Skatalites ‘Walk with me’ (WRasse) 4/5

Jamaica’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations are forthcoming and now is an appropriate time to listen to one of the island’s finest and longest standing musical institutions, the Skatalites. If the 1960s was the golden era of the collective with the great Don Drummond at his peak, then the group adapted well to the 1970s with a superb instrumental dub album re-issued as ‘Heroes in dub’ (Motion Records) and even in the early-mid 1980s the nucleus of the Skatalites was still intact as heard on the excellent Island/Mango album from 1984 ‘The return of the big guns’. Sadly, several key members of the band have now passed away leaving just Lester Sterling and vocalist Doreen Shaffer (who rejoined the band in 1992) from the original line up. The good news is that the replacements have maintained the fine level of musicianship and the most recently deceased original member. drummer Lloyd Knibb, can be heard on several tracks so there are in practice three original members who can be heard here. For lovers of Jamaican jazz, the minor theme pieces have always been a joy to behold and the Lloyd Knibb penned classic ‘King Solomon’ finds this band at its apogee. Likewise the uptempo groover ‘The leader’ impresses with a fine trumpet solo from Kevin Batchelor and some fiery alto courtesy of Lester Sterling. Covering jazz standards ska-style has been a recurrent practive of the band and on this occasion the Horace Silver chart hit ‘Song for my father’ is given a fine rendition while there hints of another Blue Note classic on ‘Hot flash’ which has all the feel of Lee Morgan’s ‘The Sidewinder’. Indeed a whole album of Blue Note covers would make a fine one-off project for the future. In general the album is full of instantly catchy hooks such as the breezy Eastern-themed opener ‘Desert ska’ while there are two version of Lalibela’, the first instrumental ska and the second a dub version. Doreen Shaffer excels on the mid-tempo Love is the way’. Lengthy and informative sleeve notes will be a fine introduction to the collective for younger fans of ska and the classic Studio One recordings are still readily available (watch out for the Ja 50 anniversary listings).

Tim Stenhouse