George Shearing called Don Drummond one of the world's top trombone players, and if the aggressive lines Josh Roseman take on New Constellations are any indication of Drummond's style, it's easy to see why Shearing paid him that compliment. A founding father of Ska, Drummond was as famous for his unique phrasing as he was for the hits he penned for the Skatalites, one of the genre's early super-groups. Rosemanwhose mother is Jamaicanhas played with groundbreakers like Dave Douglas, Steve Coleman and Don Byron, so he is well-qualified to breathe life into Drummond's independent musical spirit.
Most of New Constellations comes from a gig at Joe Zawinul's Birdland, but the opening track, "Satta Massagana, was recorded in a San Francisco studio by Jeff Cressman; he and Natalie Cressman made up the "Rude 'bone Choir that acts as chorus and context for Roseman, guitarist Will Bernard and multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum. Apfelbaum alternates between tenor sax and organ for the other tracks, but he's a one-man band on "Satta, playing drums and synth-bass, as well as reeds and keyboards.
Roseman's trombone has a petulance that cuts right through the studio effects that either enhance or intrude, depending on your world view. His lines snarl rather than growl, offsetting the enticing groove that speaks directly to anyone who ever Skanked to Bob Marley and the Wailers. The funk gets thicker and nastier as Constellations gets into the live tracks, where Groove Collective members Jonathan Maron and Barney McAll team with explosive drummer Justin Brown.
Roseman and Apfelbaum hook up with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire to make a front line that's stronger than dirt. The horn charts on "Greasy Feets Music are hard and chaotic, and add a further layer of percussion to the already-breakneck pace. Apfelbaum's tenor work has an R&B buzz that deeply satisfies, and Akinmusire's uncompromising trumpet takes no prisoners. Bernard and Marvin Sewell play Old School Ska guitar, making the second and fourth beat jump, but the keyboards are what lift the project, with the organ sound alternating between Hammond B3 and the tinny Farfisa popularized by the one-hit wonder "96 Tears.
Although Constellations is far from an exercise in retro, Roseman does hamstring the project by delving too deep into Dub tradition. Roseman worked over the live tracks with Brooklyn studio wizards Goodandevil, and while the aforementioned effects may be in line with Drummond's genre, they hurt more than they help: a loping cover of the Beatles' "I Should Have Known Better is hijacked by samples of President Bush's "Fool me once gaffe. Also, the Vienna audience is almost completely removed from the equation, robbing the disc of the symbiotic relationship that drives live recordings.
At the end of the day, this disc is about lovethe love Roseman has for Drummond's sound and legacy. New Constellations gives this generation a taste of the honesty and energy that's always been at Ska's root. And if it makes you dance, that's cool, too.
Personnel: Josh Roseman: trombone, laptop; Peter Apfelbaum: tenor saxophone, organ; Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet; Marvin Sewell: guitar; Barney McAll: piano, keyboards, samples, live dub treatments; Jonathan Maron: bass; Justin Brown: drums; Will Bernard: guitar (1); Natalie Cressman: background vocals (1); Jeff Cressman: background vocals (1).