The remarkable aspect of Phil Hawkins’ Sugarcane Suite is the fact that it connects seemingly disparate elements into a cohesive whole with cheerful alacrity. The resulting suite conjures a vivid expedition, a kind of rhythmic voyage that hugs the Caribbean coast, plunging several times into Brazilian waters. How Hawkins, a superb steel pans player, joins the dots in with his high-wire act is one of those mysteries that can only exist when a musician shares an unbridled and pure joy for musical expression. It is this quality of emotion and not the versatility on his chosen Caribbean instrument that drives the energy of this album. Hawkins is no Othello Molineux on the pans, but he is a brave practitioner brimming with ideas, a wonderful sense of the shuffling rhythms of Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian samba and maracatu. On this coastal voyage he is joined by an ensemble who shares his unfettered joy for music. And this becomes infectious as the program unfurls.
Hawkins weaves his rhythmic quilt with a warp that is Afro-Cuban and a weft that stretches from Brazil to New Orleans, Trinidad, bobbing on the waves of guaguanco, son, calypso and of course, a generous helping of the sensuous rhythms of Brasil—from the samba with a frevo thrown in and a maracatu hidden in the mix. He is determined to show how this magic carpet can be woven with mystery and the combined skills of technically excellent musicians. The Van Wageningen brothers bring their unique universality to the set, and this—combined with pianist Murray Low and percussionist Michael Spiro casts a seductive spell on the mind and the body and the soul. And just when it seemed that the mystique may be on the wane, Randy Brecker steps up with extraordinary, brassy timbral work on the guaguanco, “Encendido” and the son-inflected “A New Old Soul”.
Michael Spiro is a key player in an expedition that makes dramatic twists and turns into uncharted territory. His mastery of the complicated rhythms and merely having to remember what rhythmic landscape he inhabits is one of those wonders of the music of the West Coast, Hollywood scene. The other is the little known vocalists—from the inebriating vocalastics of Jessica Vautor and the irascible gutbucket joy of Crazy, who voices the calypso song, “Pan Wisdom” with large dollops of joy. However, it would be remiss not to put the success of this joyous album squarely on the shoulders of an emerging giant in terms of talent and courage: Phil Hawkins. This young percussionist is one of the emerging talents of the West Coast and he is someone who is unafraid to journey beyond the safe waters of popular music into the realms of Afro-Caribbean and the even more inebriating waters of Brazil. Here is an artist to watch for all the daringly beautiful things he is about to do.
Track Listing: 1. The Big Idea; 2. Encendido; 3. Sopatos do Meu Pai; 4. Seven Steps to Heaven; 5. Minha Parede; 6. Pan Wisdom; 7. A New Soul; 8. Euclid Ave.; 9. Suk-Kyo’s Samba; 10. Eight O’clock Blues; 11. Pan Wisdom (Carnival Mix).
Personnel: Phil Hawkins: steel pans, drums (6, 7, 9), percussion (1, 8), keyboards, synth bass(11) ; Murray Low: keyboards (1, 2, 7, 8, 9); David K. Mathews: keyboards (3, 4, 5, 10); Ray Obiedo: guitar (1, 2, 5-8, 11); Marc van Wageningen: bass; Paul van Wageningen: drums (1-5, 8, 10); Michael Spiro: percussion(1-10); Randy Brecker: trumpet (2, 7, 8), flugelhorn (2, 7); Scott Sorkin: acoustic guitar (9), electric guitar (5), Cavaquinho (6); Jessica Vautor: vocals (3, 5); Crazy: vocals (6, 11); Michelle Hawkins: vocals (3, 5, 9); Edgardo Cambon: vocals (2, 7); Orlando Torriente: vocals (2, 7); Karl Perazzo: timbales (2, 7), guiro (7); Gerry Grosz: vibes 10); Joe Cohen: alto saxophone (3); Katie Koeplin: vocals (9).
Phil Hawkins on the web: www.pnotemusic.com
Review written by: Raul da Gama
CD Title: Sugarcane Suite
Artist: Phil Hawkins
Record Label: P. Note Music
Year of Release: 2010
Promoted by: Kate Smith Promotions