Amoco Renegades. Little did we know that we would not be able to leave until some eleven hours later. That night I was privy to one of the most fascinating Panorama rehearsals in my fifteen years of recording.

By the time we had unpacked our portable system consisting of a pair of B and K omnis and a Nakamichi DMP 100 encoder, we were completely engulfed by steelband artillery. In those days, All Stars’ panyard was a very small space and we were all cramped like proverbial sardines in a can. It was clear that we would not be able to manoeuvre players or instruments in order to create a proper soundstage. Even if we wanted to dismantle the system and run away, it would not have been possible. The best we could do was set up the microphones for ambience recording and pray. We were constrained to wait until the rehearsal was over as there was no logistical alternative. We were in the hands of All Stars and the Almighty.

The session began at about 9.00 p.m. and lasted approximately nine and a half hours. Though inconceivable, Frank slept through the cacophony…ting, ting, ting, ting of the famous bell, tuning up of the drums of the Malick Tassa Group, coasting of individual players and sections and relentless drilling of the band by arranger Leon “Smooth” Edwards. In the midst of it all, musical director Jerry Jemmott appeared around 1.00 a.m. armed with baton and flask of coffee. Jemmott meant business. His sole mission was to ensure that players of the various sections perfected their parts to guarantee that there would be no skating. I changed many tapes that night. At one time Mr. Jemmott became so frustrated with a certain player’s inability to interpret a particular phrase that he frustratingly remarked… “It’s getting late, I can’t spend any more time with you. When we reach this part in the tune, just beat air!” It was not until 4.00 a.m. when Messrs Jemmott and Edwards finally seemed satisfied.

The ultimate task involved integration of the parts to be played by the tassa group into the main melody. At 5.00 a.m. after a break and some well-deserved refreshments, the band was ready for a trial run. I was feeling sorry for my poor equipment. A now rejuvenated Frank commented “It is a good thing that these microphones can handle 160 db of sound pressure without being overloaded.” The yard was buzzing with activity. Senior players were busy energizing and revving up the rest of the band.

The morning sun was now rising softly, neighbourhood cocks were crowing and there were no more than a handful of faithful supporters outside the panyard. “All Stars do not like people around when they are running their song” was my logical conclusion. Pan tuner Leo Coker had arrived to begin blending of the instruments for the finals of the competition scheduled for 7.00 p.m. that Saturday evening.

The version of Curry Tabanca played on this album is the first take after the night’s rehearsal. It is a Panorama composition with an Oriental flavour, laced with uncontrolled aggression, verve and passion. The climax is scintillating and orgasmic-like, resulting from the marriage of pan and tassa drums. You will be interested to know that this particular recording is two minutes slower than the speed at which the band played the song during the finals of the competition, earning them fourth position.

Chu Cheong and I finally left the panyard at 7.30 a.m. Though exhilarated, I was totally drained both mentally and physically. As I turned the corner heading for home, my neighbour Frank Bradshaw stopped me, fresh as a rose after a good night’s rest. “I am just going out to buy today’s newspapers,” he said. “I want you to set up the equipment so that I can listen to the recording when I come back.” Bradshaw did not leave until after 10:00 am. Cote ce Cote la, the Trinidad and Tobago Dictionary defines tabanca as… the forlorn feeling that one gets when a love affair is over. Talk about tabanca …for sleep!

To Rain…

Fourteen years later, everything has changed. All Stars’ panyard is 20,000 plus square feet of performing space and my portable system has evolved to the Third Umpire’s box of tricks (see CD9901). Monitor headphones are now a pair of Sennheiser HD600’s, acclaimed as being one of the best available today. I was afforded the luxury of being able to manoeuvre players and instruments in order to create a perfect soundstage…the fulfilment of a purist’s dream. Recording crew consisted of an entourage of audiophiles and supporters. Musical director Nelson Villafana as well as senior pannists Dane Gulston, Clive Telemaque and Yohan Popplewell assisted Leon Edwards. The wily old fox Neville Jules hovered over proceedings. Rehearsal time was 9.00 p.m. to 3.00 a.m., a mere six hours. I set up the system on the side of the band remote from supporters with the cardioid microphones focussed on drummer Jason “Stumps” Lewis and the rhythm rack. The omnis flanked this array, each about six to eight feet on either side.

Maestro Leon Edwards smoothly weaves all expected components onto his canvas – thunder, rain, flood, ripples, turbulence, lightning and hail. The motif rain coming down…is used with great effect throughout, from introduction to finale, and he twice evokes emotions of human anxiety within the arrangement. As I listened to the seamless transitions through the HD600’s I felt as though the power and majesty of Beethoven’s grand Pastorale Symphony were interwoven with the pomp and grandeur of Handel’s sweet Water Music Suite and orchestrated by Mahler. Leon departs from tradition by using no minor key in his arrangement. Thus the music is truly an ode to joy.

The soundstage is huge with the entire orchestra being delineated by sections from left to right and front to back. For proper visceral impact, playback must be at realistic levels. Imaging is precise and there are lots of nuances and inner detail. These are all highlighted in my analysis. The Third Umpire feels obliged to give full marks to the arranger in respect of expansion of the melody, innovation, cohesiveness and musicality. It is the Umpire’s humble opinion that this is Mr. Edwards’ finest moment. May Rain reign.

© 2001 Simeon L. Sandiford