Tommy McCook ‘Reggae in Jazz’ (Pressure Sounds) CD/LP/Digital 3/5

Tommy McCookJamaican tenor saxophonist Tommy McCook was one of the all-time great session musicians and an integral part of the legendary Skatalites band. His recordings both as sideman and leader straddled the evolution of Jamaican popular music from ska and rocksteady through to early reggae and roots forms as well as dub. Among his most revered albums, ‘Brass Rockers’, ‘Hot Lava’ and ‘Horny Dub’ are considered
collectors items. The present re-issue is an album that dates from 1975 with two bonus cuts on CD (not on the LP format, but as a separate 45 release) in the lovely ‘Beirut’ and its version. The music veers between early reggae and roots with the latter the more convincing and appealing. A pared down killer roots tune is ‘Rock away’ complete with melodica while ‘War’ is a horn-led piece with a catchy echo chamber sound. Classic Studio One riddims are evoked on ‘Wild Bunch’ which sounds as though Jackie Mittoo may possibly have been on keyboards. The opening number ‘Grass Roots’ has something of an eastern feel, not dissimilar to Augustus Pablo’s work. While not definitive, this offering is an entertaining trip into an era of Jamaican music that has now sadly passed. Sound quality varies on the recordings with ‘Bam Bam’ quite poor, though that is undoubtedly due to the availability of the original source and something is always preferable to nothing. McCook’s jazz credentials are unquestionable and he was probably influenced by the likes of King Curtis and Willis Jackson who emphasised the R & B side of the genre. Tim Stenhouse