New York Music Daily

Music for Transcending Dark Times

Tag: skatalites

Skatalites Classics From a Fiery Horn Band at Barbes on the 26th

Pangari & the Socialites are probably at the top of the pool of New York bands most likely to change their name. They’re a bunch of up-and-coming jazz types playing ska…just like the Skatalites were doing fifty-plus years ago. While this roughly ten-piece ensemble isn’t mashing up calypso, jazz and early 60s American soul music and inventing a brand new style like Lloyd Knibb, Don Drummond and the rest of that iconic Jamaican crew, they do justice to the group’s classics and also some obscurities. And just like the Skatalites would do in concert, they really stretch the songs out. Their next gig is at Barbes on April 26 at 8 PM.

They played Barbes back in January. Bandleader/bassist Ari Folman-Cohen kicked off the uneasy, minor-key opening number in tandem with the pianist, trumpets punching in and out in tight harmony as the trombones loomed overhead. Since these songs are mostly instrumentals, most of them pretty famous – at least in the ska demimonde – the group didn’t bother with intros, just launched into one jaunty skank after another, usually with a tasty one-drop flurry on the turnaround..

The band tackled the songs more expansively as the set went on, keeping things short and sweet in the beginning. Solos were generously and evenly distributed among the band. One jaggedly edgy alto sax ended with a menacing chromatic run down the scale; another built achingly intense ambience with a series of long, sputtering blue notes. Elegantly resonant trombone backed away as frenetically shivery trumpet and then a spine-tingling, Balkan-tinged alto solo took centerstage.

The pianist added latin flair; the guitarist went for 60s-style psychedelic soul. The most ambitious soloist was baritone sax player Maria Eisen, whether grounding a lush, airy chart with smoky, rapidfire, bluesy lines, or spiraling to the top of her register with an irrepressibly hard-edged attack. Midway through the show, they brought up a singer and took a turn into balmy rocksteady – Turn Your Lamp Down Low, and Jackie Edwards’ Tears Like Rain – before picking up the pace again.

After the show, one of the band members took the singer aside. “You know, if you learn all of this stuff, somebody is going to offer you a gig someday, and that’ll be money,” he confided. Words of wisdom, As long as there are high school kids just getting a taste of punk rock and everything related to it, a ska gig will always be a good one.

Zem Audu Makes a Dynamic Blue Note Debut

In his Blue Note debut as a bandleader Saturday night, tenor saxophonist Zem Audu showed off a terse, purposeful sensibility, a smokily nuanced tone and compositional fluency in styles ranging from Monty Alexander-style Jamdown jazz, to colorful postbop, funk and more. Much as this guy is used to working a crowd, as a touring and recording member of what’s left of the iconic Skatalites, he saves the sizzle for when he really needs it. Along for the ride and dazzling the crowd with his signature blend of vivid, lushly lyrical neoromantic glimmer, erudite blues and the occasional triumphant detour into Afro-Cuban sounds was powerhouse pianist Benito Gonzalez, anchored by drummer Corey Rawls and six-string bassist Teymur Phell.

The band eased their way into the opening number, Biologique, a vampy, Bahian-tinged thing, Gonzalez elevating it in a split-second with a long, sabretoothed solo, part glistening river of angst, part blues. Rawls opened Posi-Vibes with a hypnotically insistent Nyabinghi drum solo: as the band took it deeper into straight-up reggae, Gonzalez pushed at the edges with disarmingly clever close harmonic variations. Layers began as a strut, then the group shifted it almost imperceptibly toward an implied clave groove.

The night’s showstopper was Shining. Audu opened it as slinky, airconditioned LA boudoir noir, something straight out of the Bob Belden post-Miles catalog. But then the bandleader pushed it on the wings of a little feral valve-torturing and a swirling series of lickety-split Coltrane-esque spirals into more jaunty postbop, teaming with Gonzalez to end it on a triumphant note. After that, the funky intro of Flow didn’t exactly telegraph excitement…until Rawls hit a second line-tinged groove and then everybody got on the gospel bus to New Orleans. The night’s final number was also the most trad, a catchy Frank Foster-ish riff-driven tune bookended by some unexpectedly gentle, sepulchral work from Audu and Gonzalez. Audu and his quartet are at Club Bonafide (the old Something Jazz Club), 212 E 52nd St. on April 22 at 7 PM. Cover is $15.

