With their 50th Anniversary approaching, Jamaica's premiere band The Skatalites mark the occasion with Walk With Me, their new studio album on Los Angeles’ small axe label Moondust Records. The band, assembled in 1964 from some of Jamaica’s top jazzmen, including trombonist Don Drummond, saxophonist Roland Alphonso and pianist Jackie Mittoo, remains anchored by founding members drummer Lloyd Knibb (who passed away not long after the album’s recording sessions wrapped) and alto saxophonist Lester Sterling, plus itinerant vocalist Doreen Shafer. “It’s hard to match the musical genius that The Skatalites laid down,” Moondust Records founder Jason Lawless explains to The Examiner. “The group of musicians now carrying on that amazing legacy, though, centered around Lester Sterling with Doreen Shafer on vocals, are creating some of the best ska music from any band in the world. The new members are infusing their own love and foundation into the mix. That’s what the music of Jamaica has always been about, always pushing forward.” With North American tour dates set through spring, the nonet shows no signs of letting up, as the new long-player displays.
Walk With Me is expertly arranged and impeccably performed. To be sure, there are times throughout the album where their legacy and contributions to popular music are betrayed; techniques, approaches and dynamics that have been so lovingly adopted by groups like Jazz Jamaica, Jump With Joey, London’s Potato 5 and Japan’s Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra make it hard to hear, even in the masters’ hands, new ground being broken.
Then come tracks like “Little Teresa” and the appropriate titled “The Leader,” their inimitable chug and hot syncopation confirming the band’s status as the originators with such zeal that one would swear Duke Reid or Coxson Dodd himself was behind the boards, coaxing these fiery performances from the band. Meanwhile, “Song For My Father” puts The Skatalites’ jazz sensibilities to the fore. Had Knibb set aside his propulsive ska beat in favor of brushes, this cool jazz instrumental, with Lester Sterling on flute, could have easily been a track from the vaults of Prestige or Blue Note.
“The foundation is there with just a hint of something underneath the surface that will blow your mind,” notes Mr. Lawless. And as the old reggae exhortation befittingly goes, Blow, Mr. Hornsman, Blow!, which we hope they continue to do for many years and records to come.