The Jamaican trombonist Don Drummond (1934-1969), the inspiration for Routes, was in certain respects a mid-twentieth Jamaican parallel of the New Orleans cornetist Buddy Bolden (1877-1931). Bolden pioneered jazz in the US, Drummond in Jamaica. Both achieved mythic proportions during their lifetimes and both their legends endure. Both, tragically, spent their final years in what were then called insane asylums.
One difference between the two musicians is that, while no recording of Bolden has survived, if indeed he ever made one, Drummond left an extensive archive. Some of these recordings were made under his own name, others as a member of The Skatalites, the band in which jazz morphed into ska in the early 1960s. It is this legacy that longtime ska aficonado, Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser, explores on Routes. The multi-national band includes such luminaries as alto saxophonist Soweto Kinch, keyboard player Alex Wilson (who also co-produced and co-arranged with Blaser) and fellow trombonist Steve Turre.
Blaser's original plan was to record the album live in the studio in London, but the pandemic intervened. He decided to proceed online, exchanging files between the musicians and assembling the results with Wilson. It is to everybody's credit that there are no apparent seams in the final product.
Blaser was keen for Routes to retain the assertive, rough-hewn character of first-generation ska, and equally keen to avoid making a straight-up tribute album. He succeeds on both fronts; the performances are in the spirit yet fresh and inventive; it is music to listen to as much as it is music to dance to.
The tracksa mix of Drummond covers and originals by Blaser, Wilson and "Queen of Lovers' Rock" Carroll Thompson (who sings on two tracks)include two dub versions, "Rainy Days Dub" and "Green Island Dub," created by the late Lee "Scratch" Perry not long before he passed in 2021. Characteristically off the wall, both of them. Check the YouTube clip below.
Silver Dollar; Rainy Days; Thoroughfare; Green Island; Chronicles; Beautiful Bed Of Lies; Lady Rawlinson; Rainy Days Dub; Green Island Dub; End Of The Beginning.
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Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz. He was previously the editor of the pioneering magazine Black Music & Jazz Review, and more recently editor of the style / culture / history magazine Jocks & Nerds.