Various ‘Jukebox Mambo, Vol. 3’ 2LP/CD/DIG (Jazzman) 5/5

It may come as a shock to some that the first volume of this wonderful ongoing series commenced as far back as 2012. Volume 3 repeats the winning formula of old-school R & B with a healthy dose of big band jazz, Latin and even Caribbean flavours, and this wonderful music pre-dates the much later boogaloo era by a good decade. As befitting Jazzman in general, this project has been painstakingly put together over a three year period, with expert selection of tracks by DJ Liam Large, which results in a comprehensive overview that will surely stand the test of time and is likely to be the background music to many a festive party this year, for this reviewer at least.

Interestingly, the influence of Ray Charles, both in his vocals and in his instrumental sound, can be heard on more than one of the songs. This is certainly the case of Percy Mayfield on ‘Loose lips’, whose rasping vocals mirror those of 1950’s Charles in his prime. A fabulous boogie-woogie piano, and concise guitar plus saxophone solos all add to a gorgeous song that, although recorded in Los Angeles, has all the drumbeat hallmarks of New Orleans, and sounds all the better for it. On other numbers, a mambo undercurrent is delivered courtesy of a piano vamp and that proves to be a winning ingredient on the evergreen jazz standard, ‘Caravan’, by Chuz Alfred and his Combo, with a full-on swinging R & B band on hand with saxophone. The nearest one gets to a genuine Latin big band sound is with ‘Mambo, mambo baby’, by the Paul Boyers Band, with the stunning vocals of Pattie Parish. Full marks to the rhythm section, doubtless influenced by the big three of Machito, and Tito’s Puente and Rodriguez. Talking of female vocal influences, Dinah Washington immediately springs to mind when hearing ‘No more for you’, by the Jimmie Wilcher orchestra, featuring the vocals of Ethel Boswell.

Just some of the artists names evoke a now bygone era. Who nowadays would audaciously call themselves Preacher Stephens and the Foree Wells Combo and get away with it, but they most certainly do the business on the stunning 45, ‘Mary’, that features inventive Latin rim-drum accompaniment, a lovely Latin piano vamp and some honking R & B style saxophone to boot. Where this compilation gains enormously in kudos is in exploring how other world roots influences were incorporated into the musical formula and, unexpectedly, it is in fact Trinidadian calypso that surfaces, albeit in a big band format, on ‘Calypso cha cha for spooks’ by the Monogram Caribbean Orchestra and on the sparsely produced, ‘Time De Tough’ by the curiously named The Emperor, with a guitar that hints at tropical climes and with a subject matter that is curiously contemporary.

First class inner sleeve notes with lengthy individual notes on each of the tracks and lovingly illustrated black and white photos of the musicians and the coloured labels of the 45’s. This contributes greatly to providing the listener/reader with as complete a picture as possible as to why the music was so popular at the time and precisely who these largely forgotten musicians were. Four bonus numbers are included on the CD version.

Tim Stenhouse