Since Andy Narell bowed out of the chart spotlight, you don't hear hardly a note from the steel drum / steelpan anymore unless you're of a Caribbean frame of mind and catch the Trinidad Tripoli Steelband (whom, 'cause I dug gamelon and exotic percussives even back then, I saw at the Milwaukee Music Fest in the mid-70s; very cool) and ilk. Well, the instrument's front and center here in Siné Qua Non's Simple Pleasures release, a World jazz affair by five cats who sport some eclectic chops. Any number of bands come to mind here: Ancient Future, Between, Hiroshima (I think it's Michael Bowie's bass playing on that element), and many ensembles bridging the gap twixt ethnic musics and jazz. The claim is made that these cats play with a classicalist discipline, and, yeah, if Lou Harrison were to get his jazz jones on, as he has for Keith Jarrett and for Javanese gamelan, I could easily see him sitting in with these gents.
Victor Provost mans the pan but multi-reedist Lyle Link provides the winds (sax, flute) and is equally adept at making the spotlight shine a bit more lustrously. Bowie, however is the driving force underneath the songs, his fretwork bold, clear, and inventive, unmistakable as the ensemble's backbone. Drummer Mark Prince and percussionist Sam Turner invoke their work more musically than most sticksmen, which then means Bowie's also the true-est rhythm section. That allows for a lot more spirited fluidity in the percussives.
Preludio Triston perhaps comes closest to an Ancient Future song, classically architected but with plenty of jazz inflections and an inventively quiet ending passage meditating beside an emerald pool in a verdant rain forest. Simple Pleasures resumes tempo in a complicated composition soon letting down again into a Stanley Clarke-ish bass solo. Normally, I'm not hip to rap or hip-hp, though I love hip hop dance figurations, but Leo Manzeneri manages to cross the divide with Siné Qua Non on Mastermind jumping into the melting pot 'n shakin' the shake right along with the band, jazz-hoppin' rap with some Weather Reporty grooves alongside. Above it all, though, Michael Bowie is not only a damn good writer and leader but one hell of a bass player, and of a magnitude that must be reckoned with.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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