Rhythm Through the Unobstructed View
(Rhythmic Union, 2005)

Imagine a posh yet stylishly progressive hotel set somewhere in the Caribbean. Panoramic's Rhythm Through the Unobstructed View is what it might have playing in its lounge -- on a good day. Uniting Liam Teague's acclaimed steelpan playing with saxophone, jazz piano and a dizzying array of drumbeats from around the world, this recording straddles world fusion and jazz genres without ever losing sight of its chilled Caribbean roots.

The eight tracks that form this world lounge CD feature Indian, Turkish, African, Cuban and Brazilian influences tied together by an easygoing, jazzy Caribbean sensibility. The whole thing, at just under 50 minutes, is consistently pleasant to listen to, though not always demanding the attention required to appreciate the intricate rhythms and techniques detailed in the liner notes. In the spotlight, the bright, distinctive sounds of Teague's steelpan prove remarkably versatile, sprightly staccato on the descriptively named "88 Degrees in the Shade," darker and more melodic on the Indian raga-influenced "Chant." But the intricacy and variety of the percussive rhythms is also impressive, particularly on repeated listens. The base 12 African rhythms on "Ivory Coast" make a distinct contrast to the loose-limbed samba on "Pearls." Even more exotic are the ancient Turkish drums on the funky, experimental "Nikkara," part of which you might be able to bellydance to, if you really wanted. And that is to say nothing of Orlando Cotto's xylophone-like marimba, which provides the melody of my favorite track, "Orlando's Cha-Cha." It starts off sauntering and ends up, as the liner notes aptly put it, scorching.

Though none are painful to listen to, a few tracks are disappointing. The opener, "Panoramic," is almost too reminiscent of bland, polished hotel lobbies, and the concluding Brazilian-influenced track, "Calcados Feliz" (should it be "felices"?), is overly evocative of cabarets and nightclubs. The heavy use of saxophone throughout the CD can sometimes make you wonder how you accidentally ended up in a Barnes & Noble when you wanted to be somewhere considerably more exotic. It's good saxophone playing, but there's a little too much of it, especially when the steelpan and drums are so much more compelling.

In the end, Rhythm Through the Unobstructed View is a bit too inoffensively smooth to make for a really electrifying listening experience. I managed to listen to the CD at least half a dozen times without being able to form much of an opinion of it, other than a vague idea that I enjoyed reading to it and felt no reluctance to hit play again, particularly since it evoked a warmer, pleasanter climate than the one I was in. More attention on my part paid off, but wasn't enough to remedy a profound ignorance of Caribbean musical instruments, jazz and drum rhythms. The liner notes are good, but they're not that good. For someone with more knowledge and interest and the ability to distinguish brilliant steelpan playing from the merely decent, this album might have a great deal more to offer. Even so, it's a pleasant listen: pop it in, send winter away for a while.

by Jennifer Mo
3 February 2007

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