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Jazz artists experimenting with Jamaican pop musical forms are nothing new, but this U.K. musical group does so with an imaginative freshness and an instrumental virtuosity that is groundbreaking. Led by bassist Gary Crosby, this ten piece band, augmented by a happy band of additional studio musicians, offers a completely beguiling synthesis of ska and jazz, "skazz," working within the tight constraints of ska's insistent, polka-like rhythms.
Ska revival bands, both rock and jazz, have been heavily recording albums since the '80s, and most choose covers of original Jamaican ska hits or create original tunes that uncomfortably sound like the Jaimacan originals. It is a delightful surprise on this album to encounter versions of classic Blue Note '60s compositions you'd never imagine transformed into ska. Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance" gets a brightly strutting recasting, with an fiery sax solo by guest artist Andy Shepppard. Sheppard contributes yet another smoldering sax solo on Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," answered by an equally majestic solo statement by vibraphonist Orphy Robinson. I can't recall hearing a vibraphonist in any ska group before, classic Jamaican or revivalist, and it is very much to Robinson's credit that he not only clearly holds his own among a swarming cloud of loud brassmen, but he also opens our ears to the logic of a vibraphone tone within a pop/jazz Jamaican setting.
Unlike earlier jazz-ska fusions, this band is unafraid of occasional dissonance, or of really stretching out in demanding though laconic solos. They maintain a sense of sheer joy and heady experimentation while playing with fidelity to traditional Jamaican pop music forms. This represents a tremendous advance in Caribbean-flavored jazz, and hopefully will pave the way for other bands with like audaciousness and skill.
Track Listing: 1. Ball of Fire, 2. My Boy Lollipop, 3. Dolphin Dance, 4. Again, 5. Footprints, 6. Confucious, 7. Vitamin A, 8. Walk On By, 9.Liquidator, 10. Capullito de Aleli, 11. Medley: (Love Theme from) The Godfather/Al Capone
Personnel: Gary Crosby, Alex Wilson, Alan Weekes, Tony Uter, Orphy Robinson, Kenrick Rowe, Juliet Roberts, Denys Baptiste, Any Sheppard, and more.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.