Bigga Morrison’s ska supergroup delivers a fine debut.
Angus Taylor 2010
Jamaican jazz guitar wizard, founding father of ska, and all-round music legend Ernest Ranglin doesn’t put his seal of approval on any old album. So the presence of his handwritten sleeve notes praising the debut from former Aswad member Clifton “Bigga” Morrison’s Skatroniks Jamaica tells you all you need to know.
Featuring a crack team of seasoned musicians (Bigga on keys and vocals, Don Chandler on bass, Kendrick Rowe and Tony Uter on drums and percussion, Alan Weekes on guitar, and hornsmen Brian and Trevor Edwards and Jay Phelps), Skalsa #1 reminds us why the first Jamaican beat to “go international” sounded so good.
From the hissing hi-hat sound of first track Forward Ever, it’s immediately apparent that Skatroniks are the real deal. Yet there’s little time to think as Chandler’s pumping basslines propel you to the dancefloor, while Edwards, Edwards and Phelps’ machine-gun horn play fills the air.
And although the album tips its pork pie to the ska masters, such as the late great Don Drummond on the Addis Ababa-reminiscent Flight to Ethiopia, it showcases a surprisingly versatile range of other sounds. We hear the shuffle boogie of the pre-ska era (Diurnal & Nocturnal); militant late-70s UK dub (Steppas); a 50/50 Afro-Cuban/Jamaican fusion (the title-track); and foundation Count Ossie-style nyabinghi drumming (closer, Yah-so).
The original dirty ska sound, fetishised by retro acts and vintage music collectors, was also a straitjacket caused by basic recording facilities which some early players, weaned on smooth Latin Jazz, wished to escape. Morrison and engineer Curtis Lugay steer the right course between false roughage and a too-slick approach where all verve is lost.
After six decades in the business, Ernest knows a quality album when he hears it. In a world where many pretenders play a diluted form of ska music, this supergroup mixes it with its natural allies and shows us how it’s done.