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Joy Lapps: Girl in the Yard

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Steel panist and composer Joy Lapps
Steel panist and composer Joy Lapps

The ubiquitous Trinidadian – and, in Toronto, pan-Caribbean – Instrument: the steelpan has never sounded so exquisite than in the delicately feminine hands of Joy Lapps on her magnificent recording Girl in the Yard [her fifth release as a leader and her first album featuring original music and arrangements]. Not since the great Othello Molineux put a spotlight on the richly resounding instrument and presented his mighty soli with the inimitable Jaco Pastorius and his Word of Mouth Big Band. Not since Andy Narell fused his rhythmic momentum with increasingly propulsive phrases to Latin music, quite like he does on two pieces of this album too. And not since young virtuosos such as Victor Provost have presented their original repertoire, has someone like Miss Lapps shown complete mastery of the instrument.

However, there is something special about the manner in which Miss Lapps has shone a light on the instrument. With extraordinary virtuosity and lyrical tintinnabulation Miss Lapps has reoriented the Trinidadian steelpans into a newly melodic instrument with the manner in which she plays eloquent vocal-like lines using the starring tenor steelpan throughout this magical original repertoire. Additionally she also adds hypnotic harmonics – with alto, bass and the difficult-to-master double guitar steelpans – with aria-like beauty on “Fly” [both the “Intro” and the main song].

Joy Lapps: Girl in the Yard
Joy Lapps: Girl in the Yard

Remarkably, this is a recording of breathtaking original works. Miss Lapps traverses this comprehensive range of materials, shifting seamlessly between speeds and creating absorbing narratives both dramatic and intimate. There is a wonderful tensile energy that runs through these works, operating on a subliminal aural soundscape. But there is a powerful foreground narrative in each of the songs too. In fact, it is almost as if each narrative contains musical particles of dancers’ and singers’ bodies’ which form a kind of spirit-medium present within the composer’s mindset, revealed in each of the works.

Miss Lapps’ soli fall like colourful confetti upon the works as she pours her irresistible energy and dazzling skills into pieces with roots in everything from West Africa to the Caribbean, to calypso and soca to Brasilian maracatú and the all-pervasive samba. The latter springs to life on the most beautiful “Morning Sunrise”, a piece that is exquisitely crafted with Brasiliance. The rest of the musicians – playing the melodic and harmonic lines with brisk samba rhythms glide seamlessly, string quartet in tow – bringing to life a colourful harmonic palette in the second half of the work.

The composer and lead instrumentalist shows her lyrical and elegiac side on songs such as “Eyes of Amerrslys”, a tribute to her mother, to “Serena” [perhaps the most lyrical work on the album]. Miss Lapps is particularly brilliant on “Sharifa The Great”, an unabashed homage to her sister, where her [Miss Lapps’] remarkable dexterity and flair are showcased to bring out all of her jazz-influenced musical sensibilities. But it is on “Fly [Intro” and “Fly” [the main movement] – easily the apogee of the album – where the composer’s invigorating artistry is gleaned from an energetic performance.

Speaking of performances, this disc features a stellar ensemble, with a cast of musicians who play not only to their individual strengths but also form a contiguous whole. Mighty soloists such as pan-wizard Andy Narell, bassist Andrew Stewart, the great drummer [and Miss Lapps’ partner] Larnell Lewis form a proverbial rhythmic wall with other percussionists that includes Marito Marques, Magdelys Savigne, Brian Edwards, Rosendo Chendy León, guitarist Elmer Ferrer, who rocks every guitar solo with rippling grooves, and others. There are, of course, many more accomplished musicians who adorn this profoundly elegant repertoire with their almost insolent virtuosity to make this hour-long recording a treat for the ear and the mind’s mind.

Tracks – 1: Lulu’s Dream; 2: Josie’s Smile; 3: Breathless; 4: Juliet Blooms; 5: Morning Sunrise; 6: Eyes of Amerralys; 7: Serena; 8: Juliet Blooms [Reprise]; 9: Sharifa The Great; 10: Granny’s Pan; 11: Fly [Intro]; 12: Fly; 13: Josie’s Smile [Reprise]

Musicians – Joy Lapps: tenor steelpan, alto steelpan [6, 11, 12], bass steelpan [10, 11], double guitar steelpan [11],  percussion [13] and background vocals [5]; Jeremy Ledbetter: clavinet [1] and piano [2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13]; Courtney Frazer: organ [1, 12], Fender Rhodes [3], piano [9], melodica [7] and background vocals [5]; Michael Shand: piano [1, 3, 6] and Fender Rhodes [6] and background vocals [5]; Elmer Ferrer: guitar [1 – 3, 5 – 9] and tres [9]; Eric St. Laurent: [3, 4, 8, 12]; Kobèna Aquaa Harrison: guitars and percussion [11]; Andrew Stewart: bass guitar [1 – 9, 12, 13], programming [1, 9, 12], arrangements and production; Larnell Lewis: drums [1 – 9] and background vocals 5]; Rosendo Chendy León: congas and percussion [1, 4, 7 – 9]; Brian Edwards: congas and [percussion [2, 3, 13]; Marito Marques: balafon and kalimba [4, 8]; Diogo Los Heras: congas and percussion [5]; Mario Allende: pandeiro [5];  Magdelys Savigne: percussion [7, 11, 12]; David Richards: additional percussion [2, 13]; Chellz: surdo [5] and cuatro [13]; Rob Christian: tenor saxophone [1], soprano saxophone [6], flute [3, 5, 9]  and bansuri [11]; Jesse Ryan: alto saxophone [2, 13]; Shelkah Francis: alto saxophone [12]; Marcus Ali: wooden flute [4, 8]; Colleen Allen: clarinet [7]; Tara Kannangara: flugelhorn [9]; Aleksander Gajic: 1st violin [5, 9]; Janetta Wiczewaka: 2nd violin [5, 9]; Aysel Taghi-Zada: viola [5, 9]; Jonathan Tortolano: cello [5, 9]; Elizabeth Rodriguez: violin [7]. Elina Rawlins: background vocals [5]; Special Guests – Andy Narell: alto steelpan [2, 13], tenor and bass steelpans [13]; Shaquila Alexander: alto steelpan [10]; Asha Lapps: double guitar steelpan [10] Dionne Wilson: lead and background vocals [5].

Released – 2022
Label – Independent
Runtime – 1:00:33

Based in Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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