Various Artists: Downbeat The Ruler: Killer Instrumentals from Studio One (2006)
If a reggae instrumental compilation seems rather out of place in the context of a jazz site, rest assured that many of the players on these eighteen selections were or are major Jamaican jazz players. In a just world, their fame would be taken for granted in both jazz and reggae contexts. In our imperfect world, it's important to know that these jazz players of a high order aren't exactly slumming when they play three-minute reggae instrumentals.
All of these tunes from the late '60s and early '70s were recorded at Kingston's legendary Studio One under the guiding hand of producer Clement "Coxsone" Dodd, who was smart enough to realize that these musicians wouldn't get rich from performing jazz. He created studio bands, reining in the improvisatory flights of great players, but not curtailing their imaginative flights so much that you can't hear some stunning sax, trumpet and trombone solos throughout this disc.
In case you're wondering who is taking the solos, I am going to make some guesses, since label director and liner note annotator Chris Wilson was apparently too busy to do so. To begin with, there are some major jazz figures who are still alive and well in this country forty years later: guitarist Ernest Ranglin and saxophonist Cedric Brooks. Gone but hardly forgotten are keyboardist Jackie Mitoo and saxophonists Roland Alphonso and Tommy McCook. The legendary drummer Count Ossie may play on some tracks, and the rest are anyone's guess.
Outstanding tunes include "Swing Easy," which sets an old klezmer melody to reggae's rhythmic regularity, and "Love Again," where probable keyboardist Mittoo does some neo-psychedelic hollering and hooting to a background of Rastafarian ritual drumming and a bass line that sounds like it was stolen from the Stax/Volt valuts. The quotation from Lennon & McCartney's "Norwegian Wood" is a delight as the key motif in the oddly titled "Darker Shade of Black."
Jazz innovators looking for fascinating material to alchemize should listen carefully to these deceptively simple-sounding tracks. The rest of us can merrily skank and shuffle on a dance floor to the timeless Jamaican pop groove. Liner notes aside, this may be the best balanced slice of reggae instrumentals ever offered.
Track Listing: Rockfort Rock; Real Rock; Swing Easy; Mojo Rock Steady; Heavy Rock; Freak Out; Tunnel One; Moon Ride; Race Track; Throw Me Corn; Baby Face; Love Again; Darker Shade of Black; Banana Walk; Heavy Beat; Return of the Scorcher; Popcorn Reggae; Death in the Arena.