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CD Review: Jonathan Scales, Character Farm & Other Short Stories

Mild-mannered jazz musician by day, steel pan super hero by night.

Jonathan Scales
Character Farm & Other Short Stories
[Le’Rue Records (2011)]

Imagine a jazz fusion quartet in which the hallowed place usually occupied by piano is instead filled by steel drums. In his ensemble, Jonathan Scales’s pans are the focal point of a traditional combo that includes drum set, bass and guitar, while guest artists make valued contributions on fiddle, flute and soprano sax. Scales is to steel pans what Stanley Jordan is to the guitar, or what Bela Fleck is to the banjo—an über innovator. Character Farm & Other Short Stories is Scales’s third release and it will remove the words “tropical” or “island” from steel drum aficionados’ vocabulary, at least for this immediate sonic experience.

The opening eight-minute “Jam We Did” says it all musically and conceptually. The steel pans are meandering when required, repetitive where appropriate, exploratory in nearly every moment. Their wonderful tones herald new perspectives while comfortably yielding, in the customary jazz protocol, to a stellar guitar solo or to a moody bass interlude. On the wild yet ethereal “The Longest December,” the supporting instruments comfortingly complement and even stabilize. The ambiance runs the gamut from mysterious wonderment in “Hallucinations Of The Dream Chasers,” to an artistic preciseness for “Science Fair Project,” and on to a joyous innocence on “Character Farm.”

But that is simply my take on what specific selections mean to me. Included on the CD jacket is comic book artwork by Gregory Keyzer, corresponding to each track, which will spur listeners on to interpreting Scales’s music for themselves. That process is guaranteed to be unique and varied. But one thing is a given: Those listeners will forget any and all limiting ideas that steel drums may have previously evoked. [www.Jonscales.com]

—Ellen Geisel (Ballston Lake, NY)


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