Jazz is a spirit, not a fixed form. And what could be jazzier than highly syncopated steel pan improvisation over a driving rhythm section, complemented by a multi-instrumentalist who moves in, around and beyond Calypso with consummate ease? This was Panjumby; and the music was, as expected, compelling, but it was also great fun—an antidote to January blues (or just about any other kind). Most of the numbers were at least of Trinidadian origin, but that gives little indication of the variety this group could invoke, both rhythmically and melodically. And although Dudley Nesbitt’s steel pan playing was both wondrous and infectious, he didn’t dominate the proceedings, which were shrewdly programmed and very well balanced, particularly once pianist Barkley McKay cut loose from his rhythm duties and turned in some superb solos.
Richard Ormrod played alto and concert flutes; alto and tenor saxophones; clarinet (and in between, percussion, too)—all of them expressively. And while he is a wonderfully energetic player, precision and clarity weren’t sacrificed to the sheer propulsive effect of the band in full flow. Somehow, in the middle of a
fast-paced and lengthy tenor solo, he could still manage an excursion in the top register, as though it was a throwaway line. There were many such moments.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the band’s rendering of ‘Take Five’—at first, played in a familiar fashion, or close to it, with the steel pan making a delightful addition. But then, the number moved seamlessly into reggae territory—a move so surprising and yet so utterly right. Other highlights included a beautiful flute/steel pan rendering of an Abdullah Ibrahim ballad; and a rousing encore: Sonny Rollins’ ‘St Thomas’— proof (were it needed) that Calypso and more familiar forms of jazz have long been in conversation. What Panjumby presented was more a rousing reunion. The audience responded in kind. And much later, after the musicians had packed up and were about to leave the building, they were applauded yet again by those still on hand. That’s a review in itself.