A Second Sick, Reverb-Drenched Disc of Holiday Dub from Super Hi-Fi

Super Hi-Fi play live dub reggae. Their signature sound blends the twin-trombone frontline of Rick Parker and Curtis Fowlkes (of Lounge Lizards/Jazz Passengers fame) into a moodier, sometimes noir-tinged take on vintage Lee Scratch Perry or what the Skatalites were doing in their quieter moments during the golden age of Jamaican ska. When the band started, they had more of an Afrobeat feel, no surprise since bassist/bandleader Ezra Gale led first-rate, second-wave Bay Area Afrobeat band Aphrodesia. These days, they’re a lot slinkier and more low key. From their doomy and seriously excellent debut album, Dub to the Bone, you’d have no idea just how funny this band can be…unless you also know the follow-up to that, Yule Analog Vol. 1, a snarky collection of dub versions of Christmas carols. Sure enough, when the band went into the studio, they did enough of those to fill not one but two cds  – four album sides, considering that the band is known for their vinyl releases – of this shit. And they’re back, with Yule Analog, Vol. 2 – streaming at Bandcamp – and a show in the front window at the intimate, laid-back Bar Chord in Ditmas Park on December 19 at 9.

The previous collection opened with a theme that Jethro Tull was known for pilfering – are you laughing yet? This time it’s Simon & Garfunkel. OK, not a Simon & Garfunkel original, and not with the samples or the antiwar message. What it does have is tons of reverb on the guitar, gently oscillating organ, a rhythm section that sways rather than skanks along and meanderingly goodnatured ska-jazz trombone solos. It sets the stage: the most recurring joke here is the cat-and-mouse game about what song they’re playing and how far they go with it.

O Come All Ye Faithfull (with the double L in “faithfull” – oldschool 90s stoner humor?) doesn’t do that as much, and after awhile the carol has you reaching for the fast-forward. The Christmas Song takes a very, very, very familiar Irving Berlin theme toward swing, with a wry Mitch Marcus tenor sax solo that fades just when it seems like there’s a serious punchline on deck. But the Tschaikovsky theme is killer: who else would have thought to wring Jamdown noir and ambient noise from the Nutcracker?

Gale and drummer Madhu Siddappa keep What Child Is This very close to the ground for a bit until the screams from Jon Lipscomb’s guitar signal another chorus: it’s not hard to imagine this epically delicious plate emanating from the Black Ark in a cloud of ganja smoke circa 1976. They follow that with a funny ska song, Please Santa Bring Me an Echoplex, the album’s only vocal number.

The rest of the tracks are versions of the early songs, and each is an improvement. O Come All Ye etc. gets a black-hole spin through the Echoplex. The Tschaikovsky grows into a mind-altering blend of the baroque, King Tubby and postbop jazz. There’s also the noisy What Version Is This?  [memo to self – isn’t there a carol called It Came Upon a  Midnight Clear?] and a brief Echoplex Reprise. The joke works better before or after December: as heavy disguises as these songs wear, it’s hard to avoid reaching holiday smarm saturation point this time of year. Unless you do your grocery shopping and other retail stuff where this blog travels – in that case, that means salsa, bachata, reggaeton and Polish hip-hop. All of which have never sounded better than they have this month.

What’s Left of the Skatalites Is Still Going Strong

Much as the Skatalites’ latest and possibly final release, Walk With Me, barely qualifies as a Skatalites record – of the original, iconic Jamaican ska inventors, only alto saxophonist Lester “Ska” Sterling, singer Doreen Shaffer and drummer Lloyd Knibb are present on it – this is a kick-ass album, a thousand times better than the overproduced Shanachie sides from the band’s first great reunion back in the 90s. It’s notable for being the great Knibb’s final recording. As one might expect, he’s a bit subdued here, but he still had the one-drop – which he originated – down cold. Knibb’s influence cannot be underestimated. If anybody can be credited with inventing reggae, it was him. From the moment he first hit a ska groove one day during a calypso session with Ernest Ranglin, an entire genre snowballed from there.

What’s refreshing about the album is that the lineup is respectful of the tradition and the Skatalites name, without being reverent. Tenor saxophonist Azemobo Audu, trombonist Andrae Murchison, trumpeter Kevin Batchelor, bassist Val Douglas, guitarist Natty Frenchy, keyboardist Cameron Greenlee and drummer Trevor Thompson – who is listed in the credits, but it’s not clear what tracks he’s on – have a good time throughout an unexpectedly eclectic mix of songs. The opening track, Desert Ska, is basically a two-chord Balkan vamp with brooding trombone and trumpet solos. Lalibela hints at Marley’s Burning and Looting before skanking along on a bright minor riff with jaunty, tight horns and organ, a laid-back tenor solo and jazzy guitar. Hot Flush makes ska out of a vintage 70s soul groove, followed by the brisk, wickedly anthemic The Leader, Sterling’s tensely edgy solo handing off to unexpectedly dreamy trombone.

Shaffer reveals that her voice is still very much intact on the upbeat rocksteady ballad Love Is the Way. The title track blends surf rock and soul influences, while Piece for Peace skanks out a pop tune with some jazzy harmonies. Then the vintage soul vibe returns with Song for My Father and its high-voltage solos around the horn.

Another especially catchy track, Little Teresa spins out of a hard-hitting piano intro and lets Sterling carry the balmy hook. The album winds up with the classic-era roots reggae of King Solomon (sounds like that’s Knibb rumbling behind the kit) and a pretty straight-up dub remix of Lalibela.