You'd think a whole CD with steel pans as the lead instrument would be a tough sell, but with Andy Narell in charge there is always enough variety and change of pace to keep the grooves interesting. Narell is a veteran on the scene, with nine solo CDs under his belt and numerous guest appearances as a session player. And he knows how to vary a tune.
Fire in the Engine Room is three sessions rolled into one, with songs recorded in three cities. In Paris, Narell worked with a French-Caribbean combo known for biguine, a style of music popular in Guadeloupe and Martinique. They recorded "Chakalaka" (RealAudio excerpt), "Tabanca" and "Blue Mazooka." The New York session for "Unusual Bird" and "The Long Way Back" features the rhythm section of the Caribbean Jazz Project. "Coffee Street" (RealAudio excerpt), recorded in San Francisco, includes Narell's regular band.
But no matter the session, the eight original songs feature familiar settings, with Narell soloing and giving ample time to the supporting musicians. Typical is "Unusual Bird" (RealAudio excerpt), a midtempo number that shows off Narell's melodic gifts and the snazzy piano playing of Dario Eskenazi.
The CD's title refers to the percussion section of a steel orchestra but, in fact, the CD does not sizzle. It's more of a simmer, with Narell's intelligent compositions fleshed out by first-rate backing musicians.