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If one were to award points for boldness and thinking outside the box, the Jazz Jamaica All Stars would rank high by any measure. The All Stars, a large ensemble of (mostly) Brits, several with Caribbean or African roots, led by Jamaican bassist Gary Crosby (whose core group, the 10-piece Jazz Jamaica, has released two earlier albums), have something to provethat almost any music can be adapted to suit the rhythmic and harmonic temperament of the West Indies. "My aim," says Crosby, "is for the music of the Caribbean... to become a permanent part of the improvising musician's armory. ...What we are doing is showing that this music can stand up there next to anything else...."
And so it is that on the All Stars' debut album, the aptly named Massive, the ensemble not only performs popular West Indian themes but reshapes jazz standards by Herbie Hancock ("Dolphin Dance") and Wayne Shorter ("Footprints"), Burt Bacharach's pop tune "Walk on By," and music from Hollywood ("Again," a medley from The Godfather and Al Capone ). If the evidence presented here can be judged conclusive, the All Stars have easily accomplished their purpose.
One's response, of course, will rest largely on his or her affinity for West Indian rhythms, which predominate throughout the bubbly and heated studio session. The music resides quite comfortably within the big band idiom, and the All Stars perform it with tastefulness and enthusiasm. Vocalist Juliet Roberts is heard on three selections"Walk on By," the Jamaican hit "My Boy Lollipop," and "Again," a lovely but seldom-heard Alfred Newman composition from the 1947 film Roadhouse. Nearly every member of the large ensemble is given one or more chances to solo, and everyone earns high marks, especially saxophonists Andy Sheppard, Soweto Kinch and Denys Baptiste, trumpeters Kevin Robinson and Guy Barker, trombonists Dennis Rollins and Barnaby Dickinson, pianist Alex Wilson and guitarist Alan Weekes.
If there's a word to describe Jamaican music, that word could be irrepressible. It's inherently happy music, almost impossible to experience without tapping your feet and smiling broadly. The Jazz Jamaica All Stars exemplify the carefree spirit of the Caribbean, playing with an ardent esprit de corps that makes their first album together a pleasure to hear.
Track Listing: Ball of Fire; My Boy Lollipop; Dolphin Dance; Again; Footprints; Confucius; Vitamin A; Walk on By; Liquidator; Capullito de Aleli; Medley (Love Theme from) the Godfather / Al Capone (74:40).
Personnel: Gary Crosby, leader, double bass; Denys Baptiste, Andy Sheppard, Michael Rose, Patrick Clahar, Adam Bishop, Jason Yarde, Soweto Kinch, Tony Kofi, Ray Carless, saxophone; Kevin Robinson, Guy Barker, Edward Thornton, Claude Deppa, Sean Corby, Colin Graham, trumpet; Harry Brown, Ashley Slater, Annie Whitehead, Barnaby Dickinson, Fayyaz Virji, Winston Rollins, Dennis Rollins, trombone; Andy Grappy, tuba; Alex Wilson, piano, keyboards; Alan Weekes, guitar; Orphy Robinson, vibraphone; Kenrick Rowe, drums; Tony Uter, percussion; Juliet Roberts, vocals.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.