Various ‘Stirring Up Some Ska: The Original Sound of UK Club Land’ CD (Jasmine) 4/5

Here is a fine pretext for putting together a compilation and a prime example of when and where they work well. The 1960s era was a time of profound social change and, with the Windrush generation arriving and settling, Jamaican popular music started to be played in the clubs in the know in places such as Soho in swinging London. This compilation confirms the kind of sounds that were played at the time and showcases both R&B and ska genres, with both instrumental and vocal performances exemplified. A groovy take on the jazz standard, ‘Night Train’ (compare with Oscar Peterson’s uptempo piano trio version), opens up proceedings from the traditional calypso conductor and arranger Byron Lee, ably abetted by the Dragonaires. Some of the most famous ska vocals include the immortal, ‘Madness Is Gladness’ from Prince Buster and included here, as is the R&B flavoured ‘Easy Snapping’ by Clue J. and his Blues Blasters that pianist-singer Theophilus Beckford first penned. Blues and especially New Orleans-based R&B exerted an indelible influence on the evolution of Jamaican music and that is reflected in the contributions of singers Jackie Edwards, Owen Gray and Jimmy James, but also happens to include singers such as Prince Buster, whose ‘Got To Go’ reveals that very same Crescent City twist. A vocalist well worth checking out and who recorded a select number of 45s was Eric Morris, and, ‘Oh What A Smile (can do)’, is a fine example of that oh so distinctive voice. That said, catchy instrumentals feature prominently here with the fine trumpet work of Baba Brooks and his group on ‘Strong Arm’ and likewise trombonist Rico Rodriguez on Rico and Happy’s ‘Rico’s Farewell’. Meanwhile our old friend and saxophonist, Willis Jackson, turns up once more on ‘Call Of The Gators’. No indication of who exactly did assemble these sides other than the somewhat vague, ‘Jasmine Soul Series’ production. Will the worldly sage(s) who put this well-balanced compilation together please come forward and take a bow! Impressive stuff and there is in fact a companion jazz side which will be reviewed shortly in these columns.

Tim Stenhouse