The Trinidad Steel-Band: Summertime
L’homme a la grosse tete
From S/T (Arion, 1960s/70s?)

The Caribbean steel drum tradition is well-known yet poorly understood. It’s co-optation by the tourism industry created a caricature of steel bands, standing a beach, playing “Yellow Bird” while piña colada-sipping tourists sunburn in the background. To be sure, most of the recorded steel drum albums don’t do much to dispel this idea but occasionally, you’ll get a glance at how much more interesting the scene likely was.

This Trinidad Steel Drum LP likely wouldn’t merit the same kind of attention something like, say, the Dutch Rhythm and Steel Show Band but I was genuinely taken in by the diversity of styles here, not the least of which is that for an LP by a steel drum band, several songs have no steel drum! For example, the band does an excellent cover of “Summertime” with nary a steel “tink” (though it does have a good guitarist). I do wish it was engineered just a touch better only because the elements here are so fantastic, you want everything to be pristine.

Just to show off their versatility, they also cut “L’homme a la grosse tete” in French (and again, sans steel drum). You have to get to “Improvisation” to hear the band’s namesake instrument and I like the simple rhythm they lay down that then allows the drummer to effectively solo for a several minutes. Bang on!