Leon Foster Thomas presents ‘Calasanitus’

3rd March, 2023, marks the release of Calasanitus, the forthcoming album by Leon Foster. As one of the leading steel pan jazz virtuosos in the world, Foster has gained global recognition via a plethora of accolades including winning both the solo and duet competitions at the World Steelband Music Festival, as well as releasing a series of critically acclaimed albums, most recently Metamorphosis on respected label Ropadope Records.

Photography: Janelle Chung
Album Design: Darren English

‘I am an Immigrant’ opens the album with a lyrical repeating refrain from steel pan and trumpet (well played by John Daversa) with support from piano, bass and drums before opening out to something more vibrant, more forceful. The album liner notes describe this as a blend of “contained eloquence and raucous eruption” and it is a blend that comes across well particularly with the use of pan and trumpet, which makes for and interesting blend of tone. ‘Silent Maze’ features the sax of Troy Roberts and Tal Cohen at the piano. This is a more energetic piece than the opening number and shows a different compositional style from Leon. Piolet does an excellent job of driving the tune forward but also playing with a more delicate touch when the pans are brought in. This is a strong piece of writing and the musicians are equal to the task of portraying that strength.

The tune ‘Bliss’ is one of many layers, each bringing its own sound, tone, and texture to the number. There is a real Caribbean feel to this piece with the pans and drums at the centre. John Daversa is, again, on good form on the trumpet but it is the flute of Magela Herrera that cuts through and gives ‘Bliss’ an added lift. This tune has great rhythm throughout and finishes with a fine solo from Leon on the steel pans.

‘Dance of David’ starts with piano, steel pans and drums (this time of Harvel Nakundi) “feeling” their way into the tune – notes here and there with plenty of space between them. The tune was written to reflect a time, in Trinidad, when worshippers of the Baptist faith were not permitted to worship openly and services would have been held in bushes. That reflection of a memory works very well and as the tune develops its sound, particularly with the introduction of the vocals, the strength of belief and faith shines through.

‘Cheers’ is the only tune not written by Leon Foster Thomas. This is a delightful slower number that shows just how nuanced the sound of the steel pans can be. Pianist Tal Cohen and bassist Michael Ramos, with washes of cymbal from drummer Michael Piolet, introduce the tune before pans, trumpet and sax add their voices. The use of light and shade on this number is superb, the way different instruments fade in and out as we move through the tune is a joy to listen to and highlights the importance of an arrangers craft.

‘Together’ starts with the bubbling sound of the pan pipes with piano accompaniment before opening out briefly to a broader sound and falling back to the wonderful bass lines of Michael Ramos backed by the piano of Tal Cohen. This tune has a reflective quality about it even when the sound grows and fills out. There is a wonderful use of aural textures and ebb and flow at work here and I consider it to be one of the most satisfying compositional pieces on The album.

‘Ascension’ is the final track on Calasanitus and has a great bass and drums driven rhythm. The steel pans really shine on this number as do the sax/trumpet sections that give the number a contemporary jazz edge while the piano of Tal Cohen plays a more melodic line underneath. Things then calm down as Cohen plays something with a spiritual aspect before picking up the tempo, with terrific bass lines in support, and playing with a real energy that the rest of the band join in on a smile inducing crescendo before bringing everything to a sharp finish: so good!

Calasanitus is an introduction to Leon Foster Thomas for me (I may have read reviews of previous work in the past but dismissed it because I could not imagine steel pans in jazz, more fool me – judge with the ears not the eyes) and it is a welcome one. The steel pans do not dominate the playing but do add a distinct tone and colour to the music. The compositions are very good; reflective, emotive, fun and played to a very high standard. Each part of the tune contributes to the sum of the whole blending, contrasting and harmonizing to create something joyful and moving emotionally, spiritually and physically.

The press release pack describes the album like this:

The new album ‘Calasanitus‘, described as a book of songs dedicated to his dear mother, Hillouise Calasanitus Foster, showcases a unique blend of Caribbean influence and spirit evolving from Foster Trinidadian heritage, combined with dexterous and innovative jazz complexity. The compositions generate an unmistakable vibe born out of the traditions of the West Indies and seamlessly incorporate the discipline and sensibilities of modern jazz music alongside this. The result is a sound that is beautifully calming and vitally energetic in equal measure.

And that, people, is how to sum up this wonderful jazz release out from 3rd March.

Musicians: Leon Foster Thomas – steel pan/percussion/vocals; Troy Roberts – tenor/alto saxophone;

John Daversa – trumpet; Tal Cohen – piano; Michael Ramos – upright/electric bass; Michael “Mike” Piolet – drums; Magela Herrera – flute (Bliss); Harvel Nakundi – drums (Bliss, Dance Of David’ Together); Antonia N. Wilson, Faith Lowe, Donald A. Lowe Jr. – vocals.

Tracklist: 1. I am an Immigrant. 2. Silent Maze. 3. Bliss. 4. Dance of David. 5. Cheers. 6. Together. 7. Ascension.

All songs composed by Leon Foster Thomas except ‘Cheers’ composed by Dwain O’Brien Antrobus & Ian Alverez (STB MUSIC INC.)

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.