by Sylvannia Garutch
Bringing the steel pan instrument into the twenty-first century Jonathan Scales is the cream rising to the top. His innovative approach to his instrument and composing is redefining and challenging traditional expectations of the steel pan. Scales playing allows the steel pan to take on the role associated with horns, piano, vibraphone or marimba due to his stunning, virtuosic technique. Scales’ mesmerizing compositions have captivated listeners and elevated him to the status of a true composer, forging new territory in the medium of instrumental music. Scales newest release, Pillar is his sixth album, and fourth release on Ropeadope. A testament to the grit and tenacity of his vision. Jonathan Scales Fourchestra introduces us to his full-time rhythm battery, consisting of bassist E’Lon JD and drummer Maison Guidry. These two formidable young lions hold their own in the company of an incredible cast of special guests, including bassists Victor Wooten, Oteil Burbridge and MonoNeon, trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, saxophonist Jeff Coffin, keyboardist Shaun Martin, percussionist Weedie Braimah and banjo pioneer Béla Fleck. Scales delivers eight new compositions that are up-beat and full of compelling music.
“This is the Last Hurrah! (feat. Jeff Coffin)” is set to a funky groove that Coffin and Scales navigate in multiple melodic sections and call and response figures. The melody is inventive and demonstrates Scales composition skills. Coffin’s solo is in the pocket and melodic, building in intensity and character. Scales solo is a whirling statement in quick lines that are melodic and colorful. The interlude allows drummer Guidry to turn in an energetic solo. Jordan-Dunlap’s bass playing is full of fun energetic lines that are a joy to listen to throughout the tune. Overall, this is an excellent example of Scales playing and composing abilities.
“Focus Poem (feat. Béla Fleck),” is a world beat selection that is elegant and moody. Scales and Fleck bite into the deep groove set by Jordan-Dunlap and Guidry. Fleck’s playing navigates the melody and accompaniment with depth and maturity. Scales is on fire! Building his lines and motivic development of rhythms. Fleck’s solo is beautiful, with chromatic embellishments and rhythmic accents that highlight the African rhythms. The composition gives space for soloing and multiple sections of written material that keep the music creatively flowing as the ensemble colors are always changing, but never leaving the melodic intent.
There is nothing more exciting than this time-period for jazz, with the integration of sounds from other genres penetrating the sound, giving voice to this generation of jazz makers. Whether it be traditionally found African rhythms, or inflections of recognized instruments from other genres, the jazz genre is once again in a renaissance of creativity. Scales has transcended an instrument not closely associated with jazz in the past and given it firmly rooted credibility as an instrument that fits strongly in the jazz idiom as a highly pleasing sound. Granted there are others in the genre also making a joyous sound, but Scales has that something extra special that resonates strongly.