Islands In Paradise
Dancing Man Music
It's been nine years since drummer/percussionist extraordinaire Michael Fitzsimmons released his superb album, Water Flows Over Me. Sometimes, you just have to wait for the good stuff and exercise some patience. Well, that patience has been rewarded big time with his new album Islands In Paradise. While retaining some of Fitzsimmons' musical feel, the album is a marked departure in one immediately apparent fashion, that being a considerable elevation of tempo and mood. Islands In Paradise is a musical excursion to sun-washed tropical beaches and festive seaside late-night cafes and clubs. The album brims with a jubilant sense of joy, exerting an inexorable pull to surrender to a mood of celebration, fun, and a sensual love of life.
As he has did on Water Flows Over Me (2007), Fitzsimmons has the hang drum (a tuned metal percussion instrument) take center stage many times, but unlike on Water…here he explores the instrument's ability to produce uptempo, cheerful, and danceable rhythms through delightfully exuberant tuned percussive melodies. Besides the hang durm, the artist also plays handpan, which is somewhat similar in nature to the hang, kalimba (African thumb piano), and Latin percussion. Joining Fitzsimmons on the album is Tom Ware who contributes mightily on an assortment of instruments: bass, keyboards, drums, and synthesizer. These two cats sure sound like they had a blast recording this album (well, honestly, after listening to it a few times, how could anyone think they had anything but a great time playing such festive, happy music?).
Islands In Paradise certainly merits its title as there is an unmistakable tropical musical influence at work. While the hang drum (and kalimba) certainly can sound like a Jamaican steel drum, they actually have their own unique sound if one listens closely (especially when you compare how steel drums are played – with a mallet – whereas the hang is played by slapping it/tapping it with one's hands). It's hard not to envision any of the Caribbean islands when Fitzsimmons and Ware hit their groove and begin to unfurl the funky, sensual, and infectious beats and melodies. Ware uses his synthesizer shadings and textures to great effect, coloring the melodic rhythms with a pleasing undercurrent of subtle melody and ambiance, like a cooling breeze off of the Gulf as the sun sets in the west.
Not every track is an all-out party, but overall, the mood is one of playfulness and unrestrained festivity, beginning with the opening cut, "Earth Sea and Sky." The title track stays in that same fun-filled mood albeit dials things down just a notch. Just when you might want to catch your breath, the next song, "Fire Dancers," erupts with an emphasis on assorted drums and beats and less centered around the hang drum melody (at least to my ears). On this track, the influences cross over more distinctly into Latin/Spanish territory, perhaps even displaying a glimpse of the flamenco genre, as well as some noticeable Cuban stylings as well. "Elysium" slows to a midtempo pace, but the heavy presence of drum rhythms still will likely get into the listener's blood and induce some toe-tapping or finger-rapping. What sounds like a jawbone opens "Celebration," one of the most light-hearted tracks on the album—music for parasailing high above aqua/blue waters on a sunny day.
If one closes one's eyes and absorbs the ten tracks on Islands In Paradise, I would imagine one might easily envision the sandy beaches, the colorful flora and fauna, and of course the abundant nightlife of St. Lucia, the Caymans, St Kitts, St Maarten, or Barbados, to name just a few of the Caribbean Islands. Let Michael Fitzsimmons guide you on a "virtual" vacation to a land of no worries, lush vegetation, warm days and starlit nights, as you let your stress melt and hair down. It's all good, mon. Have fun and embrace all the joy and happiness that life has to offer in the "Islands."
Islands In Paradise is available directly from the artist here.