Jonathan Scales is one of the most innovative steel pannists on the planet, and is redefining and challenging traditional expectations of his signature instrument. In his hands the steel pan – often associated with cruise ships and tropical resorts – is radically expanded to mimic the role of horns, piano, vibraphone or marimba thanks 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.
Today Scales has shared his new track “Focus Poem,” which is currently streaming via Relix. “…this piece is an instrumental soundtrack to pushing forward one step at a time, as insurmountable as the path may seem,” writes Scales. The track features Béla Fleck, whose unsurpassed mastery of the banjo provides a unique foil for Scales’ bright, rhythmic style. Fleck writes, “Jonathan Scales is a very talented and motivated musician, who is forging new trails for the steel pans. It was my pleasure to play with him on this very challenging and musical piece!”
Listen: Jonathan Scales Fourchestra – “Focus Poem”
Jonathan Scales’ upcoming release, PILLAR—his sixth album, and fourth release on taste-maker label Ropeadope—is a testament to the grit and tenacity he possesses, while also serving as an introduction of his new, 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 (The Allman Brothers), and MonoNeon (Prince, Ghost Note), trumpeter Christian Scott, saxophonist Jeff Coffin (Dave Matthews Band), keyboardist Shaun Martin, percussionist Weedie Braimah and banjo pioneer Béla Fleck. It is the inclusion of Béla Fleck on this record that stands out most notably in context of Scales’ own personal story, and in this regard, PILLARrepresents a remarkable victory for the music lover inside of the 33-year-old Asheville, NC based artist. The album will be released on September 14th.
As a young man at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, Jonathan was inspired by the compositions of Béla Fleck, and would often arrive early at Flecktones concerts, hoping to speak with his hero. Scales’ talent and creativity could have been focused on other instruments he studied at the time, such as saxophone, but he fell in love with the sound of the steel pans. Hearing Béla Fleck’s transformative approach to the banjo had a significant, even reassuring impact on Scales, who was already independently seeking to rethink how steel pans could be played and employed in compositions. Driftwood Magazine made a similar observation, when it wrote that “Scales is to steel pans what Béla Fleck is to the banjo—an über innovator.” Bringing the relationship full circle, Béla Fleck’s performance on the song “Focus Poem” serves as something of an affirmation of the young composer’s talent and persistence.
PILLAR is a record stacked with world-renowned virtuosos performing at the top of their games, which have inspired and encouraged Jonathan Scales to push forward and ultimately come into his own as an artist. Jonathan himself, deeply honored and humbled by his musical heroes’ appreciation and support of his art, describes the album as a culmination of ten years of dedication and hard work, and “…a soundtrack to loss, focus, perseverance and triumph. Like pillars, we stand strong on unsteady ground, weathering life’s storms. Like pillars, we must sometimes be reconstructed and revitalized to withstand the crushing weight of our own worlds.”